Question: What is the difference between a ration balancer and a vitamin/mineral supplement?
Watch the video below with FeedXL founder Dr Nerida Richards and SmartPak’s Dr Lydia Gray for the answer!
Question: What is the difference between a ration balancer and a vitamin/mineral supplement?
Watch the video below with FeedXL founder Dr Nerida Richards and SmartPak’s Dr Lydia Gray for the answer!
One of the pitfalls of feeding your horses without actually calculating what you are feeding is paranoia that maybe your horse isn’t getting enough of the most important nutrients. That maybe he is missing something and this is going to cause problems, or make him sick!
As a horse owner I am sure you experience this feeling of ‘maybe I should just add a little bit more…’ or ‘maybe I should add that supplement I was told about because it sounds important, I meet those requirements…’ or ‘I’ll just add this, and this (and this) and even this just to be sure I am covering everything!..’.
Problem is, feeding like that still doesn’t ensure you actually meet requirements. AND it is So. Very. Expensive!
Which is where FeedXL comes in… when you can feed with certainty because you know what you are feeding is meeting requirements you no longer need to add extras as a ‘just in case insurance’. With FeedXL you can see which requirements are met, and which may not be and adjust your diet accordingly.
This diet, for a mare named Smarty is the perfect example of this. Smarty’s owner has done a great job of putting together a diet that meet’s all of her requirements, but watch as I am able to completely remove one supplement PLUS reduce another supplement by 25%. Meaning every 4 days now she gets essentially a FREE dose… or put another way her supplement bucket will last 25% longer and cost her 25% less!
Looking from the outside, most of us as horse owners are pretty good at knowing how much feed our horse needs. We can see weight change which gives us a visual clue that the horse is not being fed enough (resulting in weight loss), or too much (resulting in weight gain).
What we can’t see are vitamin and mineral deficiencies. And the problem is, these often won’t show up as something we can see until they result in disaster… hooves falling apart, joints breaking down, an immune system so compromised that it can’t mount an effective immune response to a simple disease challenge.
Here is a classic example of a diet where the horse’s owner has done a truly great job in putting together a forage based diet with just enough of a single feed to maintain excellent condition! BUT the small amount of feed is not enough to meet the horse’s basic vitamin and mineral requirements.
Check the video out as I walk you through Lacey’s diet, which perfectly demonstrates what is happening in so many horse’s diets.
The good news is, with just a little bit of time spent in FeedXL and the addition of a single supplement, Lacey’s diet can be fully balanced to keep her healthy and happy in the long term!
Retained placenta… bad luck? Or is there more to it?
I am going to say there is definitely more to it. And if you look to the cattle industry they agree. And a lot of it comes down to one little mineral… SELENIUM!
I was recently at an Animal Nutrition conference at the University of New England. One of the speakers, Prof Michael Lee (University of Bristol) spoke about selenium. Here are a few photos I snapped of his slides:
Listed at the top of his list of symptoms of selenium deficiency in ruminants was retained placenta. And this is certainly what I see in horses too.
Almost the only time I see retained placenta as a widespread issue is on breeding farms that do not supplement pregnant mares.
The most recent case I dealt with was a farm with more than 100 standardbred broodmares. At the time of my first visit, the mares were not supplemented at all during pregnancy.
And retained placenta was occurring in 25 % of mares! 1 in every 4 mares were experiencing this potentially life threatening complication! Eek!!
I suggested that if they supplement with selenium (as part of an overall balancer pellet) that this shouldn’t be such an issue.
They decided they would experiment. And gave half the mares the balancer pellet. The other half they left unsupplemented.
The results were clear. The supplemented mares had one mare in 60 with retained placenta. That is less than 2%… a big reduction from 25%!
The unsupplemented mares had 2 retained placenta within the first 4 mares that foaled! This was enough to convince the farm that maybe we were onto something… so rather than keep going with the experiment they very quickly put all the mares on to the balancer pellet!
The interesting thing for me was that the incidence of retained placenta dropped almost immediately in this group of mares who were initially unsupplemented.
The nutrition of your pregnant mares is so important. This is just another reason you should pay close attention to mineral nutrition, especially because selenium is a mineral that is often low in forages and is therefore often deficient in diets.
For more about feeding pregnant mares click here to read our post ‘Feeding Pregnant Mares’.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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!
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!
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 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 🙂 ).
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%).
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!
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!
Magnesium oxide. It’s one of those ingredients people love to disagree over, should we use it, shouldn’t we use it, is it bioavailable or not for horses??
Part of this contention is due to the fact that magnesium oxide is a created ingredient… it is cooked in a process called calcination, that reacts magnesite with oxygen to create magnesium oxide.
Like all things, it can be made well, or it can be made poorly, and this then impacts on whether it will be bioavailable or not. So it’s not like limestone (calcium carbonate) that is mined for example and is generally always the same.
So when reading about magnesium oxide for horses, keep in mind that most studies do not report the conditions under which it was manufactured OR its final particle size, both of which have a huge impact on final bioavailability.
I still believe that quality magnesium oxide is a very useful source of magnesium for horses, but then I am very fussy when it comes to where it comes from and how it is produced!
We have information on various sources of magnesium for anyone who would like to read some more here: https://feedxl.com/36-which-form-of-magnesium-is-best/
And for anyone who loves details, this is a now old but still informative paper on this subject (Beede et al 1992). It is a Dairy paper but talks in detail about factors affecting magnesium oxide bioavailability. https://dairy.ifas.ufl.edu/dpc/1992/Beede.pdf
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
N. Richards and B.D. Nielsen, 2018
Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells. According to the 2007 Horse NRC, Fe requirements are 50 ppm for growing foals, lactating and pregnant mares, and 40 ppm for all other classes of horses. The 2005 NRC suggested a maximum tolerable Fe concentration of 500 ppm using data from other species. It is claimed that excess dietary Fe is causative of horses becoming insulin resistant.
Athletic horses, and particularly those in Thoroughbred racing, are often supplemented with Fe in an attempt to improve performance. Supplementation is commonly carried out without any formal analysis of the diet to determine if additional iron is required. Forages are typically high in iron and supply a majority of iron in all equine diets.
This study looks at the iron concentration in forages typically fed to equines and whether iron from forage is enough to meet the iron requirement of an athletic horse.
Nutrient concentrations from hay samples submitted for analysis in 2017 and for which Fe was measured were obtained from Equi-Analytical, representing 3,060 grass, 1,193 legume, and 1,584 mixed hay samples.
Iron concentration was measured using inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP). Analysis methodology is available from dairyone.com. Statistical analysis was performed using Proc MEANS of SAS.
Iron was highest in Legume and Mixed Mainly Legume Hays and lowest in Grass Hay (Table 1). All hay types had a mean iron concentration more than five times that required by athletic horses and a median iron concentration more than three times.
From all hay samples (n = 5,837), 707 contained Fe at or above the suggested tolerable threshold of 500 ppm, while only 81 contained Fe at less than 50 ppm. Further, only 15 contained Fe at less than 40 ppm.
A 500 kg horse in heavy work has an iron requirement of 500 mg/day (NRC 2007; based on a daily feed intake of 2.5% bodyweight and a requirement of 40 ppm). Forage intake is often restricted by Thoroughbred trainers. But even when fed at 1% of bodyweight to a 500 kg horse, these hays will supply an average 1,060 mg to 2,230 mg of iron per day, supplying more than 200% of daily iron requirements in the forage component of the diet alone.
Fortified grain concentrates are fed at an average 2.5 kg/horse per day in Australian Thoroughbred racing stables (Richards 2003). These concentrates have an average iron concentration of 190 ppm (FeedXL.com), adding an additional 475 mg/day of iron to the diet of these horses. Almost 60% of Australian Thoroughbred trainers then add an iron supplement to their horses’ diets (Richards 2003). It is expected similar trends would be found in the USA.
Based on this broad diet analysis, forage is able to meet the daily iron requirement of athletic horses. When iron from fortified feeds and supplements is added, there would be few racehorses receiving less than 300% of their daily iron requirement. It’s not unexpected that many horses would be receiving in excess of 500% of their daily iron requirement
Given the dearth of Thoroughbred racehorses that are insulin resistant, despite Fe supplementation in combination with diets that can easily supply amounts beyond requirements, it seems unlikely excess Fe causes insulin resistance. However, it is recognized insulin resistant horses may have elevated serum ferritin.
Council NR. Nutrient Requirements of Horses: Sixth Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.
Richards N, Hinch G, Rowe J. The effect of current grain feeding practices on hindgut starch fermentation and acidosis in the Australian racing Thoroughbred. Aust Vet J 2006;84:402-407.
FeedXL Nutrition Software, https://feedxl.com/, 2018.
HUGE THANKS to Equi-Analytical for providing the data to write this paper, which was presented as a poster at the recent International Conference on Equine Exercise Physiology (ICEEP).
Did you know Vitamin C is not an essential nutrient in your horse’s diet? Unlike we humans, who will get scurvy and die if we don’t eat vitamin C, horses make their own vitamin C in their liver! Clever right!!
There are some situations, like when a horse is very ill, really stressed or has liver damage where supplementing with vitamin C may be useful. Just be mindful that when you want to stop supplementing you should remove the vitamin C from the diet gradually so the horse has a chance to ramp its own production up again.
We are frequently asked about how to add Vitamin E to a horse’s diet when all other nutrient requirements are being met. Vitamin E is abundant in fresh green forages and many horses will meet their daily requirement of Vitamin E with adequate intake of good quality pasture. Vitamin E declines over time in stored feeds including preserved forages. Most commercial pre-mix feeds and vitamin & mineral supplements account for this and are formulated with supplementary Vitamin E.
At times when pasture is average or poor quality, overgrazed or simply not available, diets which previously had adequate Vitamin E may become low as a result. Sometimes even with a good quality pre-mix feed or vitamin & mineral supplement, the Vitamin E levels may still not be adequate within the diet.
Additional vitamin E can be safely added to diets and can be found in FeedXL’s blue ‘Balancers & Supplements’ tab under ‘Antioxidants’. Antioxidant supplements commonly contain both selenium and vitamin E. Unless the diet requires additional selenium, look for supplements which contribute only vitamin E to your horse’s diet.
To find vitamin E only supplements, click on ‘Complete Data’ which is located below the ingredient name when editing diets or browsing ingredients and FeedXL will show you which nutrients that product contains. (See the image in this post).
Another consideration when choosing a suitable Vitamin E supplement is the form of Vitamin E to supplement with. Natural vitamin E is reported to be more effective in raising plasma Vitamin E concentrations when compared with a synthetic source. To know which is which you will need to read the manufacturer supplied information for each product on their website or product labels.