There are lots of possible reasons why a horse is underweight but the starting point is to simply ensure that enough energy is being supplied for the horse’s size and workload. Total intake should be between 2 and 2.5% of bodyweight and this should be made up of as high quality feed materials as possible – investing in the best forage you can will help to keep your overall feed bill down. It is important to rule out health issues such as worms and poor dentition as no matter what you feed, your horse still won’t gain weight if they can’t eat or digest the feed properly.
The answer to this is it depends on what is in the bucket! If you are using a chopped fibre feed such as Alfa-A Oil then it is very voluminous and so a bucketful is probably about 1.5kgs (check this number!). The key thing is also that it is a high fibre feed and so can be thought of in the same way as forage – you wouldn’t be worried about feeding a bucketful of hay. High fibre feeds don’t overload the digestive system in the same way that cereal based feeds can and so it is perfectly acceptable to feed them in bigger quantities in one bucket. In fact, if your horse spends all night eating a big bucket of chopped fibre, it is a much more natural way to feed than giving a small meal of cereals. Horses would spend 16-18 hours a day grazing and the more we can replicate this in the stable the better.
With cereal based feeds, giving more than 1.5kgs in each feed is likely to reduce the efficiency with which the nutrients are absorbed and increases the risk of digestive upsets. It is far better to introduce a 4th feed than carry on with 3 large meals.
On average hay provides approximately 8MJ/kg of digestible energy. For a 500kg horse stabled overnight they would typically consume 5-6kg of hay providing 40-48MJ. If they struggle to eat this amount they miss out on a large amount of energy which tends to result in weight loss. Providing an alternative to long stem forage will therefore help the horse to gain weight and also provide fibre that is vital for digestive health. Chopped fibre feeds including Dengie Hi-Fi Senior combined with soaked fibre products such as Dengie Alfa-Beet or Grass Pellets provide a high quality forage replacement. For more information on Dengie forage replacers and how to use them click here.
How useful a fibre source is to the horse in terms of weight gain or energy provision depends on its digestibility. There are many factors that affect digestibility including the type of plant, environmental conditions during growth and particularly the age of the plant when harvested. The more mature a plant is when it is harvested the more fibre it will contain and the less digestible it will be. Straw and late cut hay that feels coarse in the hand are examples of fibre sources with low digestibility. Whilst these types of fibre can be great for helping to manage the weight of good do-ers they won’t be as useful to the horse that needs to gain weight. Examples of fibre types with higher digestibility include early cut, soft leafy hay, haylage, grass, alfalfa and sugar beet. For horses that need to gain weight we should therefore focus on using these types of fibre. Dengie Alfa-A Oil which combines alfalfa with a rapeseed oil coating has as much energy as a conditioning mix/cube for example, but is based on entirely slow-release energy sources.
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