Many feed stuff are available on the market and it is difficult to choose. Here are some basic ones that are relatively natural and less processed.
Oaten and wheaten chaff, also called “white chaff”, should make most of the bulk of the ration. Quality chaff should have some green bits and some grains (up to 20%), and a nice fresh smell.
Lucerne chaff and hay are very high in protein (13 – 18%, depending when the lucerne was cut) so it should normally be given in a 1:2 ratio with white chaff. There are controversies regarding lucerne chaff as some people say it’s junk food for horses. We believe that lucerne chaff has its place in a horse’s ration as long as it doesn’t form the entire ration. Lucerne is also high in calcium but low in phosphorus so it is a natural supplement for calcium. You might need to balance it with some feed stuff high in phosphorus.
Other hays are available on the market. John Kohnke has a great section in his book RIRDCfeedinghorses99-49 and we suggest that you refer to it as some hay sold for horses may in fact be dangerous. Barley hay is usually palatable to horses but mind the little barley heads as they are prickly and can cause some injuries. Grassy hay is the best you can get, as long as your horse is not fussy. I know of some horses who wouldn’t even have a taste of it!
Hay should be stored in a place free from moisture so it does not turn mouldy. If the hay is dusty, hose it down before giving it to your pony. Breathing dust is not recommended for horses as it may damage their lungs at long term.
Sugar beet pulp like SpeediBeet is an excellent feed. It is relatively new in Australia but has been widely used overseas. It can replace chaff or be added for gain weight and even to loose weight! Pretty amazing stuff! Make sure you follow instructions on how to prepare it.
Wheat bran is commonly used. As mentioned earlier, it has a very high starch content. Bran binds calcium, interfering with its absorption, so be mindful to the quantity you use. Same applies to millrun and pollard.
Pasture should be the primary source of bulk. Unfortunately, pasture can be scarce, lack nutrients or not even available.
Oxalate grass interferes in the absorption of calcium so calcium supplements must be given. More on this subject is available in John Kohnke’s book.
The soil determines the nutrients available in the pasture, therefore available to your horse. It is not always possible to have a soil test done so it can be difficult to determine whether the pasture is nutritious. The condition of other horses in the paddock is usually an indication of how nutritious the grass is. You will also know if your horse is still hungry after his meal and if he is loosing condition after a little while living in the paddock.
Concentrates should always be provided with bulk.
Oats and barley are probably the best grains you can give. Oats are better soaked overnight (6 to 8 hours), while barley is better boiled for improved digestion. Refer to John Kohnke’s book for recommended quantities. If feeding grains, ensure you provide plenty of bulk like chaff and hay and you do not overload the ration with them.
If our horse is sensitive to starch, we will notice a change in behaviour very quickly (within few days). If it’s the case, removing the grains will see him going back to his normal self within 2 or 3 days.
Copra is widely used in Australia. You must only buy quality copra designed for horses as some copra may contain a bug which could be fatal to horses. CoolStance brand is designed for horses and is the roasted meat of coconut, not the shell. It doesn’t need to be soaked for hours and is highly palatable. Copra is high in protein and very low in starch, which makes it an ideal cool feed and will help your horse put on weight as well. The oil in CoolStance™ (coconut oil) is highly saturated and rich in Medium Chain Fatty Acids. This means it is highly stable (not prone to rancidity) and can provide your horse with cool energy.
Pellets (manufactured feed), is of course an easy way of feeding your horse because it is ready to use. However, it is not the cheapest, definitely not natural, and you never know what is actually in it as all ingredients may not be listed. However, there are pellets that have been especially designed for specific needs like Gumnuts (Mitavite) for older horses. In certain cases, a pelleted feed might be a better solution. Consult your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist if you believe your horse has special needs.
Vitamins and minerals
As discussed in a previous article, nutrients are provided via the horse’s feed. It is possible that the feed does not provide enough and therefore one might need to supplement with vitamins and minerals, especially if the horse is at work or has special needs such as recovering from an illness or growing, aging etc.
It is a lengthy and complex subject that is best left to the expert.
Carrots are excellent for horses. They provide plenty of vitamin A and other vitamins like C and minerals like Calcium.
Vitamin A plays an important role in vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell division, and cell differentiation (in which a cell becomes part of the brain, muscle, lungs, blood, or other specialised tissue.). It helps regulate the immune system, which helps prevent or fight off infections by making white blood cells that destroy harmful bacteria and viruses.
Recent studies have demonstrated that carrots play an important role in lowering the risk of cancer. In “Epidemiology of Diet and Cancer” By M. J. Hill, A. Giacosa, Christine P. J. Caygill, the authors discuss results of Steinmetz and Potter’s studies (1991) across several countries in relation to diet and cancer. Carrots as well as soy products, tomatoes, green and yellow vegetables and legumes appear to protect from most common cancers. Since cancer is quite prominent in Australia, especially skin cancer, carrots seem a good choice as tidbits for your horse!
John Konhke recommends up to 500 g/day which is about 4 big carrots. An easy way to give carrots is to chop them into small bits and put them into your horse’s feed. He will really love this and will take pleasure in searching for those yummy morsels in his feed!
Tomatoes, another great source of vitamin C and antioxidants, are liked by horses. Chop some small bits in his feed. No more than 1 small tomato every 2 or 3 days. I would not recommend it if your horse has a stomach ulcer as tomatoes are quite acid.
Fruits (apples, bananas, pears) are highly prized by horses! 1 fruit a day is good. Once again, chop them into little pieces so they don’t choke on a full fruit!
Bread, although extremely yummy to our ponies, is not recommended. A slice now and then as a treat is all right but definitely not everyday. Bread is highly processed, full of sugar, high in starch and most of the time full of additives. Not a good combination for our equine friends!
Sugar and sugar derived products are not advisable of course. They are too high in energy and like for us, not good for their teeth! Molasses is derived from sugar (in fact is sugar!) so make sure you don’t give your horse too much of it. Another point to remember is that if your horse suffers from skin problems, especially itch, no sugar should be added to his feed.
A better alternative would be raw honey, but still, only sparingly.
A horse can survive without feed for a while, but cannot without water. On average, an adult horse will drink between 20 to 50 litres of water a day, depending on the weather. During hot days, horses might drink more than 50 litres!
You must provide plenty of water. I’d say clean water would be a must, but I’ve seen horses drink from what looked like stale, green water to me from ponds instead of clear, rain water from troughs! I have even seen the same horses drink from puddles with cow dung in them! I guess these ones had a choice and picked the water they liked!
if water is available via troughs or buckets, make sure these are not sitting under trees or shrubs that could be poisonous to horses. Leaves and flowers might fall into the water and contaminate it.