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Why Are Performance Horse Feed Servings So Big?

By Clair Thunes
Q.I’ve been feeding my horse, who’s in moderate work, a popular performance feed. I recently decided to weigh how much I’ve been feeding and found it’s 4 pounds per day. In reviewing the feeding directions, I notice that it says I am supposed to feed a horse in moderate work 0.6 to 0.9 pounds per 100 pounds of body weight. My horse weighs 1,250 pounds, so I should be feeding a minimum of 7.5 pounds per day. He just doesn’t need that much of this feed and is in great condition on his current diet. Why do they recommend feeding so much?
A.This is an issue I run in to all the time. In fact, most horses I work with eating performance feeds are fed at levels below the manufacturer’s recommendations. Most manufacturers recommend that their performance feeds be fed in combination with a minimum of 1 to 1.5% of the horse’s body weight per day as forage, such as hay. However, many of the horse I work with receive more hay than this.
Traditionally, horses at maintenance (not working) were fed 1.5 to 2% of their body weight as forage per day. As horses’ exercise levels increased, a performance type feed was introduced into the ration and the amount of hay fed was decreased so that total feed intake remained at about the same level. This approach allows for larger amounts of fortified feed to be added to the ration.
In locations where hay quality is poor, generally low in calories, or expensive, this type of substitution might make sense. However, keeping as much forage in the horse’s ration as possible is always preferred, and in many places hay quality is quite good or excellent and performance feeds are fed in addition to the existing amount of forage. In this case the horse might need less performance feed to maintain the same body condition.
The problem with this approach? It can leave the ration lacking in key nutrients such as trace minerals and vitamins. This is because manufactures add these nutrients at a set concentration to the calorie level in the feed with the expectation that a specific amount will be fed. When less is fed, deficiencies can occur. Therefore, if you’re feeding a performance feed at below the manufacturer’s recommended level, you should consider feeding a ration balancer either instead or in addition.
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