To feed or not to feed?
That's not the question!
Now there's the real question...
(Photo credit- Seminole Feed)
So here you have it. A horse is put on the scale, much like a Weight Watchers meeting. The numbers come up on the wall. The horse hangs his head in shame. He gained a few pounds because he ate the amount of feed in his feeder, as provided by the barn help.
Next horse steps onto the scale. She has lost a few pounds. It took friends. Her ribs show and her frame is thin. Worming schedule is up to date, teeth are fine, things seem to be in order. Yet the numbers keep declining...
Next horse steps on the scale. The numbers come up, this horse has remained at the same weight for weeks. Everything must be on track. Life is good, the horse looks fine. No worries for the owner there. Whew!
But what's going on? What is so different? Why is one horse gaining, one losing and another maintaining their weight? They are all eating the same hay...
Anyone consider their size as a factor? The scheduled workload a horse has ahead of them? Where they came from? Age? Health conditions?
Every barn I have been in, measures their feed in some way. Some weigh the hay, some measure pellets by the bucket or 3lb coffee can, grain and bran are measured accordingly- 1 lb coffee cans work well, plastic or metal feed scoops, and now with the invention of SmartPak Equine, supplements are premeasured before they are even shipped.
Some folks still 'eyeball it' and feel for the weight of a flake of hay before putting it in front of the horse. Different bales and different hay, means different amounts when feeding the same horse. Time of the year of the cutting makes a difference too, in what you get.
When talking about alfalfa- it can be a heavy bale, thick flakes and high quality. May cost you a bit more per bale, but you will find you feed less and the horses are just fine. There are also bales which are light, full of stems, loaded with shake or leaves and you end up feeding the horse over half a bale just to make up for it's poor quality. You may have saved on the cost per bale, but when you figure how many bales you go through- it ends up costing you more.
Bermuda grass hay that we have here in the desert, can also come in heavy bales, breaks off in a nice flake, decent enough moisture content and high quality. Or it is dry, light weight bales, cut the string and *POOF* it goes everywhere! Add in a windy day and it really is everywhere.
It has been mentioned recently, that one barn is weighing their horses, under the 'advice' of the trainer. As a baseline for medications or worming, or for later use if suddenly the horse drops weight and begins to suffer health issues, that is understandable. But when you are basing your day to day feeding allowances off of the numbers on the wall, you may have to consider the knowledge of the person calling for this. Can you not look at a horse and tell by what you see- this horse needs more food or that one needs a little less?
I have also been in a couple of barns where a baseline was established for 'maintenance only' horses. They received a set amount of feed, no matter their size, weight or other considerable factors. Two things fall under this category. These were either 'board only' horses in a training barn or horses whose owners were behind on their payments. I have seen horses lose weight on these terms of how much to feed.
Another local farm feeds hay cubes out of a wheelbarrow using a scoop shovel. Several if not all of the horses there were overweight. The ones I seen had fat globules on certain spots of their body- near the withers, the dock of their tail, shoulder area and cresty necks. Issues in the making...
Another barn I was at, (actually a couple fall under this one) the owner flipped out if you fed more than 2 or 3 bales per feeding. There were around 60 head on the property at the time. Um, helloooo! The pony doesn't eat much and whatever he doesn't eat- the warmblood moose will. Psssst, SHE NEEDS IT TOO! It all balances out. But she didn't see it that way. Instead it was all based on numbers. The number of horses, the number of bales and the price per each. There was little to no getting through to her. Even when stating the case- the boarders are PAYING FOR IT! Any wonder why I didn't stick around?
Another barn switched the hay being fed to my horse. He didn't like it or eat it and instead chose to decorate his stall with it, sleep and poop on it. How to handle it? They approached me and told me he needed to be put on grain. Which cost $10-$20 extra per month, of course... How did ever you guess?