How to Safely Make Changes to Your Horse’s Feed

If you are thinking about switching up your horse’s brand of feed, consider these factors first.

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It is important to make feed changes gradually to avoid digestive upset. | iStock

Q: I recently received a voucher for a couple of free bags of feed from a large, reputable company. It’s not, however, the brand I currently feed my horses. Can I safely switch from one brand’s performance horse feed to the other’s and back again to take advantage of this offer?

A: First of all, congratulations on receiving some free bags of feed! This can definitely help with your feed budget, considering the current cost of a bag of feed. It’s also great that you are aware that any abrupt changes to your horse’s diet can cause digestive upset.

The horse’s digestive tract is very sensitive to abrupt changes in diet, and a change made too quickly can lead to health issues such as diarrhea or colic. So, your goal with this new feed is to make modifications gradually. If you can choose the specific feed, I recommend finding one that is very similar to what you are currently feeding in nutrient content, ingredients, and processing (pelleted, extruded, or textured). Refer to this article on how to read a feed tag if you don’t know how to check this information.

If you are only getting a few free bags of feed, then use the new feed just as a partial replacement until it is all used. You should start with only replacing about ¼ of each grain meal with the new feed, so if a meal is 4 pounds, use 1 pound of the new feed and 3 pounds of the old feed. After a few days (four or five should be sufficient) you could increase to feeding ½ the meal in the new feed, so 2 pounds of the new feed and 2 pounds of the old feed. The two feeds should be thoroughly mixed together so the horse can’t sift through and separate out one feed. Plan to make a similar transition back to your regular feed as the stored amount of the free feed starts to decrease.

If you choose to switch to the new feed completely, you should plan to make a gradual transition over about two weeks. Again, start by switching out about ¼ of each meal with the new feed. After about four to five days, increase the new feed to about ½ of each meal. The new feed can be increased to about ¾ of the meal after another four or five days, and then the new feed can make up the entire meal four to five days after. When making a complete transition you will want to make sure you have enough of the old feed to make this gradual change.

Also consider how you plan to store the new feed, as this might affect how quickly you want to use it. If you must pick all the bags up at once, make sure you can store them off the ground, such as on a pallet, so they don’t collect moisture and then mold. In warmer months you will need to finish using the feed more quickly than in colder months. Also check to see if the feed has an expiration date on the label, and make sure you use it before this date.


Written by:

Janice L. Holland, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Director of Equine Studies at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. A graduate of both Penn State and Virginia Tech, her equine interests include nutrition and behavior, as well as amateur photography. When not involved in horse activities she enjoys spending time outdoors enjoying nature.

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