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Strategic Feeding

By Dr Tom Shurlock, Consultant Nutritionist at British Horse Feeds

During its life the nutrient requirements of the horse changes, as it does across a variety of activities. This has led to a bewildering range of feeds, both designed as branded hard feeds and as straights, a number of forage sources and an equally vast range of supplements, premixes, herbs, additives and concoctions to address specific problems. 

Wading through this can be very confusing; at the very least it can be a matter of trial and error to achieve the correct diet, at worst it can be potentially dangerous. For example, feeding garlic has benefits, it being a good antioxidant and its components can act as a fly repellent. It also has drawbacks; overfeeding can increase bioavailability of iron which can act as a pro-oxidant and even affect red blood cells. So we need to keep nutrition simple.

British Horse Feeds lives by the mantra “Forage, Fibre, Feed”. This means that the most important part of the horse’s diet is its forage – grass, hay, haylage, chaff oat straw etc. – and only when this fails to supply all the major nutrients should other feed be introduced. In the great majority of situations, the shortfalls are protein and energy and the most natural way to supply these are through the use of super fibres – fibre sources that have significantly greater slow release energy potential than forage and a range of protein levels. Finally, when these cannot supply all necessary nutrients, a hard feed or relevant straights can be given. There are also times of the year when grass can negatively affect certain groups of horses; high fructans and sugar levels are detrimental to IR and EMS horses, whilst high protein can lead to hind gut fermentative disruption. In which case it may be necessary to dilute these nutrients.

Although forage is the mainstay of nutrition, as illustrated above there can be nutrient variation. In fact, the nutrients in grass vary over the season although the horse’s physiology adapts to these variations. However, as we increasingly manage our grass, incorporating singly species and moving away from the old multi-species hay meadows, we are in fact increasing the seasonal variation as we are relying on a single source and not a range of variations that tend to complement each other.
Because of this lack of consistency, it can be difficult to maintain a dietary schedule. And it is here that fibre sources have a great part to play.

When forage quality is poor, or is variable due to the vagaries of the British weather, replacing part of it with Fibre-Beet can ensure a more even nutrient base; Where we need to get a bit more out of the forage, Speedi-Beet can be used instead. Where we need to reduce overall intake, making use of the soaking capabilities can help bulk the gut without adding too much energy. Similarly we can hydrate the horse when it won’t drink or even help in maintaining gastric integrity where ulcers are an issue.

In summary, to make the most of forage supplementing it with either Fibre-Beet or Speedi-Beet will stabilise or improve its nutrient base reducing the reliance on hard feed. For short-term changes, to boost performance or to maintain a high level of activity Speedi-Beet would be the first choice. To maintain condition and feed for a variety of day to day activities Fibre-Beet would be the one. Both products have similar fermentation patterns; this means the profile of the slow release energy of both products are complementary to forage, but a higher level is obtained from Speedi-Beet. Although either product can be used to boost the energy of the diet it would be more cost effective to use Speedi-Beet where high levels of activity are needed.

Example Feed Regimes:

For the overweight pony (350kg) at grass: 

Prepare 200g of Speedi-Beet with 2 litres of water (1:10 mix). Feed before turn out (or first thing) in the morning. The volume of Speedi-Beet will help reduce the subsequent rate of feeding. As the highest rate of intake is first thing, daily intake should be significantly reduced.

For the horse prone to laminitis (400kg) on spring grass;
Graze for short periods between dawn and mid-morning (before sugars are mobilised from base of plants). Supply ad-lib, soaked hay for other periods.
Give 250g per day Speedi-Beet (soak with 5 parts of water), or 350g Fibre-Beet (soak with 3 parts of water), split into as many meals as is practical.
As activity increases, increase the rates:
• Hacking 350g Speedi-Beet / 500g Fibre-Beet
• Trekking 500g Speedi-Beet / 750g Fibre-Beet

Maintaining the larger breeds – 550kg
Ad-lib hay/haylage with 1kg Fibre-Beet divided into at least two meals.

Performance horse – 500kg
• Showjumper/Dressage - 1kg Speedi-Beet, 250g Balancer or 1.5kg Fibre-Beet, 1kg performance feed
• Eventer - 2kg Speedi-Beet, 1.5 kg performance feed
• Endurance – 200g Speedi-Beet plus 2litres of water, fed at rest periods

Ad lib hay/forage should be made available.

Poor Doer – 500kg

• Light hacking – 2kg Fibre-Beet
• Schooling - 2.5kg Fibre-Beet or 1.5kg Speedi-Beet

As a forage replacer:

Fibre-Beet – up to 5kg can be fed. Replace 1.5kg hay with 1kg Fibre-Beet
Speedi-Beet – Mix with chaff in a proportion of 1:3 and feed soaked. Replace 1.5kg hay with 1kg mix.

Specialist Uses:
Ulcers - Both products have been awarded the BETA Gastric Ulcer Feed Assurance Mark and are suitable for equines prone to Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome as part of a balanced diet.

As a guide a minimum of 100g per 100kg live weight should be fed.

Fibre-Beet has a greater capacity to offset stomach acidity and has a longer effect. If feeding no more than twice a day, Fibre-Beet should be used. If meals are more frequent Speedi-Beet can be used.