Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nutrition Notes

Since Louie is still recovering from his leg ailments and I don't have a ton of other exciting news to share, I thought I'd write a little bit about nutrition and Louie's menu. 

Last summer, Louie needed to gain a few pounds, so when I got him moved over to our current stable, we increased his feed- he was getting 9 pounds of grain per day!  (that was 7 pounds of the barn's sweet feed mix, 1 pound of whole oats, and 1 pound of Triple Crown Senior)  He put on a fair bit of weight, but then seemed to require quite a bit of grain to maintain his weight.  I couldn't really decrease him below this 9 pounds per day without him dropping weight. 

This spring when we had the vet out to do some spring time vet work on him, she recommended I change his feed to something pelleted as it is easier for a horse to digest, and he likely wouldn't require as much to maintain his weight.  9 pounds of grain is a lot of concentrate for a horse to consume, and is not very good for their digestive system.  Not only are horses' stomachs not designed to consume large quantities of food in short periods of time (they're designed for slow, constant grazing), but the whole corn and oats in sweet feed lower the pH of the stomach, making them more prone to ulcers and colic. 

So, my job was to choose a new feed for Louie- NOT an easy task.  I slaved away for weeks going back and forth trying to decide what to feed him, meticulously calculating cost and caloric content of various percentages of this or that feed.  Mixing in sweet feed, oats, pelleted and senior feeds in various ratios.  This process went on for weeks, I had a calculator everywhere I went and any spare moment I had, I pulled out my scratch paper pad and data, and crunched more numbers.  I had huge lists complied of various feeds, their nutrient contents, calorie contents, and cost, all broken down per pound.  Louie had been getting 4 different feeds all mixed together at one point in time, because I couldn't decide on the best feed and wanted to give him the best feeds at the most cost efficient rate.  I really wanted to continue to feed Louie the Triple Crown Senior feed that I had been supplementing, but was hung up on the cost of feeding this ($18.50 for a 50 pound bag).

Finally, one day, my husband had had enough of my insanity in calculating the cost and nutrition value of so many feeds and my frustration with finding the perfect balance, and finally said, "I don't care what it costs, but pick one feed that you like, and feed it.  And don't change it in 2 months."  So I said, "Okay.  I'm going to feed him Triple Crown Senior." 

I gradually switched Louie off of his 4 different feeds and onto straight Triple Crown Senior and I couldn't be happier with that decision.  He looks great.  His coat is healthy and shiny, even getting some dapples.  His attitude is perky and curious.  His energy is sufficient, yet not hot or crazy.  And his weight has been stable.  I have been able to cut him back from 9 pounds of grain per day to about 4.5 pounds per day on this feed.  And he was getting a little porky on that, so I've just cut him back even further, to about 3.5 pounds per day.  What a huge difference! 

I've tried a lot of different feeds in the past, but I have not fed anything I've been quite so impressed with.  And, I know that what I am feeding is quality.  Triple Crown has a fixed formula and does not substitute their ingredients based on what is less expensive at the time of milling. They use real, good quality feed products, and are one of the only companies to list their ingredient list proudly on their web page.  Their Senior feed is beet pulp and alfalfa based, and contains stabilized flax seed which is very high in Omega-3 fatty acids (not only a great fat source to add sheen to the coat, but also has anti-inflammatory properties).  The feed has a great vitamin and mineral profile and also contains probiotics to aid in digestion.  It contains 14% protein, 10% fat, and 17% fiber, so it is very nutrient dense, and also considered a complete feed.  It was voted one of the best feeds by The Horse Journal.  It really is a great product.  And their customer service is wonderful too.  I'm not a Triple Crown salesperson, just a happy customer. 

So, in addition to his senior feed, Louie gets 2 ounces of whole flax seed (I really don't need to be giving him extra as his senior feed already contains flax, but it is one of the "extras" that I just haven't discontinued from when I previously had him on many different things).  There are mixed opinions on whether flax seed should be fed whole, ground, boiled, etc.  As far as I understand, the most popular way to feed it is ground, but it must be ground fresh, which is an inconvenience from a horse boarding standpoint.  Most horses are able to sufficiently chew it to break the seeds.  It is very easy to break the seed open by just pinching it with a fingernail, and many people believe that its nutrients can be fully extracted even if the seeds are passed through the digestive system whole. 

Louie also gets MSM in his feed- the only oral joint supplement that I feel is worthwhile to feed at this time.  This could be a huge discussion in itself, but my opinion is simply that, while there are an abundance of oral joint supplements on the market, touted to help with arthritis and maintain healthy joints, the research is lacking that any of them have any efficacy.  And the cost is prohibitive- at $30/month I am not going to mix an expensive powder into my horse's feed if I don't notice any effect.  MSM has some research that supports its use as an anti-inflammatory, it is very inexpensive, and has been used for many years safely. 

When I am out to visit Louie and working him, I frequently feed him a meal of soaked alfalfa cubes- usually about 2 pounds of dry cubes, soaked in water of equal proportions.  At first Louie didn't enjoy this mash, but now he gobbles it up quite willingly, one of his favorite treats. 

Of course in addition to the feed that I provide, Louie gets grass hay, grass pasture in the summers, plenty of clean water, and a trace mineral block to use as needed.  On occasion he gets fresh carrots from my garden, or apples or peppermint treats when others bring them. 
All in all, I think Louie's a pretty lucky horse.  He's got a great menu at his disposal, and his condition shows it!


  1. Why are husband's so grouchy about us worrying over our's horse's diets? Could it be all the hamburger and takeout we serve while our minds are occupied elsewhere? Don't they know that they are perfectly capable of making their own dinner choices whilst the horse is a passive victim of our research? And BTW, when did this horse food stuff get so darn complicated?

  2. I totally agree! That's why I love the simplicity of scooping up one feed (plus his msm and flax)for Louie rather than the complicated formulas of "half pound of this, 2 pounds of that, 1 ounce of this, 3 pounds of that" etc. Much easier. :) Of course, every horse has different needs, and with Louie's quantity needs decreasing, I might have to switch him to Triple Crown Lite (something I NEVER thought I'd ever do!). :)

  3. I am going to have my horse's feed evaluated by a naturopathic horse person. I am hoping to have her out later this month to do a chiro adjustment on him and then ask her then. I was told by her mentor that my horse (for his level of activity and age) is probably getting too much sugar in his diet. I do believe in joint supps. I wrote about it on my blog, I took my horse off of them last fall and by January he was so off in the hind with no apparent injury or swelling (he is 16 and has arthritis in the hocks) that I had the vet out to do a lameness check. I put him back on the supp and within a month he was back to his old self- trotting to his hay in the pasture, etc. It was amazing. I am paying a lot- $70 for 5 lbs, which lasts about a month and a week. It's from Horse Tech (Smart Pak carries it too.) The product contains flax, MSM, Gluco, Chron., etc....) I am wondering if the flax is making him gasey though? Alfalfa used to do that, and he is gasey again this summer. Anyway, I am also considering switching his supplement, I think unlike Triple Crown, the company of his grain does use whatever is cheapest at the mill. It is non-grain based supplement, supposedly (brand is LMF) but I know it has molasses on it too. I am perplexed by grain/feed options. I can't afford separate vitamins (I heard Dynamite are awesome- but super pricey!) and the joint supp. So, lots to figure out. But I can relate to your woes. Glad you have found something that works for your Louie! :)
    -Pony Girl