Do You Need To Analyze Your Hay?

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Many horses rely entirely on hay for their forage needs. Is hay nutritious? Not very. Hay is dead grass; it no longer contains many of the vitamins, omega 3s and omega 6s it once had as living pasture. It does, however, contain protein, carbohydrates, and minerals, and is a significant source of energy. But does it have enough to maintain health? Testing will help remove the guesswork out of diet planning.

Feasible approaches to testing

It is best to have at least 2 month’s supply of hay, but you may not have enough space to store that much. Or you may board your horse where a new supply is brought in every week, often from different growers.

Consider recommending testing to your barn manager or hay provider. Hay brokers who test their hay and sell it along with a guaranteed analysis often find that customers are willing to pay slightly more for each bale. If the providers are not willing to do this, you might consider offering to pay for the test; it will help you as well as other horse owners.

Knowing the nutrient content of your hay is the first step in evaluating any health concerns

While a vitamin/mineral supplement is necessary for filling in the nutritional gaps that exist in hay, there are several components of the hay analysis report that you should pay attention to, depending on the health of your horse. Of particular importance are those horses who are prone to developing laminitis. The feed value of your hay can also influence body weight, immune function, and overall body condition. The table below shows relevant indicators when interpreting your hay analysis report.

 

 Hay Analysis Values that Impact Horse Health 
Digestible Energy DE provides you with the number of calories your horse is getting from the hay, expressed as Mcals/lb or Mcals/kg. DE should be no more than 0.88 Mcals/lb (1.94 Mcals/kg) on an as-fed basis, if the horse is overweight.
Crude Protein CP tells you how much protein (nitrogen) is in the hay but tells you nothing about the variety and proportion of amino acids (which influence quality). To boost protein quality, feed a variety of grasses, and add more protein sources (e.g., ground flax, chia seeds, split peas, hemp seeds, alfalfa, beet pulp, etc.)
NDF Neutral detergent fiber measures water-insoluble, structural components within the cell wall: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin; it does not include water-soluble fibers (pectin and mucilage). As plants mature, NDF increases, providing more bulk and less digestibility. Digestible energy and voluntary intake decreases.NDF greater than 60% is worthwhile for overweight horses since it is lower in calories. Lower NDF hays are softer and more digestible, making them appropriate for maintaining body condition of hard keepers, growing horses, and those with higher energy needs.

 

ESC + Starch Ethanol-soluble carbohydrates include simple sugars and short strands of sugars. These, along with starch, are easily digested in the foregut (small intestine) down to glucose, which signals insulin secretion.Insulin elevation promotes body fat storage and increases the risk of laminitis. Insulin resistant horses require low ESC + Starch, which should ideally be less than 10% on an as-fed basis, and less than 11% on a dry-matter basis. This also applies to horses suffering from PPID and PSSM.

 

Warm season grasses and alfalfa tend to be lower in ESC and higher in starch than cool-season grasses. Grain hays (such as oats, wheat, rye) can develop seed heads which are very high in starch.

WSC + Starch = NSC Water soluble carbohydrates mainly include ESC along with polysaccharides known as fructans which are fermented by the microbial population in the hindgut (cecum and large colon). Too much fructan fermentation reduces hindgut pH, leading to cecal acidosis, endotoxemia, and a cascade of events culminating in laminitis.[i]WSC + Starch equates to the non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) indicator. NSC that is considerably larger than ESC + Starch, indicates high fructans in the hay. Elevated fructans can be problematic for any horse, regardless of health. Cool-season grasses accumulate fructans, whereas warm-season grasses and alfalfa do not.

 

An NSC percentage less than 12% on an as-fed basis (13% on a dry matter basis), is a favorable target for the insulin resistant horse or one who is prone toward laminitis.

Ca:P Ratio Ideally, there should be twice as much calcium as phosphorus in the diet. Most grasses match this ratio. Alfalfa, however, has considerably more calcium. If you feed large amounts of alfalfa, choose supplements that are designed for alfalfa-based diets (they are low in calcium).
Ca:Mg Ratio Ideally, the calcium to magnesium ratio should be 2:1. Magnesium supplementation assists with muscle spasms, “sensitive” behavior, and insulin resistance.
Fe:Zn Ratio Most hays are high in iron so additional supplementation is not necessary. Too much iron exacerbates insulin resistance. Furthermore, iron competes with zinc for absorption. Therefore it should not be more than five times the level of zinc. Zinc deficiencies can lead to depressed immune function and poor wound healing.
Zn:Cu Ratio Excess zinc can interfere with copper absorption. Ideally, zinc should be between 3 and 5 times more than copper. Copper is required throughout the body, including healthy red blood cells, and melanin production in hair coat color.
Nitrates High nitrates can be toxic, interfering with red blood cell’s ability to transport oxygen. Test if your hay has been exposed to excessive fertilization or contains large amounts of weeds. Values should never be higher than 0.44%.

 

How to test your hay

Your goal is to obtain a representative sample, since hay bales can differ, especially if they contain mixtures of forages. Use a hay probe or pull clumps of hay from the inside of 15 to 20 bales. Mix together in a dry bucket. Then pull from the mixture enough to stuff a quart-size freezer bag. Equi-Analytical Labs is an excellent choice for your analysis[ii].

Establish a relationship with your hay producer

If you know the person who actually cuts the grass, discuss environmental factors that can significantly impact the NSC level:[iii]

  • NSC content is lowest before sunrise.
  • Cool nights (less than 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) will promote NSC storage and grass should not be cut the day following a cold night.
  • Grass that is shaded will have a lower NSC level.
  • NSC content increases during drought conditions.
  • Cuttings later in the season will be lower in NSC.
  • More mature grasses will be lower in calories, and more coarse due to a higher indigestible fiber content.
  • Grass that has gone to seed will be higher in starch.

Remember, forage 24/7 is the foundation for any horse

You can have the most expensive, most nutritious hay available, but it must be flowing, non-stop, through your horse’s digestive tract. There are many physiological and hormonal reasons for this; read more in the Getty Equine Nutrition Library[iv], as well as in Dr. Getty’s book, Equine Digestion – It’s Decidedly Different.[v]

About Dr. Getty
Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an internationally respected, independent equine nutritionist who believes that optimizing horse health comes from understanding how the horse’s physiology and instincts determine the correct feeding and nutrition practices. She is available for private consultations and speaking engagements. Hear Dr. Getty address issues in horse nutrition at the Kirkland House Foundation in Delta, British Columbia, sponsored by “Hay…Girl!” on May 2, 2015. For more information, contact Pam Janssen at precioushaygirl@gmail.com or call 604-961-7265.

Dr. Getty’s comprehensive resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is available at Dr. Getty’s website, www.gettyequinenutrition.com, as well as from Amazon (www.Amazon.com) and other online book retailers. The seven separate volumes in Dr. Getty’s topic-centered “Spotlight on Equine Nutrition” series are also available at her website (where Dr. Getty offers special package pricing) and from Amazon (in print and Kindle versions) and from other online retailers. Dr. Getty’s books make ideal gifts for horse-loving friends.

Dr. Getty’s website, www.gettyequinenutrition.com, offers a generous stock of free, useful information for the horseperson. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Reach Dr. Getty at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com.

[i] Longland, A.C., and Byrd, B.M., 2006. Pasture nonstructural carbohydrates and equine laminitis. Journal of Nutrition 136: 2099S-2101S.

[ii] Equi-Analytical Labs www.equi-analytical.com, a division of Dairy-One, is a reputable laboratory that concentrates on analyses applicable to horses. Their Equi-Tech test (#601) is economical ($28) and comprehensive, offering an excellent amount of information.

[iii] Watts, K.A., 2004. Forage and pasture management for laminitic horses. Clinical Techniques in Equine Practice, 3(1), 88-95.

[iv] Click on “Library” at www.gettyequinenutrition.com

[v] One of seven volumes in the Spotlight on Equine Nutrition Series: http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/TeleSeminars/TeleseminarBooks/SpotlightonEquineNutritionTeleseminarSeries.htm

Your Mare’s Pregnancy: Nutrition For The Final 3 Months

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by Juliet M. Getty Ph.D. | Dec 18, 2015 |

During the first 8 months of pregnancy, your mare may be fed like any other horse, with a balanced, quality diet. But things are changing rapidly during this last stage of pregnancy: She requires more calories, more protein, more omega 3’s, and balanced vitamins and minerals, not only for the unborn foal but also to prepare for milk production. Lactation places huge demands on the mare’s body; proper nutrition will ensure she completes her nursing duties in good health.

Grass hay or pasture should be provided ‘round the clock; she should never run out. If allowed to self-regulate her intake, she will likely consume 2.5 to 3.5 percent of her body weight as forage. Alfalfa hay should also be included to balance her protein needs. Alfalfa should never be fed exclusively (due to potential mineral imbalances). Strive for a 60:40 ratio of grass hay to alfalfa hay. The fetus gains 1 pound per day during these final three gestational months. Hay alone will not meet all the mare’s caloric needs. Furthermore, hay is missing many vitamins that would be found in living, fresh grass. A quality commercially-fortified feed designed for broodmares will meet her nutritional needs as long as it is fed according to recommended amounts. Or you can mix your own feed by offering beet pulp, hay pellets, ground flaxseeds or Chia seeds, and other whole foods, along with a comprehensive supplement that provides balanced levels of vitamins, and minerals such as copper, zinc, and manganese, as well as selenium and iodine.

These months are also critical to fetal development. Researchers from the University of Florida revealed that foals’ exposure to the omega 3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), in utero and early lactation can positively impact cognitive function and learning success. For more on this, read Dr. Getty’s Research Reflection, “Omega 3 Supplementation During Pregnancy Improves Learning Ability” or read it on Dr. Getty’s website under Research Reflections.

Attention to nutrition will help the mare maintain strength and health in this final stage of pregnancy as well as be ready for the significant demands of milk production and nursing.

Permission to reprint this article is granted, provided attribution is given to Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. No editorial changes may be made without her permission. Dr. Getty appreciates being notified of any publication.

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an independent equine nutritionist with a wide U.S. and international following. Her research-based approach optimizes equine health by aligning physiology and instincts with correct feeding and nutrition practices.

Dr. Getty’s comprehensive resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is available at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com — buy it there and have it inscribed by the author, or get it at Amazon (www.Amazon.com) or other online retail bookstores. The seven separate volumes in Dr. Getty’s topic-centered Spotlight on Equine Nutrition series are available with special package pricing at her website, and also at Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Dr. Getty’s books make ideal gifts—check her website for holiday specials.

Find a world of useful information for the horseperson at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com: Sign up for Dr. Getty’s informative, free e-newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Reach Dr. Getty directly at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com. She is available for private consultations and speaking engagements.

Added Fat Improves Behavior

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February 11, 2016
www.gettyequinenutrition.com

Added Fat Improves Behavior
by Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.

Diet affects behavior. This makes sense. A well-fed horse is healthy. And a healthy horse feels good. Conversely, a poorly-nourished horse is suffering. A variation in hormone levels, for example, can have a temporary effect on how the horse sees the world. Just as reaction to sugar intake varies in humans, so it does in horses. Horses may feel ill or “off” from an overindulgence in sugar/starch, and they certainly have been reported to exhibit “sugar highs and lows” caused by the sudden surge and subsequent drop in blood glucose from a high carbohydrate (sugar/ starch) meal. Although there is, in fact, little scientific evidence that proves a sugar/starch-driven behavioral component, many horse owners will attest to their own horses showing adverse behavioral responses and will therefore avoid feeding anything that contains starchy cereal grains or is sweetened with molasses.

There are plenty of good reasons beyond the scope of this article to avoid high sugar/high starch diets, but in terms of behavior, what alternative does a horse owner have if the horse simply needs more calories to meet the added demands of exercise, work, and performing? Hay and grass simply cannot provide enough energy (calories) to support these additional requirements.

The answer is fat.

Gram for gram, fat provides more than double the calories of carbohydrates or protein. And it is well digested. But there’s an added bonus! Fat has a calming effect on horses’ behavior.

Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute noticed that horses fed a high fat diet are less reactive to startling stimuli and had lower levels of excitability and anxiety than horses fed a more traditional grain-based diet. The horses in their experiment received 15% of the total calories from fat, which is high for most horses. However, the study reveals that fat is worth trying if you have a sensitive horse who may become easily excited by everyday activities. (Please note: Ponies, minis, donkeys, and mules should not receive high fat diets.)

What type of fat?

All fat has the same number of calories, regardless of the source. But from a health perspective, it is best to steer clear of animal fats, as well as oils that are have too many omega 6’s (which increase inflammation) in relation to omega 3’s (which have an anti-inflammatory effect). Oils high in monounsaturated fatty acids are a good source since they neither increase nor decrease inflammation.

Below are some commonly fed fat sources:
• Ground flax seeds and flax seed oil: Has a 4:1 ratio of omega 3’s to omega 6’s, making it an ideal choice
• Chia seeds: Has similar omega 3 to omega 6 ratio as flax
• Canola oil: 10% omega 3’s and relatively low in omega 6’s. Also contains monounsaturated fatty acids (no harmful impact on inflammation)
• Rice bran oil: Only 1% omega 3’s, less than 50% omega 6’s and high in monounsaturated fatty acids
• Copra meal and coconut oil: Not a source of omega 3’s and omega 6’s but rather medium chain fatty acids which may be beneficial when added to an omega 3 source
• Soy lecithin: Only 4% omega 3’s but also contains choline, a helpful component of neurotransmitters
• Soybean oil: Only 7% omega 3’s and mostly omega 6’s (less desirable choice)
• Corn oil: No omega 3’s and higher in omega 6’s than soybean oil (poorest choice)

How much?

I prefer to limit fat intake to no more than 10% of the total calories, though some athletes are fed levels as high as 20%. For the lightly exercised, mature 1100 lb (500 kg) horse, the National Research Council recommends a minimum total diet of 20 Mcals per day to maintain body condition. Ten percent would be 2 Mcals per day from fat. One cup (8 fluid ounces or 240 ml) of oil will meet this requirement. It weighs 240 grams and at 9 kcals/g, provides 2.16 Mcals.

How to add?

When adding any amount of oil to your horse’s feed, start with a small amount (say, one tablespoon or 15 ml). Most horses do not like oily feed, but more important, it takes several weeks for the horse’s cells to become accustomed to metabolizing more fat.

Summary

Short attention span, spookiness, reluctance to work, excessive sensitivity and alertness to surroundings, irritability, and “hot” behaviors can be reduced by adding fat to the diet. Fat is high in calories, so limit the amount you feed based on the horse’s weight and his caloric need. Omega 3’s need to be in balance with omega 6’s, so choose oils carefully. And finally, build up to desired intake by starting slowly and increasing over 4 to 6 weeks.

Permission to reprint this article is granted, provided attribution is given to Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. No editorial changes may be made without her permission. Dr. Getty appreciates being notified of any publication.

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an independent equine nutritionist with a wide U.S. and international following. Her research-based approach optimizes equine health by aligning physiology and instincts with correct feeding and nutrition practices.

Dr. Getty’s comprehensive resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is available at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com — buy it there and have it inscribed by the author, or get it at Amazon (www.Amazon.com) or other online retail bookstores. The seven separate volumes in Dr. Getty’s topic-centered Spotlight on Equine Nutrition series are available with special package pricing at her website, and also at Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Dr. Getty’s books make ideal gifts for equestrians.

Find a world of useful information for the horseperson at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com: Sign up for Dr. Getty’s informative, free e-newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Reach Dr. Getty directly at gettyequinenutrition@gmail.com. She is available for private consultations and speaking engagements.

1Source: Holland, J.L., Kronsfeld, D.S., and Meacham, T.N. 1996. Behavior of horses is affected by soy lecithin and corn oil in the diet. J. Animal Sci., 74 (6), 1252-1255.

2Find more dietary approaches for improving horse behavior in “Feeding and Behavior,” found under Teleseminars at www.gettyequinenutrition.com.

3“Ponies, minis, donkeys and mules metabolize fat more economically than horses and are prone toward weight gain and the insulin resistance that results from obesity. Therefore, it is best to avoid adding large amounts of fat to their diets.” This and more information on special feeding for these types of equids can be found in Feed Your Horse Like A Horse by Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D., available at www.gettyequinenutrition.com and Amazon.com.

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What Supplements I Feed My Horses

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With a high-quality forage, horses may not need concentrates or supplements at all, but all my horses get supplements because I want them to look and feel their best. For the most part, my horses get the same type of health supplements that I take for myself.

Vitamins: I give a general vitamin supplement to all my horses because it helps their coats shine and keeps them healthy. Vitamins are especially important for breeding stock. Vitamin supplements can make-up for certain deficiencies that may be in your forage, so the specific vitamin supplement you use should help balance out his diet.

Probiotic-prebiotic: Many horses are fed a probiotic or prebiotic, for their digestive health, including my own horse, Dually. Horses are “hind-gut fermenters,” making the whole digestive system very fragile, in terms of flora and fauna. In horses, the balance of good and bad bacteria is a delicate one and for many horses, a probiotic will make a huge difference in their over-all health.

Joint health: Research shows that glucosamine not only helps repair joint damage, but also helps prevent joint damage in younger horses. Like humans, the older a horse gets, the more arthritic his joints become. A heavy work load and high-impact activities causes wear and tear on the joints. All my horses, young and old, get a high-quality joint health supplement every day. With joint health, you get what you pay for. I use Cosequin because it is tested to have the highest grade glucosamine.

Fat: Adding fat to your horse’s diet will help you add calories, without adding too much energy. I prefer an Omega 3 fatty oil, because it has cardiovascular and immune benefits. A few ounces of fat added to your horse’s grain daily, will bring a sheen to his hair coat, bring out the dapples and help bind the powdered supplements to his grain, preventing waste.

There are many other nutritional and health supplements on the market, often these are designed for use in special circumstances. Your veterinarian should be able to help you determine what’s best to feed to your horse. Just make sure you don’t go over-board on supplements and give your horse stuff he doesn’t really need—it’s a waste of money and it may not be helping your horse.

Safety Concerns: Introducing To New Herd, New Feed

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Question Category: Safety Concerns

Question: Hi Julie,

I am going to be moving my quarter horse mare (4 yr old) from a stall barn to a 3 acre pasture with 2 other mares who are 3 and 5. I was wondering if I should be thinking about how to introduce her to the other 2 horses or should I let them work it out? Also, she has been fed 2x per day on a dry grass/alfalfa mix and now she will have real green grass to eat (although the pasture is fairly sparse), should I be concerned about her diet change? They will still feed 2x per day grass hay, as the pasture is fairly bare.

One more question, I am going to get her shots done (west Nile and 3 way) 2 days after I move her. Will the stress of the move and food change have any effects on the shots?

Thank you so much for your help. I love reading your website and saw you at the horse expo in Denver last March. Very impressive!

Answer: Introducing horses to a new herd always comes with a risk that a horse might be injured while they sort out the new pecking order. Whenever possible, the horses should be introduced gradually by putting them in adjacent pens where they can first get to know each other over the fence (make sure it is a safe fence).

Another way to handle this is to put the new horse with one of the other horses, let them get to know each other, then introduce another, and so on until everyone is acquainted. Of course, you do not always have options and most of the time, when you put a new horse in, there is a little bit of a ruckus then things settle down. If there is one or more horse in the group that is very aggressive, dominant or a bully, then be very careful and supervise the introductions so that if things get out of hand, you can disrupt the herd and separate the horses (only expert hands should do this as it can be very dangerous).

Be very careful putting any horse onto green pasture and always introduce them slowly. This sudden change in diet from very bland dry hay to rich green grass can cause both digestive upset and grass founder (laminitis). It doesn’t sound like your pasture is very lush, so it may not be a problem at all. If they have to work fairly hard to get the grass, it is probably not going to cause a problem. If they are still feeding the horses a full ration, there is probably not enough grass there for the horse to get sick on. Still, anytime a horse’s feed is changed, it should be done gradually over a week or two and the horse should be watched closely during that time for any signs of sickness.

As for the inoculations, I try not to vaccinate horses during any time that they may be hot and bothered or upset. Chances are slim that the vaccine would cause a problem, but why risk it? Sometimes horses will feel a little off after inoculations, so why add to their grief? I don’t think two days later is an issue, but I wouldn’t do it at the same time you are introducing her to the herd. It has been said that it is best not to give West Nile at the same time as other inoculations, if it can be avoided. If your vet is coming out to give the shots, then she will probably give them all at the same time because it is not a big enough issue for her to make another trip. As always when you inoculate, make a note of where the shot was given and when (i.e., 5/5/05 WNV left hip) so that if the horse later develops any problems, you have the info you need. Also, whenever horses are inoculated, there should be a shot of epinephrine on hand in case a horse has an anaphylactic reaction to a shot. Finally, inter-nasal strangles vaccine should never be given on the same day as shots are given to the horse because the risk of the horse blowing out the vaccine onto his body or another horse’s body, and then the vaccine being injected into him with another shot and getting an abscess, is too high.

I hope your transition to a new facility goes smoothly.

JG

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