LIZZIE DRURY MSC RNUTR
I am sure that at some point all of us have at one time been in a situation where we have been faced with a horse that has simply picked his way through any meal of forage or concentrate that we have offered and nothing seems to make him tuck into anything with any relish!! Or perhaps the horse that has always had a good appetite and then at the start of the competition season starts to ‘back off the manager or haynet’. Providing that there are no obvious health issues such as sharp teeth, gastric ulcers, anxiety or colic signs then there are several management changes that you can experiment with to try and overcome this fussy feeding behaviour.
First and foremost is to ensure that your horse is eating adequate long stem forage. Long stem forage, whether it be pasture, hay or haylage, is crucial to maintaining a healthy digestive system. A healthy digestive system is one that maintains the correct pH throughout and has a healthy hindgut full of thriving and beneficial microflora!! Maintaining a healthy hindgut is also important to ensuring a good appetite. Overconsumption of carbohydrates, usually in the form of high-starch concentrates or fructan rich pastures, can result in subclinical acidosis. Subclinical acidosis is a condition in which the pH of the horse’s hindgut becomes too acidic. This will then affect the levels of the friendly bacteria that reside there and reduce fibre digestion resulting in a further drop of pH. Horses with subclinical acidosis often perform below expectations and this acidosis may also be the underlying cause for decreased feed intake.
The forage intake needs to be addressed first and any deficit in forage intake must not simply be made up by trying to increase the concentrate intake, as this will only exaggerate the problem. Ideally your horse should be eating at least 1.5 - 2% of his bodyweight as long forage and I always suggest you weigh your hay to know exactly how much your horse is eating. If he is eating less than this then you need to try and find ways to increase his intake. There are several things that you could try.
- If your horse does not have regular turnout try and increase his field and grass time. Sometimes there is nothing better than a bit of ‘Doctor Green’, fresh air and freedom to pep up a horses appetite. If it is not possible to turn him out, hand grazing or picking grass and feeding it in the stable offers a refreshing alternative.
- In order to stimulate appetite, try not to over-face your horse with huge haynets in one go. Try using smaller nets but more of them placed in different parts of the stable or perhaps a few piles on the floor. This helps to encourage movement, which horses would naturally be doing if they were grazing in the field.
- Another useful trick is to offer a variety of forage sources rather than sticking to one choice. Horses are natural browsers so providing a haynet, plus a haylage net AND a bucket of short chop chaff can provide enough of a change to stimulate the natural browsing behaviour that they would do naturally thus increasing fibre intake.
There may be some situations where fibre intakes may still be suppressed and using a time released hindgut buffer such as Kentucky Equine Research’s Equishure™ can effectively maintain the pH of the hindgut allowing for optimal digestion of nutrients in forage, creating an environment in which dietary energy can be absorbed efficiently and increase appetite in picky eaters.
Once the forage intake has been addressed and there is a requirement for a concentrate feed to be fed again there are several ideas that you can try to stimulate appetite. I would just like to add here though that there are some horses that have become picky eaters because they are too clever! It is possible for some horses to ‘pretend’ to be fussy because they have learnt that if they eat something for a couple of days and then turn their nose up at it that they will then be given something new and more tasty. This can become a vicious circle and make it extremely difficult to get the horse eating normally again. However, I do agree that there are certainly some more genuine cases out there particularly seen during busy competition seasons, or even when horses have been imported in from abroad, and these do need a slightly different approach.
The following suggestions may help.
- First establish some basics such as does your horse prefer a mix or a cube. Some horses do prefer a less aromatic and sweet feed and I have noticed this more in horses that have been imported from abroad.
- If you are adding chaff is he picking through the chaff to get to the mix or cube or vice versa?
Sometimes fussy feeding behaviour can be easily and simply addressed by establishing the above points. If not then try some of these!
- Try feeding a much smaller amount of concentrate feed until you find a level that he will clear up. Large feeds can put a horse off and sometimes it may even be necessary to feed by the handful until normal appetite returns. The key here is that he must clear up and not be left with feed to eat as and when he feels like it because almost certainly he won’t clean up and you will be throwing feed away.
- Establish if your horse is pickier in the morning or evening. Some horses do not eat well in the morning in anticipation of being turned out. In this case try changing the morning feed for perhaps a meal at lunchtime.
- If your horse does not eat well when he is away at shows try tempting him with frequent episodes of in hand grazing and offering small but frequent meals of alfalfa. Alfalfa is rich in calcium so helps to soothe an acidic digestive system.
- To ensure intake of quality protein, vitamins and minerals, feed balancers that are in a palatable mix form and include added cinnamon, such as Saracen Shape-Up, are good to promote a more regular eating pattern.
- Some horses like the taste of molasses to sweeten a feed, or spices such as cinnamon, which we have found very useful for fussy feeders. Experiment with feeding feeds dry or wet, as even this can be enough to make a difference.
SARACEN'S MOST PALATBLE FEEDS
RE-LEVE® is a high performance mix designed for horses that react to a cereal based diet. It is suitable for horses at every level, and can be supplemented with Equi-Jewel® when more energy is required or top level competition. Soya hulls, alfalfa pellets and beet pulp upply oil and fibre as the energy sources, keeping starch to a bare minimum. It is fortified with vitamins and Bioplex® minerals, a concentrated source of proteins, yeast, and elevated levels of vitamin E and selenium to assist normal muscle function. A blackcurrant flavour is added to Re-Leve® optimise palatability and aroma to make the ration tempting to even the fussiest of horses
SHAPE-UP™ is a low starch, high fibre mix designed to provide a balanced diet at low intake levels, and to help maintain a normal, healthy metabolism. It can be used as a calorie controlled ration for those prone to laminitis, Equine Metabolic Syndrome or Cushing's in order to meet micronutrient requirements without excess sugar, calories and starch intake. Cinnamon is added to Shape-Up as it is a very powerful anti-oxidant and can also help to maintain and support a healthy metabolism. In addition the cinnamon helps to make Shape-Up extremely palatable.
SUPER FIBRE Cubes are a great way to increase the fibre content of any horse’s ration. They can be fed as the sole concentrate feed, or as an addition to the fibre element of the ration, for example in a treat ball or scattered through hay. They can also be easily soaked to form a mash for horses and ponies that have difficulty chewing. The pencils have a low starch and sugar content and are cereal free. Soya oil is used within the pencil to support optimal skin and coat condition.
FIBRE MIX is based on long chop, dust free, alfalfa and can be fed as the sole concentrate feed or as the chaff element of any horse’s ration. Fibre Mix contains a small amount of cereal, as well as 9 herbs known to support optimal appetite, respiratory and digestive health. Soya oil is also added to the feed to support skin and coat condition.
WHAT ABOUT WATER?
Finally before you take your horses away from home make sure that he is not likely to become fussy about the water that he drinks!! This is a more serious position to be in than arriving at an event with a horse that decides not to eat. Lack of water intake will rapidly dehydrate your horse and severely effect health and performance, so if you are unable to take your own water with you make sure that when at home you have made sure that your horse is happy to drink water that is disguised with a flavour such as blackcurrant or apple juice!!
NEED SOME GUIDANCE?
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