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Q. Do You Need to Get Every Nutrient to 100% On The FeedXL Graph?

A. No. And in fact it would be impossible to create a diet that met exactly 100% of your horse’s requirements for every nutrient shown here.

Q. So if not 100%, where should the nutrient levels be sitting? And what is normal? Because some of the amounts on this graph look really high?! Isn’t that dangerous???

A. Good question! And the answer is it depends on the nutrient. Forages, for example, contain high levels of some nutrients like iron and potassium. Because diets often have lots of forage, these nutrients will almost always be high in the diet.

BUT that doesn’t mean it is dangerous. In fact if you push a nutrient to a dangerous level, the bar for that nutrient will turn red, like this, to warn you that the nutrient is now at its ‘upper safe limit’ and needs to be reduced.

Q. OK, that’s good! So I know if I get a nutrient WAY too high FeedXL will warn me. BUT I still don’t know what is normal for all of the nutrients. Where should I expect to see them?

A. Yep, let me walk you through them all! Let’s use this graph and go through each nutrient.

Digestible Energy

This should sit, for most horses, somewhere between 90% and 105% of requirements. SOME horses have a lower or higher need for digestible energy (calories) so you may see the odd horse sitting below 90% or above 105%.

BUT, if you do enter a horse and the Digestible Energy is low or high and this does not correspond accurately with what you are seeing in your actual horse (meaning if the Digestible Energy is low in the diet you enter into FeedXL, normally you would expect to see weight loss. If it is high, normally you would expect to see weight gain) you MAY need to double check the information you have entered into FeedXL as this is a small red flag that something has not been entered right.

For example, if you have entered bodyweight that is too high, the Digestible Energy level will be low and vice versa. Or if you haven’t weighed your feeds and hay or classified your pasture correctly and you have entered amounts or qualities that are too low, then Digestible Energy will appear low and vice versa.

Quick Tip: If Digestible Energy in your horse’s diet is below 90% or above 105%, check that you have entered your horse’s bodyweight and weights of feed and forages correctly.

Crude Protein

The Crude Protein level in the diet should always be at or above 100%. And it is best to try to keep it less than 200%. For performance horses that are stabled and in work I like to try to keep Crude Protein below 160%, if I can… it is not always possible!

Depending on your forages, you may see Crude Protein go very high (well above 200%). Is this an issue? Generally it’s not, but there are some situations (like very hot, humid climates or when a horse is stabled) that it is not ideal. Sometimes, if it is your pasture for example that is high in protein, there is not a lot you can do about it. If the horse is stabled and fed hay, you should try to switch some of the higher protein forage (e.g. alfalfa/lucerne) for a lower protein forage (like a meadow/grass hay), to bring the overall amount of Crude Protein in the diet down.

For detailed information on whether too much protein is an issue or not read our article here: https://feedxl.com/37-protein-can-you-feed-too-much/

Lysine

Lysine is your indicator of protein quality (you can read about Protein Quality here https://feedxl.com/30-understanding-protein-quality/). Lysine should sit between 100% and 150%. If it is lower, it indicates your protein quality is low and your horse will struggle to do things like build muscle or make milk. In fact, when lysine is low in a diet you will likely see your horse losing muscle over his topline… it’s an important nutrient to get right in the diet.

Lysine may get quite high in some diets depending on the amount and source of crude protein. But if you follow the guidelines above for Crude Protein, you will find Lysine levels will adjust accordingly.

Calcium

Calcium should be at or above 100% in the diet and I like to keep it below 200%. Ideally, I like it sitting below 150% but depending on the feeds and forages being used, it is not always possible to achieve this. The amount in the diet shown here is lovely, more than the horse needs but well below 200%.

It is important with calcium to also check the calcium to phosphorus ratio in the diet (look in the Nutrient Table) to make sure it is within the right limits with phosphorus. And if you like to use the extra ratios, you can also check its ratio with magnesium, which as a guide, should be 3: 1 or less.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus should be at or above 90% and ideally below 150%. You may see some diets with high phosphorus ingredients like Rice Bran pushing phosphorus higher than this. If it is above 150%, be sure to check the calcium to phosphorus ratio on the nutrient table to make sure this is still balanced (there MUST be more calcium in a diet than phosphorus).

NOTE: You cannot calculate the diets calcium to phosphorus ratio off the numbers on the graph. It is always best to read the ratio off the nutrient table. FeedXL will warn you if the calcium to phosphorus ratio is too high or low!

Copper, Zinc, Selenium and Iodine

I am grouping all of these trace minerals together because they all share the same characteristic that they are almost ALWAYS at low levels in forages. Which means they are nearly always deficient in diets before you add fortified feeds or supplements.

This means that you can aim to keep these nutrients as close to 100% as possible. The diet shown here uses a single vitamin/mineral supplement to meet trace mineral requirements.

This is what the diet looked like before I added the supplement:

You can see these 4 minerals are all low. I used the Supplement Finder (i.e. The BIG PINK BUTTON) to find a supplement that would fill all of these gaps. Ideally what you want to see when you use a single supplement is that at least one of these minerals is sitting very close to 100%. That is your green flag that you have the amount of supplement at the right level. Increasing the amount from this point is just a waste as all requirements are already met, while reducing it would mean the amount of this nutrient (selenium in this example, which is sitting at 101%) would no longer be meeting requirements.

The same rules also apply when using a fortified feed to meet vitamin and mineral requirements. Except that you also have to consider the amount of Digestible Energy the feed is adding.

This is not a super simple concept, so if you are confused, please keep asking questions, as the more you understand this, the easier it will be to use FeedXL effectively.

Quick tip: You can try to keep copper, zinc, selenium and iodine as close to 100% of requirements as possible. If these nutrients are above 200% I would be trying to find ways to reduce them. This may mean switching feeds or supplements!

Manganese, Iron, Magnesium and Potassium

These minerals are almost always HIGH in forages. Therefore you will almost always see them sitting well above your horse’s 100% level in the diet. Is this a concern? No. There are always exceptions, but for the majority of horses, no, it is not a problem when these minerals are well above 200%.

Thing is, because these nutrients are rich in forages, it is almost impossible to get them closer to the 100% mark. You could reduce the amount of forage, but the downside of that (higher risk of ulcers, boredom, compromised hindgut health, higher risk of dehydration and colic) far outweighs any potential upside. In fact unless levels in the forage are extreme and the bar for a nutrient goes red, there really is no upside to reducing forage.

If you are concerned, because sometimes it does look scary, just read the notes in the Nutrient Table or the hover box on the graph to put your mind at ease. For example, Iron in this diet is at 331%. Which seems really high! But, the notes will tell you:

“While Poet’s iron is higher than it needs to be it is still within the safe range. Poet’s upper safe level for iron is 6,019 mg or 943% of his RDI”

So the upper safe limit is 943%. This diet is a long way off that, so even though 331% seems high, it is very much within the safe zone!

For those of you who like to look at the iron: copper: zinc: manganese ratio, it is calculated for you in the Nutrient Table.

Sodium and Chloride

Sodium and chloride are the two components of ordinary table salt. So together they can make a feed taste very salty. If a feed gets too salty your horse may stop eating it, because it simply doesn’t taste good (and can’t blame them!). So I like to keep sodium as close to 100% as I can, by adjusting the amount of salt in the diet.

There are a few exceptions. If your horse is in a very hot and humid climate you may need to feed more (more info here https://feedxl.com/40-electrolytes/) or if you are trying to increase water intake for some reason, more salt is useful. But under normal conditions, sitting sodium at or very close to 100% is best. BUT also always make sure your horse has access to free choice salt!

Chloride is a bit of a lucky dip and its final level in a diet will depend on the amount in your forages. I don’t pay too much attention to where chloride ends up. In fact I don’t think I have ever had to adjust a diet specifically to change the level of chloride (for any dairy nutritionists reading this, it does play a big role in DCAD, but that is another story for another day 🙂 ).

Vitamin A

If you are obsessive about getting nutrients close to 100%, Vitamin A is your friend! You will notice it is nearly always sitting on 100% of requirements. Why?

Well, in forage, the ‘vitamin A’ content is not active vitamin A. It is in the form of Beta Carotene which can be converted to vitamin A IF your horse needs vitamin A. So they will only convert it if they need it.

FeedXL models this physiology and takes into account ALL vitamin A from feeds and supplements as this will be an active form of vitamin A (which can become toxic so we need to count all of it). But then FeedXL will only convert vitamin A to active form from forages IF your horse needs more vitamin A.

For example, if your feed + supplement provides 80% of your horse’s requirement for vitamin A, FeedXL will just top up the remaining 20% of vitamin A from forages to meet 100% of your horse’s requirement. Which is why Vitamin A is very often sitting right on 100%.

If your feeds and supplements provide more than 100% of your horse’s requirement for vitamin A you will see it above 100%. This is OK, as long as it is within safe limits (though personally I would keep it under 200%).

Vitamin E, Vitamin B1 and Folic Acid

I am grouping these three together because they will often be low in diets before you add some kind of fortified feed or supplement. And they are all relatively expensive nutrients, so for the sake of cost, you want to make sure your horse’s requirement is met, but if levels of these vitamins go above 200%, you may be paying a lot for nutrients your horse doesn’t really need. I like to keep them between 100% and 200% if I can. In the case of this diet, the supplement I used was rich in Folic Acid so it has tipped above 200%, but the E and B1 are at nice levels so I am not going to worry about the Folic Acid in this case.

Quick Tip: Keeping these nutrients below 200% will make sure the diet is not excessively expensive!

Vitamin B2, Niacin, Vitamin B5 and Vitamin B6

This crew are all grouped together because forage is OFTEN high in these vitamins so you will normally see levels WELL ABOVE 100% for all of these vitamins. Is that something you should be concerned about? Not at all. In fact all of these except vitamin B6 are considered non-toxic. And the vitamin B6 upper safe level is very high (in this diet the upper safe limit is 5000%!!).

Quick Tip: I essentially ignore these nutrients as long as they are ‘green’. They will almost always be well above 100%, but it is nothing to be concerned about!

I hope that helps you a little to read the graph and to put your mind at ease about what is and is not normal for certain nutrients. If you have questions, please be sure to ask in the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Forum on Facebook!! We truly want you to know as much as you can about what FeedXL is showing you!

Too Much Salt Might Be Killing Gut Bacteria

The last two weeks has seen extreme weather conditions for us in my local area in Australia. In the last 14 days, 7 days have been 40 degrees celsius or higher (104 F +) and of the other 7 days only one was below 37 degrees C (99 F). To make things worse, the nights will not cool down, with most nights remaining over 20 degrees C (68 F) and a couple of nights being 26 + degrees C (79 F). On more than one occasion I have checked temperatures between midnight and 3 am and it has been 30 degrees or more in the middle of the night! It is HOT!!!

My horses are crusted in salt from continuous sweating. I took pity on them today and instead of having them out grazing with muzzles on they have hay in their hay pillows so they can at least stay in the shade.

But back to salt. I normally just let my horses eat salt free choice. Their balancer pellet gives them about 5 grams of salt per day and the rest of what they need they eat as loose rock salt.

BUT, the last couple of weeks I have been adding it to their feeds so I know they are getting enough to keep sweating. If horses run low on sodium or chloride they can’t sweat, and that, in these conditions is life-threateningly dangerous.

There is a trend at the moment though for people to add large amounts of salt to their horse’s daily feeds, despite actual requirements or what may be coming from the rest of their diet. Blanket recommendations like ‘add 10 grams of salt per 100 kg of bodyweight’ seem to be commonplace, yet don’t seem to take into account a horse’s specific situation.

Take Poet’s diet for example, shown in the graph below. If I add 10 g/100 kg of BW to his diet his sodium intake is well over 200% of what he needs. In these extreme conditions this may well be accurate, but once it cools off a little this is way more sodium than he needs.

While I was out just now giving them hay I had the thought ‘I wonder what this excessive salt might be doing to the bacteria in their gut’?? Salt is, after all one of the best known and most widely used anti-bacterial agents in the world.

So I did a little research… and while not much came up, there is a recent paper, published in ‘Nature’ (i.e. one of the most reputable journals in the world, so we can trust it) showing that in both mice and men adding more salt than normal to a diet affected the gut bacterial populations, in some cases it entirely wiped out certain strains of bacteria! Eek!

What is really interesting (from a human perspective) is that the researchers were then able to link those shifts in gut bacteria to high blood pressure, which may help to explain (the as yet poorly understood) link between high salt diets and hypertension.

Back to your horses though… feeding excessive salt is unlikely to have any benefit and may be negatively affecting the good bacteria in your horse’s gut. So when using FeedXL, just meet your horse’s requirement for sodium with salt that is added to the diet. Then leave free choice salt (preferably as easy to eat loose rock salt) out so they can top up any extra requirement they may have.

The paper is here if anyone would like to read it in more detail: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature24628

Questions? Comments?

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How Much Should You Feed Your Horse in a Day?

Sometimes feeding more gives your horse less.

When we exceed about 2.5 to 3% of a horse’s bodyweight in feed per day (so 12.5 to 15 kg for a 500 kg horse) the feed starts to move really quickly through the gut. Problem is, digestion, and particularly fiber digestion takes time. Fiber is digested via fermentation in the hindgut (more on how that works here) and fiber fermentation is a slow process. So feed needs to just have the time to hang about in the hindgut for a fair while (like 24 to 48 hours).

When we feed too much, feed gets pushed through the gut really quickly (essentially as it comes in the front end it gets shoved out the back) and it will only be partially digested… so you may be feeding a lot, but your horse doesn’t have full opportunity to digest it.

Think about it like this…

If I gave you a pool noodle, one of the ones with a hole in it, and told you to keep it perfectly flat/horizontal and then gave you a small bucket of marbles to push through the noodle… you would poke them in one end (and assuming it’s flat so they don’t just roll out) they would only start coming out the other end once the entire noodle was full and as you pushed one in, one should come out… make sense?

Now suppose I told you you had to take 10 minutes to put all of the marbles through the noodle… you would need to take your time in poking one in so they didn’t come out too fast.

Now, if I gave you a bucket of marbles 3 times the size of the original bucket and told you to also push all of these through the pool noodle in 10 minutes you would have to do it three times as fast to get them all done in time. When you feed too much this is what happens, feed goes in one end and comes out the other too fast and only partially digested.

In a lot of cases, less is more!

Feeding less gives the feed time to sit around and move slowly through the gut, allowing it to be fully digested. Not much sense making expensive manure right?!

Take a look at your feed program and feed amounts and see if this might apply… often when we try to push for weight gain we get stuck in this trap of feeding too much and it doesn’t seem logical to feed less to get more weight gain. But trust me on this one, it really does work this way!

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How to Feed a Horse Confined to a Stable

Feeding a horse confined to a stable… it’s a balancing act… give them plenty of feed to keep them occupied but not so much you have them climbing them walls. Here is a little help on how to do it!

Horses are sometimes required to be confined due to illness or injury with no exercise allowed. It’s certainly not ideal for a horse, but, with some diseases, injuries and surgeries it is critical that a horse does stay confined AND calm for long periods of time.

As it does for so many things, nutrition… what you feed and how much, makes a very real difference to how well a horse will cope during confinement!

Horses will express the amount of calories they are being fed in their diet in their behaviour. So if you feed them a lot of energy (calories) they will give you a lot of energy! Which means feeding a confined horse needs to walk that fine line of enough calories to hold weight so that healing/recovery can occur but not so much that behavior becomes a problem… either from your own safety perspective or for their own safety (the last thing you need an injured horse doing is climbing the walls of a box!).

Where it gets really tricky is that mentally they need enough to eat to keep them occupied and of course we need to keep the stomach full to lower the ever present risk of ulcers!

So it’s a classic catch 22… How do we feed lots to keep them munching all day without exceeding their calorie requirement??

The answer is in low quality, low calorie hay! If you can find it!! Average quality grassy hay is perfect for these horses because it is low in calories, meaning they can eat a lot of it without blowing their calorie budget. Plus it’s often stemmy and requires a lot of chewing, so it keeps them busy for long periods and makes them salivate a lot which is great for maintaining the health of their stomach. And they don’t particularly like it, so they won’t eat it really quickly… a benefit in keeping them busy and preventing ulcers!

Of course you can’t just feed average quality grass hay, there would be deficiencies in the diet everywhere that would hinder recovery and general health.

My go to with these horses is average quality grassy hay, a portion of alfalfa/lucerne hay and a high quality balancer pellet for vitamins and minerals… which gives you the quantity/bulk you need to keep the horse sane and it’s gut healthy, the high quality protein needed for healing and it will cover all the vitamin and mineral needs.

FeedXL is a really handy tool when feeding these horses, allowing you to keep a close eye on calories but also making sure you don’t leave deficiencies in the diet that will hinder the healing process… which will help get your horse out of confinement as quickly as possible!! https://feedxl.com/

Questions? Comments?

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Adjusting the Amount of Feed You Give Your Horse From Day to Day

Did you know it’s perfectly ok to adjust the amount of feed you give your horse from day to day??

In fact it’s something we recommend you do, for a couple of reasons. First is that it helps keep behavior level and calm. Horses are funny creatures in that they will express the amount of calories/energy in their diet in their behavior. Which means if you feed more than they need, you may cause a change in behavior, with potentially more hyperactivity than you might want.

To help prevent this, you can simply adjust how much you feed according to how much work is being done. Using FeedXL, you can create balanced diets for rest days, light work days and harder work days, with less calories in the diet for rest days and increasing calories for light and harder work days. Then feed each diet according to the work your horse does on any particular day. That way you will be matching you horse’s calorie intake with his requirements and should see lovely level behavior, regardless of days off.

The second reason we recommend you adjust feed according to work is for weight control… because if you feed excess calories to a horse or pony you will potentially also get weight gain, particularly in easy keepers!

So while we advocate keeping feed consistent and not making sudden changes in WHAT is fed, don’t be afraid to adjust AMOUNT fed! 🙂

For more detail have a read of our article on Feeding For Behavior https://feedxl.com/21-feeding-for-behaviour/

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The Link Between Regular Forage Meals and Gut Health

Poet and I (Nerida) headed out a few weeks ago to do some real work mustering sheep (not that we did anything useful, we were just along for the ride!). There were 5 of us on horses, saddled up by 6:30 am and in incredibly steep, rocky, tough (but stunning!) terrain for 6 hours. At various points we dismounted and slid (feet sideways) down parts of the mountainside because it was too steep to ride. Sheep were tripping and rolling down the hill (amusing! but gives you an idea of how steep it was!!).

Anyway, here is me, very conscious of gastric ulcers, giving my horse lucerne/alfalfa as I saddled up, letting him pick what grass we could find while out riding if we were stopped for any time so he at least salivated a little bit and immediately giving him water and more lucerne/alfalfa on return to where we had saddled up… meanwhile stifling my panic at watching the other horses eating nothing and trying not to think too much about what was going on in their stomachs.

I asked one of the guys, an experienced horseman, if he worried about ulcers, and it soon became clear that there was no understanding of how a horse’s stomach worked and the negative impact of not feeding them for such long (long!) periods of time (his horse had a couple of hours trip home).

I also asked recently at a seminar who could confidently sketch a horse’s gut or explain how it works and no-one was able to. And I get this… I had no idea what a horse’s gut looked like or how it worked the entire time I rode in my pre-nutritionist life!

The thing is, a horses stomach never stops secreting gastric acid. So even when your horse is not eating it is filling the lower part of its stomach up with acidic gastric juices. While the stomach is full this isn’t an issue as the dense matt of fibre in the gut will stop the acid from splashing around and burning the unprotected lining of the upper section of the stomach.

Problems start though when horses are off feed for long periods like this and end up with a pool of acid and an empty stomach. Combine that with the movement of being ridden and you get acid splashing up and quite literally burning holes (causing ulcers) in the top part of the stomach.

So here is my plea! Please help us to educate people on how a horse’s stomach works and what they can do (really simple things) to keep their horse’s stomach and therefore their horse healthy and pain free. Share this article on Avoiding Gastric Ulcers with them and have them understand that a horse’s stomach should never be empty and that as much as is practical you should never work a horse on an empty stomach.

Thank you!! From us and from all of the horses who will be so much better off when their owners understand how they work just a tiny bit better.

How Much Forage Your Horse Really Needs

“You eat like a horse”. There is a very good reason this saying exists; Horses. Eat. A. Lot!!! And a vast majority of horse owners know this, but every now and again I come across a horse owner who is concerned about weight loss in their horse and it is simply because they don’t realise just how much a horse actually needs to eat each day (except my horses, they seem to eat nothing and still get fat!).

So I thought it a timely reminder (with bare paddocks surrounding me in the very drought stricken area where I live) about how much forage a horse needs to eat each day. Traditional recommendations were that horses should receive a minimum of 1% of their bodyweight (1 kg/100 kg BW 0r 1 lb/100 lb BW) of forage per day. More recently however, Harris et al (2016) have increased the recommended minimum to 1.5% of bodyweight. Most good nutritionists will aim for 2% BW of forage in a diet where this is possible.

The amount of forage fed has an impact on the health, welfare, behaviour, gut health and performance of your horse as well as a horse’s risk of colic. Where I see it go horribly wrong is when an owner simply doesn’t realise just how much hay a horse actually needs to eat in a day. Underfeeding hay will often (in everyone else’s horses, mine are still excluded!) result in weight loss and can result in life-threatening colic. The good thing is it is very easily fixed, just feed more hay! 

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How Do You Know if Your Horse is Getting Enough Feed?

Well… happily, this is one of these easiest things to assess in horse nutrition because you can actually SEE if your horse is getting enough feed!

If your horse is getting enough feed he will maintain his weight. If he is not getting enough, he will lose weight. Or if he is getting too much, he will gain weight. Simple huh!

Trick is assessing this consistently so you can adjust how much you are feeding as weight changes. To assess weight gain or loss we use the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System. We have detailed information on using this simple system here: https://feedxl.com/1-why-body-condition-score/

Here’s a neat (and very colorful) little cheat sheet that you might like to keep handy as well  

Get in the habit of running your hands over your horses and mentally assessing condition. You will find in a very short space of time you will start to pick up small changes in body condition that might alert you to the fact your horse may need an adjustment in his feed program.

I am sure if my horses could talk they’d tell you they are never patted, just condition scored ?… lucky they can’t talk huh!

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