Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beyond the Grain I: Feed Additives

There's a lot of feed world out there beyond grain and hay. I'll get to supplements in another few posts ( I don't think I could cram it into one!) and spend today talking about other feed additives. Mostly the purpose of these types of feed is to supplement the hay or the grain - horses are big animals and need lots of food!

Beet Pulp Shreds: BP was my first experience with feed additives. The shreds come dried, and you MUST soak them before you feed them. They expand up and I generally add a bit of extra water to make it a nice tasty soup/slop that horses seem to either really like  or really not. Beet Pulp shreds are sweet, and offer about 1000 extra calories per lb when hydrated - plus if the horse isn't a good drinker, that extra water can really help them out, or be good at a show when the horse won't drink for love or money. Nothing is funnier than a horse slurping (loudly, I might add) his beet pulp! I would say start small and feed in a flat feed pan or bucket on the ground, rather than dumping into any type of permanent feed bin, as if it's attached, you're stuck with all this water and shreds your horse won't eat and its tough to get it out.

Hay Pellets/cubes: Another soaking-product that horses (or Fox, at least) LOVE. I bought Foxie some Alfalfa pellets to help her get used to alfalfa before a barn move and will probably feed them again this summer because she LOVES them. I found the pellets to be much harder than the extruded bits in a regular feed, and started soaking them to make sure they were safe for her to eat (she could choke or get colic-ey if they expand in her stomach). I fed about a pound of them per feeding (I have a SURE SCOOP brand scoop) with another scoop of water in with them. Cubes are often too hard for the horse to really tackle on his own, so water is helpful there, as well. Hay cubes can supplement a diet (especially where alfalfa is too expensive to buy in bales) or fill in the holes that a hay shortage leaves behind. Or they just make a good snack/treat that isn't chock full of sugar for your beloved steed. Alf Pellets hang out just under 1,000 (977) calories per lb, orchard grass somewhere in the 870's and green pasture is about 250 calories/lb.

Rice Bran: Rice bran seems to come in power/granule form or pellets, and is another source of extra calories. It's loved by show horse owners and basically anyone for it's ability to make your horse shiny and have a really lovely lush coat. Again, I have heard of some taste issues, but it has that nice ferment-able fiber (fiber is a fact of horsey life- that gut needs to keep busy!) and, like fish oil supplements for people, it's full of omega-3's and omega-6's that are good for your horse's health. Rice bran is more calorie heavy around 1500 cal/lb but don't fall for most fat supplements - I've found that they don't really offer all that many calories per lb - do your research!

Corn Oil is also popular among show riders, because judges love shiny, healthy looking horses. At ~ 4,000 calories/lb (thought who measures liquids in lbs, seriously) it gets expensive fast, but again offers many of the same benefits as rice bran, but in a form your horse can't sort out of his feed. I see a lot of people buy big things of oil from the "Industrial" section or from a big box store and prescribe the amount in a pump measurement (two pumps per meal, etc). There is some argument that oil isn't good for your horse, but I'll let you do the research.

Finally there are the fat supplements made by horse feed companies - Amplify by Purina, Envision by Progressive, etc. These are highly concentrated forms of fat that are easy to integrate into your horse's diet along with his grain. These supplements differ in calorie content by the company, but these supplements are a nice way to simplify the trips you make to get your feed bought. Amplify is also available in Ultium, letting me kill two birds with one stone.

The biggest wisdom I have on this subject, is, of course, to do your homework. Make smart decisions - don't invest until you know your horse likes what you're feeding, and even then, Foxie got sick of beet pulp and magically stopped eating it when I had 1/4 of a bag left. Mares!

Ash & Fox

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Blanketing PSA - Again.

So we had some interesting weather the other week, and it got me thinking about blankets. I know I did another post about them, but really, I could talk about blankets forever, and it's my blog... so devil may care.

I like blankets.

The weather went from warm - and RAINY - to sub-zero in less than 24 hours. Weird for Minnesota  super weird for the horse owners around. The horses had a jolly day playing and rolling and napping in the sun - and then the temp dropped. This resulted in some shivering, chilly and generally unhappy ponies.

Horses generally take care of themselves, coat wise. But a matted, wet, or dirty coat can't fluff up to keep them warm - and Minnesota often offers horse owners extenuating circumstances. Wind, driving snow, rain, random temperature changes... our horses need some help, no matter how nice of a coat they grow. My Foxie doesn't grow much of anything, and thus she owns a wardrobe that puts most horse owners to shame.

I think even the most sturdy of horses should own at least a rain sheet - something to throw on them during that epic 2 day long down pour, or the snow storm you can't even walk through, when you're not 100% sure Pookie will stay in his or her shelter like a smart horse. They should also own a cooler - polar fleece or wool,  to help wick sweat away, or serve as an emergency layer under that rain sheet.

The world of blankets is kind of a scary one - like most things in the horse world, it's unnecessarily complicated and everyone has an opinion. Here is my DL.

European cut, or that boxy long sided blanket with the upside down V shoulder gusset is the most common, and tends to fit a lot of horses. It's a good place to start for shape.

Measuring for a blanket goes from the center of the chest, around the widest part of the flank to the point of the buttock. Some brands run long, some run short - read reviews, ask around, try a friend's horses' blanket on yours.

I like belly coverage (no tummy sticking out!) and good coverage around the back, with a tail flap to keep out drafts. The shoulder should fit without binding and watch that it doesn't sit too low in the front, and doesn't catch back on the wither, as that can cause friction-related hair loss or sores on the withers. Knowing that my blankets are a bit off in shoulder fit, and that Foxie gets rubbed easily, she wears a shoulder slinky (a shoulder covering piece of spandex that cuts down on the friction) under most of her blankets.

Blankets come in weights, or warmths, and deniers, which is the toughness of the fabric.
- 600 Denier is the standard material, and it's durable enough for a quiet horse. If you have a playful horse, or one who goes out with a rowdy herd, I would try for a 1200+Denier blanket.
- Warmth wise, there are no fill blankets (usually lined with nylon for coat slicking or mesh for breathe-ablilty), medium weights that run 200 - 240 grams of fiberfill, and heavy weight blankets that run 300 grams or more. I find my rain sheet and my medium to be the most useful, and use my heavy for the coldest days.

I look for blankets with hoods and that are waterPROOF and breathable, as they give me the most forgiveness  Hoods make up for freak cold days when I can't get out to the barn to swap her into a heavy, and the waterproof and breathable qualities keep them dry (try battling rain rot under a blanket - warm and dark and if not breathable, moist... nope.) and the breathable blanket allows for some small sweating without being truly wet under the blanket. Some people can get by with liners (like on the new Amigo line - those are very cool!) but I prefer to have at least one "outside" blanket, as no matter how many liners you have they don't do any good with a ripped up blanket on top of them. I like detachable hoods as you technically have two blankets and that much more flexibility. Rain sheets are hard to find (as are no-fill hoods) so I tend to stick to high neck blankets that help keep cold drips out from underneath the blanket.

As I mentioned with the new Amigo by Horseware Ireland line, liners are a interesting new thing - it means you can wash all of your blankets at home, as a sheet or a liner should fit fine in most washers. I prefer closed front liners, as buckles rubbing on the underside of buckles screams pressure points to me. I also prefer ones, like the SSTACK or Horseware liners, that don't have straps of their own but instead use the outer blanket's existing straps to keep them in place. It means half the unsnapping and resnapping, and more comfort and less bulk for your horse. I prefer them over the fleece "Liners" that companies sell - fleece screams static to me, and static makes (my horse at least) a little nuts. I lost a nice fleece sheet that way, and found my horse all tangled up and in a bad mess. They're useful, but with a grain of salt.

Some horses find blankets that go over their heads scary, and thus I would make sure to blanket with caution until they become a usual thing, just like halters for the head shy horse or touching ears, or the 1,000 other things horses can become afraid of for some reason or another. My flighty girl quickly learned that she likes her blankets - and will help you put one on her by sticking her head in the hole (whether she is actually "helping" is a different question).

More food for thought,

Ashley and Fox

If You're Going To Blanket...

You might as well clip...

I like this news!

I'm a big fan of clipping - it keeps you from spending hours cooling out and keeps you from getting a nice horse steam facial. Yuck. Clipping does take some practice, and it helps to have

This is the Irish Clip. I do a "modified" where I leave the shoulder (to help prevent blanket rubs) and go down between the legs, and then do the belly about that high to taper off. Sometimes I do the whole belly, some times I leave a strip of hair to prevent drafts - its up to you.

Next is the "low trace clip". Foxie's low trace ended up a little... whimsical, but I like the above design. It's softer than mine: 

Foxie's is a little squarer in the shoulder and higher in the hip (hips are hard, ok?) but it does the job pretty stylishly. 

More cute Fox... How can I resist her!

From there you get into the land of the high trace, which is for a horse in heavy, heavy work or for horses with a lot of hair in a warmer climate. Foxie has a pretty minimal hair coat to begin with (and it's heaviest on her belly) so she could easily get away with a lower clip - and while we were indoors, the indoor wasn't heated or insulated. Foxie, because of the wind and her own peculiarities (a particularly stiff neck) also has Weatherbeeta Oricans with the big crazy hoods. They really made a difference and it worked out great last year. 

And from there, we get into blanket, chaser and other various shapes of clip:

If you need to take more hair off than this... I would tread lightly. 

Clipping isn't easy. I got very lucky my first time, and Foxie was a well behaved little star for her torture. Either hire a pro, enlist a friend who is able to make their horse look good or... be prepared to deal with any and all mistakes you make. I use an inexpensive clipper, but Fox doesn't have too much hair. I clipped a friend's TB with much more hair and they struggled but seemed to recover. I suggest clipping early - October or November to give the horse time to grow back in a bit before the real cold begins, and blanketing with a hood to give the horse back the heat-keeping hair that you clipped off. I use a 10 blade (though I have adjustable 10-15-30 blade clippers) and keep a mid-bristle brush, clipper oil and shine spray on hand.

Here's my clipping rules:

Bath time first - try to start with a clean horse that won't dull your blades with dirt and dander. Then apply some shine spray, brush through, and allow to dry. Mark out your clip (chalk or masking tape - or freehand, if you're very brave) and fire up your clippers. I try to go in smooth strokes with the hair to try to not take too much off. Rest/take breaks often, let the clippers cool when they start to get warm. When it gets hard or starts to suck, let it go and finish another day. I'm also fond of the combs we originally bought to clip our dogs - they let me take a heavy coat off in sections so my clippers take less abuse. Extension cords, good lighting and hair-resistant non velcro clothing are a must. 

And a blanket to turn your poor shorn baby back out with his friends :)

Ashley and (the oft clipped/tortured) Foxie

Feeding Your Baby

Walking into any feed store - or even the horse feed aisle at Fleet Farm - is mind numbing. There are a thousand products, and it seems insurmountable.

Don't worry, I've got you.

There are many types of feed: Complete feeds, ration balancers, straight grains (Don't you just feed horses oats? Don't get me started!), sweet feeds, senior feeds...

Complete feeds are feeds that, when fed in the correct amounts (usually noted on the bag) they provide everything a horse would need. They contain vitamins, minerals and other necessities as well as fat and protein (levels of which will differ formula to formula) and usually a fiber additive, which can serve to replace some of the hay in a horse's diet. Fiber is the most important part of a horses diet - their stomachs do best when they are constantly munching - not porking out quickly and then having a rumbly tummy for hours. Empty stomachs can cause ulcers or other problems, as well as make it ridiculously hard to get/keep weight on a horse who doesn't get a lot of hay (AKA that Thoroughbred type horse). Completes come in formulas, like dog food; senior, growth, performance, etc.We'll talk more about these in a minute.

Ration Balancers are the new thing. RB's are designed for horses who do well on hay alone - they don't need a ton of extra calories, but since hay is hard to measure and expensive to test, it's easier to make sure your horse gets all of his nutrient requirements through a ration balancer. Usually you feed 4 pounds or less and thus feed less calories to get the nutrition than a complete, which you feed in larger amounts. The protein level depends on whether or not you are feeding grass hay or alfalfa- and usually the formulas are labeled, or in Purina's case, Enrich-32 is for grass and Enrich-12 is for alfalfa, as alfalfa is much more nutritionally and protein rich.

RB's can also fill in the holes for horses getting straight grains. I'm not a huge fan, because straight grains are a less efficient food source, and as an event horse owner, I want CALORIES! Straight grains can come straight - your standard oats or corn, or as mixes, or as sweet feeds (mixed grains, sometimes added pellets and molasses to coat/make it super exciting to your horse). I'm not a sugar fan for any horse, so I'm less of a sweet feed fan, but it works well for many people - and for your picky eaters.

Now, back to complete feeds - aka "pellets". Completes come in many formulas - allow me to outline Purina's lines, as I know them best.

Stategy: Professional and Healthy Edge
Strat is a local standard - its what most barns feed. Healthy edge is higher fat, and slightly lower sugar, and is a good option despite the oddity that it's lower calories. For me, Strat is too high in protein and too low in fats - and has a high NSC (non-structured carbohydrates) percent, which basically means it's high sugar. My Thoroughbred needs fat, not more energy, so it didn't turn out to be a good fit, but it's a good starting place and a popular feed.

Ultium - Growth (for your young growing horse) and Competition
I am an Ultium fan, and I am not ashamed. Mid level protein, an industry high for fat content and one of the highest calorie per pound ratios I've found, Ultium has been a source of "cool calories" with its mid level NSC (16 versus Strat's 26). Ultium is also high fiber, which is nice to keep their stomachs moving. This feed I can feed less of, and get more bang for my buck calorie wise.

Omolene Line -
The Omolenes are Purina's packaged sweet feeds. They have several mixes, and some good levels of protein and fat for different needs. I'd just check the NSC before I make that choice. Horses LOVE sweet feed, though, so good to mix for your picky eater.

Equine Family Line
This line includes Equine Junior, Equine senior, and Equine Adult. This are a more generic complete feed line, with the stand out for me being equine senior and senior HE. These feeds are both optimized for the older horse with less teeth (and they soak well) and tend to work well for picky horses who don't like Strategy as much as they're beet pulp based. Generally these are decent, economical feed. For the technical feeder (me!) they're a bit lacking for my calorie and low sugar needs.

Natures Essentials

This heading includes our Ration Balancers (alfalfa and grass), Purina's fat supplement (and it works, holy god. This nugget looks like cat food, and is in the HE feeds and Ultium - it's gooood stuff) and their mineral block line. I've already talked about the benefit of the Ration Balancer revolution, and I highly suggest Amplify nuggets for your fat supplement needs - it's a great way to add calories to a nutritionally balanced diet that is just lacking fats.

As always, I would say contact a feed specialist in the area (many feed companies employ people just to help you feed your horse!) or talk to a feed store employee or other knowledgeable people (like me! Let us crazies do the research!) about your needs and feed options.

We'll talk about supplements next!

Ashley and Foxie