Cost effective feed for your horse

It is possible to pay less to feed your horse without compromising its health, says Kim Dyson.

These horses are grazing contentedly, and healthily, in a mixed grass paddock.
Photo: Kim Dyson

With the current drought in Southern Africa and ever-rising feed costs, livestock farmers and horse owners are constantly searching for cost-effective yet healthy feed regimes. The good news for horse owners is that brood mares on good-quality veld do not need extra concentrates to keep their own or their foals’ weight and growth constant. A recent study in France put 16 mares in fields with good quality grass.

Eight were fed a supplement – a concentrate of 60% energy – while the rest received nothing extra. In order to gauge their respective ability to fight off infection, researchers infected all 16 mares with roundworm.

The horses were monitored for four months. The mares and foals were weighed regularly and their bodies scored for condition. Parasite load tests were also performed regularly. Both test groups spent exactly 15 hours a day in the fields. The mares that only grazed ate on average 12% more grass than the eight mares receiving concentrate.

Results
Both groups maintained their average weight, but horse- for- horse, it was found that the mares that were fed concentrate had actually lost more weight. They also had increased parasite loads. However, the horses’ immunity did not seem to vary between the groups.

When the foals were compared, it was noticed that both groups had followed the same growth curve. In other words, complementary feed seems to have no effect (good or bad), and good quality veld is, well, good enough.

Horses are trickle feeders; food needs to be constantly moving through their systems. So, instead of spending money on concentrate, ensure that your horse gets the most out of good-quality roughage, and take care of its general health. Here are some suggestions:

  • Parasites

All horses require frequent deworming. Ask your vet to do a faecal worm count; it is inexpensive and accurate and will ensure that you use the right dewormer. Use the correct dosage based on the horse’s weight, and change the dewormer regularly to avoid resistance. In addition, dip your horse to help rid it of ticks, and spray for flies.

  • Teeth

Have your horse’s teeth checked every six months. They need to be in good condition as they are essential for breaking down roughage and making it more palatable before it enters the digestive tract.

  • Health

General health checks should be carried out annually by your vet. This allows the vet to get to know your horse and to reassure you that the animal is in good health.

  • Land maintenance

Look after the veld in your paddocks. Make sure droppings are removed regularly, pull out weeds and sow bare patches with grass seeds. Organic fertilisers and paddock resting add to the quality of grazing. I also plant varied grasses and herbs in my paddocks to give the horses access to a wide range of nutrients; the animals select according to what their bodies require.

Kim Dyson breeds Arabians and Lusitanos, and has 22 years’ experience in holistic equine and human body work.