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SmartPak Barn Field Trip, Part 2: Decoding hay and grain for horses



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How much hay and grain does your horse get every day? How much SHOULD your horse be getting each day? Many horses may not be getting what your feed bag recommends, so we’re giving you the chance to learn along with us on SmartPak’s Barn Field Trip.

Every few months, SmartPak sends both new and current employees from every department to a local barn to learn about hay, grain, and other feeds from Dr. Lydia Gray, SmartPak’s Staff Veterinarian.

The second video in our Barn Field Trip series focuses on figuring out how much hay and grain your horse should get every day and why that’s important.

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to our channel to learn when the next video in the 6-part series gets posted. If you missed any, you can always go back and check them out on our playlist.

Posted in Horse Health, Videos

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7 comments on “SmartPak Barn Field Trip, Part 2: Decoding hay and grain for horses
  1. Suzanne Quinn says:

    Interested on info re feeding foundered horses, esp if IR. How to increase protein source for healing without increasing sugar or starch?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Suzanne, thank you for reaching out to us in regards to your horse’s health. With specific issues such as founder or insulin resistance, we do highly suggest working with your vet directly to approve any supplement or diet changes as they will know your horse’s individual needs best. Has your vet had any suggestions or an approach they’d like to take from a supplement standpoint? If so we’d be happy to see what we have that matches their suggestions. If you, or your vet, have any specific supplement questions you’re also welcome to call our Product Specialists at 1-800-461-8898 and they would be happy to assist you! – SmartPaker Sarah

  2. carolyn jones says:

    What is a good supplement to give to a 19 year old Arab mare who is in good health, but needs weight. I now feed grass hay and rice bran pellets 4 cups a day?… (14%protien) and some corn oil 1/4 cup a day . I am afraid she will have an increase in too much energy and be hyper. Is there any supplement that is low in protein or fat that will put on weight? It has been 2 weeks with this and I notice the energy on the lungeline. Am I feeding too much? Or is there something else that I can feed that wont hype her up? Thank you for any help! Carolyn from Nv.

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hey Carolyn, thank you for reaching out to us with your concerns for your sweet mare! We know how tough it can be to support a healthy weight in senior horses! Our first suggestion would be to check in with your horse’s veterinarian. They’ll be able to provide suggestions for your horse’s individual needs and to make sure there aren’t any underlying issues contributing to her weight loss.

      When choosing energy sources to add to a hard keeper’s diet, there are three nutrients that you can choose from: carbohydrates (either complex – like the fiber found in hay, or simple – like sugars and starches), fat and protein.

      The foundation of a horse’s diet should be their forage, which is high in fiber and slowly digested in the horse’s hindgut. Horses should generally receive between 1-2% of their body weight in hay a day. While your vet is at the farm, walk him or her through your current feeding regimen. They can assess the quality of the hay, weigh the horses’ daily servings, body condition score and estimate weight, examine when and where your horse is being fed, etc.

      If your vet agrees that your horse would benefit from additional calories, they may recommend other, tasty, easy-to-chew forage sources like straight beet pulp, hay cubes or pellets, or chopped hay.

      The next type of energy is simple carbohydrates, like sugars. They provide a highly concentrated energy source that is rapidly digested and utilized, causing spikes in blood sugar that can make your horse more excitable.

      Interestingly, pound for pound, fat supplies more than twice as much energy as simple carbs, but because it doesn’t cause the same blood sugar spikes, it’s considered a “cooler” energy source. That’s why feeding fat is a smart choice for hard keepers. Rice Bran Pellets are generally high in fat so it sounds like you’re on the right track! Your vet can help you determine if you are feeding the correct amount of rice bran for your individual horse.

      While corn oil also adds fat to your horse’s diet, not all fats are not created equal. Corn oil contains almost all Omega 6 fatty acids—generally pro-inflammatory—and very little of the anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids that have so many health benefits. Our bodies do need both types, but keeping the proper balance between the two is important. We recommend choosing fat sources that are lower in omega-6s. Rice bran, soybean and canola oil, flax seed and fish oil all have more ideal ratios of omega 3s to 6s than corn oil and may be better options to consider.

      Another important aspect of analyzing your horse’s diet will be to make sure that she is receiving the appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals. While rice bran and corn oil are generally added to support a healthy weight, they are not designed to provide all of the vitamins and minerals your mare may need. Your vet will also be able to help you determine if there are any gaps present as well as whether adding a multi-vitamin, ration balancer or fortified grain would be beneficial. may also be helpful. It is an online resource that calculates if what your horse is eating is meeting their needs.

      If you, or your vet have any specific supplement questions, please give us a call here at Customer Care at 1-800-461-8898! – SmartPaker Carolyn

    • Buddy says:

      The Smartpak representative is correct on all counts and especially working with your vet to come up with a balanced diet. Your vet knows your horse and your situation. It is hard to keep weight the majority of horses specifically and older Arab mare.

      There are a few other suggestions, that you may want to look into to help your mare keep the weight on without becoming “hot”.

      Not all feeds are the same, some don’t have enough or any vitamins, minerals, probiotics, prebiotics, Omega 6’s & 3’s, etc. This is something to look at and really compare not only the main top ingredients but the added vitamins and minerals. A feed that has Oats as the first couple ingredients may not be the best for your horse as oats are very “heating”. Look for something that has sugar beet (beet pulp) as one of the first couple ingredients.

      Pelleted feed vs. Sweet Feed also are not the same. Sweet Feed generally has move oats in it and have molasses added to get the texture. The high sugar content may not be something that you want with an older horse.

      Wheat Bran vs Rice Bran may be a little better as the wheat bran is high in fiber which helps the horse digest for a longer period and helps keep your horse warm in the winter. If you feed Bran of any kind, make sure that you ADD water to the feed as the dry bran is not appetizing and can cause them to cough. This is the same with Rice Bran or Wheat Bran. Although, the pellets are convenient to feed, the processing can cause the nutritional value to be lost.

      Adding water to your horses feed is always a good idea whatever kind of feed it is, as most horses do not drink enough and can easily get dehydrated. Just by adding a small bottle of water to the feed, that is 500 mls you are getting into your horse twice daily.

      Sugar Beet or Beet Pulp is a great food that is high in fiber and will put weight on your horse without causing any “heat”. Be careful when feeding beet pulp as it swells when it is in the stomach, which can cause colic. One should always soak beet pump for 6 – 12 hours depending on which product is purchased. I did see that a new “non-soaking” beet pump is now on the market but I have not looked into it yet. Again, if your stabling situation allows, beet pulp is a great product to feed AS LONG AS it gets fed correctly. The shredded vs cubed is better for both the nutritional content and getting it thoroughly soaked. Also, another great way to get some water into your horse.

      Crushed Flaked Barley is the other product that I would suggest trying. It is great for getting weight on a horse without causing the “heat” and swelling of joint tissue that Oats cause. It sounds as though I don’t like Oats…..they have their place and although they are cheep and easily available, only horses that are in very heavy work that needs the “heat” that comes with them should use them. By heavy work, I mean a work load that goes along with top-end show-jumping, eventing etc.

      Is your horse warm enough in the fall and winter? Horses expend a lot of calories to keep themselves warm when it is cold and then temps are starting to drop. It is a fine line between getting your horse to grow a thick coat and burning too many calories trying to stay warm. Arabs in general are thinner skinned and coated than other breeds of horses, so your mare may also be burning more than she is consuming to stay warm. A general rule of thumb is that if the ears are cold, the horse is cold. You will need to find out what your horse’s “normal” is and what best works to keep her warm but not hot or sweating (which is counterproductive as they then get chilled).

      Feeding Hay is a great way to keep your horse warm and to help the body’s systems work to it’s best ability. Remember, horses need 1-2% of their body weight in forage (Hay or grass). In most areas in the US, there is very little grass available, and if there is, the nutritional value is decreased considerably. When the hay is digested, the fermentation process helps keep the internal organs warm and the rest of the body; the left over calories can then be used to keep/put weight on.

      Have your horses teeth checked regularly as older horse although the teeth grown slower, they can develop more issues with the mouth which causes less food stuffs to actually get into the GI track.

      I hope something works for you and your horse, we are all individuals as are they.

      Good Luck.

  3. Karen says:

    Where can I find researched info that grass hay has more sugars than legume hay, specifically alfalfa? I have Googled and read several agricultural sites on this subject. I have always read and heard alfalfa has more sugars AND that alfalfa can make horses too hot, or too energized. Please let me know as I am in disbelief. LOL

  4. Bob says:

    The term “sugars” includes the starch, sugars and fructans to come up with the Non-Structural Carbohydrates content of the plant cells.
    There are many factors that affect the NSC concentration in pasture forage and hay. Levels fluctuate daily, seasonally, w/stage of plant maturity, stem/leaf ratio, part of the plant consumed, species of grass, and weather conditions during grazing pastures or during cutting/baling/curing. I’ve gathered this information from “Nutrient Requirements of Horses” 6th edition by the National Research Council.
    The only way to know for sure the content of sugars in grass hay or Alfalfa hay is to have it tested. If you have a horse that is at risk for Laminitis or has Equine Metabolic Syndrome, it wouldn’t be good to depend on plant species average numbers to determine sugars in your hay.

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