Don’t really know what is in your horse feed in the bag? Join the growing crowd of horse people who are confused about what is really in their horse’s feed.
However, having said that, it’s an easy problem to remedy with a bit of knowledge. Learn to read a feed-bag tag. Find out how much protein your horse needs and learn to balance feed protein and forage (out in the pasture) protein.
Your equine needs protein for development and repair of muscle, healthy skin, hair, and hooves, for milk production, reproduction and the maintenance of healthy red blood cells and bone. This does not include weight gain or energy.
Here’s an idea of the minimum daily crude protein requirements: mature idle horses 8.5%, mares in the last 90 days of pregnancy 11%, mares in lactation 14%, foals 18%, weanlings 16%, yearlings 13.5%, two-year-olds 10% and performance horses 10%.
The first nutrient listed on a feed-bag tag is crude protein, and you want it to be highly digestible. The best source of protein is soybean meal, because it’s rich in lysine and other amino acids, meaning high digestibility. However, soybean meal is expensive, so lower quality feeds use corn gluten meal, linseed meal, brewer’s grain and distiller’s grain. Hmmm, this means you get what you pay for, so beware.
Here’s how to figure out if you horse is getting its daily protein requirement. If your horse is eating 5 pounds of 10% crude protein grain and 15 pounds of grass hay tested at 6% crude protein, do the math. Five pounds of grain times 10% equals 50; 15 pounds of hay times 6% equals 90. Add those together and you get 140 units of protein per day. Now add the total weight of the feed per day, 5 pounds and 15 pounds and you get 20 pounds per day. Divide the feed weight into the protein units (20 divided into 140) and you get 7% protein in the horse’s diet. Great, but what if your horse needs 10% protein per day?
If your horse needs more protein, then your option is to feed a higher protein forage or higher protein grain. The preferred option is feeding a higher crude protein forage. Do not feed more protein than your horse needs. It’s a waste of money and feeding excess protein can cause health problems. Horses purge their systems of excessive protein by drinking large amounts of water, which can result in kidney problems.
When in doubt about feed, consult your Veterinarian.