With extreme drought in most of south-eastern Australia this summer, and over the past 12 months in fact, many horse studs and individual horse owners now have very little to no pasture, and therefore are forced to hand feed their horses daily to meet all their dietary needs. Unfortunately, this absence of regular pasture access and balanced diet can often lead to an increased instance of nutritional related issues like colic, electrolyte imbalances and gut ulcerations.
As an equine science graduate, I felt like it was my civic duty, in conjunction with my passion for this topic, I wanted to share some of my knowledge to ensure horse owners can help prevent such issues from arising:
1. Don't be tempted to feed your horses large amounts of feed on an infrequent basis.
Instead, decrease the size of individual meals, but increase their frequency. As this more closely mimics their natural grazing behaviours and what their digestive system is actually designed for. Essentially, a horse should not go without feed for more than 4-6 hours. Irregular feeding, infrequent meals and insufficient roughage are the primary causes of colic.
2. The type of feed matters.
Feed type affects chewing rate and therefore saliva production. What is the importance of saliva you might ask? Well, saliva has a high bi-carbonate content, therefore provides a protective barrier against acids in the stomach. This reduces the incidence of gastric ulcer development which can be problematic in the gut. High fibre feeds such as hays, take 4 times more chewing than grains such as oats. More chewing = more saliva = healthier horses. Remember to seek advice from an equine nutritionist if you're considering to alter your horse's ration.
3. Ensure clean and adequate water supply.
Horses on dry feed drink more water than when grazing pastures. For every 1kg of dry feed a horse consumes, 3 to 7L of water is required, so essentially from 15 to 60L per day. Adequate water consumption will prevent the likelihood of an obstructive form of colic from developing. Also, keep in mind, that stagnant water in dams do have a risk of being dangerous due to potential bacterial and algal blooms.
4. Be aware of sweating and electrolyte loss.
Did you know during the warmer months horses can excrete up to 7 litres of sweat just at rest?! This means significant electrolyte loss. Electrolytes are critical for nerve and muscle function, so potentially the condition of “tying-up” can often be a result of electrolyte deficiencies or imbalances. A well-balanced diet is the best preventative measure to combat this issue. For example 1kg of lucerne hay approximately contains 30g of electrolytes; significantly more than any electrolyte paste on the market. Also, salt blocks are handy to increase sodium and chloride levels, which some types of fodder may lack.
Written by Adelaide Watson BEqSc