Q. My 25-year-old Thoroughbred gelding has come out of the winter a little on the lean side. I can see a clear outline of ribs. He lives in a group pasture with free-choice access to a round bale. Normally at this time of year we are able to put the horses back on spring pasture, which would likely take care of the weight issue. However, this spring the grass is coming in later than usual. He has been fed soaked beet pulp and 2 pounds per day of a ration balancer all winter. Should I switch him to senior feed that would also provide more fat?
A. My first choice when needing to increase calorie intake is generally to see whether feeding more forage is possible. It seems as though your horse has had access to as much hay as he wants, and so increasing his hay intake is likely not a viable solution. It’s possible the round bale hay was low-quality. Perhaps it is late-cut and rather stemmy, in which case feeding a higher-quality hay might be an option, but in a group pasture setting that is likely not very practical.
It’s also important to rule out whether he is being kept off the hay by other, more dominant horses in the pasture or whether he might be in some mild discomfort that is keeping him from making the effort to get to the hay. If other horses are keeping him off the hay, then a different social group might be more appropriate. You might want to have your veterinarian check him over to rule out any body or mouth/dental pain, and I would certainly do that if his condition doesn’t improve with increased calorie intake.
Feeding fat is certainly a great way to add more calories to the diet, and if the result is a higher total daily calorie intake, you should see some weight gain. Certainly, switching to a senior feed with a fairly high fat content is one option. Another is keeping the current diet and adding oil or another high-fat supplement to the beet pulp/ration balancer combination. If adding oil, I recommend using one that contains omega-3 fatty acids. You can slowly increase the amount of oil fed to a total of 1 to 2 cups per day over a seven- to 10-day period. Keep an eye open for loose manure, because this indicates that you’re feeding too much oil or have increased the amount too quickly.
Instead of oil (which can be messy) you might prefer to use a solid fat supplement. These come in a range of forms, including powders and extruded nuggets. You can feed fat supplements at the manufacturer’s recommended amount based on your horse’s body weight and how much weight gain is needed.
A number of high-fat senior feeds are on the market that have a crude fat content of about 10%. These tend to also include beet pulp as a fermentable fiber source. Feeding a commercial senior feed at the manufacturer’s recommended levels should ensure a horse’s vitamin and mineral needs are met, meaning he would no longer need the ration balancer. However, if you feed less than the minimum daily amount of senior feed, continue feeding the ration balancer at approximately half the normal amount.
I rehab senior horses, and my go-to is adding soaked hay pellets to the diet. They have a higher feed utilization than hay which makes it easier to gain weight. They’ve worked so well that I’ve never needed to add oil, nor do a senior feed. I’ve also found that the leading cause of weight loss in a senior (assuming there’s not a medical issue going on) is declining efficiency in chewing hay.
Hi I was wondering how much pellelted hay you feed at one feeding perhaps in pounds. Thank yoi.
COMMENTI have a question. I’m feeding soaked alfalfa cubes to a senior horse because of his chewing problems. I took a taste
of the soaked feed myself one day and was surprised to find that along with the hay, I had a mouth full of sand/dirt! Doesn’t this grind down horses teeth?
I find with older TBs, after excluding physical issues, ie ulcers etc… that high protein high fat works best. Senior feeds, IMO do not have enough protein and fat. A complete feed which is high in protein and fat, and low in starch works best. I rescue TBs, I have a 35 year old OTTB, with very little teeth left… she’s at good weight, maintains well, but I feed her a pelleted feed that is 12%protein and 10%fat and low starch (ie no corn). Also add alfalfa pellets and all is soaked into a mash. I have had great success with Tribute Kalm Ultra. Even soaking the feed for older horses can make all the difference.
In general, these recommendations are nice. In my case I used all of them and failed and lost my wonderful 25 yr. old OTTB this 2/9/2020, by choke. Lesson there, I’m sure it is my fault, I let him graze too long with a smaller stomach capacity due to decreased eating on his part.
May 2019 he stopped eating his favorite; alfalfa. His weight loss began when the grass turned brown late last summer. Had yearly teeth floating, Oct. he had a tooth extraction due to a receded gum, not decay. Dr. gave him a body score of 3. I was shocked. Said he had a big murmur and kidneys were failing.
From there is was a slow, slide downward. Too much fat supplement gave him diarrhea, so I stopped. He liked beet pulp and alfalfa soaked pellets and normal grass hay. But often he ate little acting like he had belly pain.
If he could graze 24/7 he would but it was too cold and wet. Pasture too lean. He was always blanketed for cold. The last months I got him an ulcer supple. And peppermint tea he loved. But I still lost the battle. he was failing and I had to choose to relieve him of his suffering. Learn from my failures. thanks CH/ WA