Older horses Part 4: Helping old horses gain and keep weight
Keep your older horse fit
When you older horse is thinner or losing weight, there can be a lot of stress for the owner. You want your horse to get back to a normal condition as soon as possible. But which are the responsible ways to make your horse gain weight? In the previous article (Part 3) the teeth of older horses and the associated shortcomings were discussed.
Do you feed a thin horse concentrated feed or roughage?
Letting a thin horse gain weight is often not as quick as the owner would like. To keep the horse on weight it is important to feed the horse at least 1 – 1,5 kg dry matter from roughage per 100kg of body weight or, more preferably, unlimited access to roughage. Or, as well as this, feed Hartog 5* Complete Care Senior for older horses. If you see your old horse losing weight, it is tempting to feed more concentrates. Your horse will probably get rid of this better than hay or pre-dry pit, however, this is not an advisable way to let your horse gain weight. Standard concentrate feed provides energy in the form of sugars and starch. This form of rapidly released energy doesn’t meet the needs of old horses. Concentrate feed must be used to supplement the roughage only. Think of it as vitamins, minerals, or extra energy for delivering performance. When a horse receives too much concentrate feed compared to the work it has to do, the chance of metabolic diseases such as Insuline Resistance (IR) increases.
The 5* Hartog Compete Care Senior is a complete feed based on roughage, where there is no need to feed any concentrated feed or roughage with it. Older horses benefit more from slowly released energy. Slowly released energy does not cause peaks and troughs in the blood sugar level but gives a more constant release of energy. Sources of slowly released energy are fats (oil) and fibers (roughage). In addition, the bacteria in the horse’s large intestine provide heat during fiber digestion. Horses can use this heat to maintain body temperature. A horse that gets enough roughage will consume less energy to keep itself warm. Roughage is the most important source of nutrition for older horses (just like for all other horses). Enough roughage is important for an old horse not only to maintain its weight but alsof or the stomach and intestinal health and the well-being of the horse.
Roughage subsititute horse
Old horses also have an increased need for protein because the body is less able to absorb protein from the diet. This makes lucerne/alfalfa a good addition to the diet of an older horse. Good sources of roughage for old horses with dental problems are chopped roughage, the finer structure means that the horse does not have to chew as much to absorb the nutrients. Examples of chopped roughage are Lucerne mix, Gras mix, Compact Gras or the 5 * Complete Care Senior specially developed for seniors. The Gras mix, Compact Gras and the 5 * Complete Care Senior can be fed to old horses without restrictions. In addition, roughage in dry form (Grass pellets & Lucerne pellets), dry or soaked, can help, among other things, to bring or maintain the weight of the horse with serious dental problems. Grass and lucerne pellets are rich in fibers and proteins, making it a valuable and easily absorbable fiber-rich supplement to the ration. Beet pulp is also a suitable roughage source for old (lean) horses, but many horses find this less tasty. The 5 * Hartog Complete Care Senior has been specially developed for horses with dental problems and therefore does not need to be soaked. In addition, this feed has the advantage that it is very tasty due to the addition of licorice, which stimulates horses that have less appetite to eat. The Hartog 5 * Complete Care Senior also contains beet pulp and therefore provides the horse with the healthy properties of beet pulp and is also happy to eat it.
Pasture for older horses
Unlimited pasture for old horses has its advantages. For example, grazing ensures movement which has a stimulating effect on stomach and intestinal health. As a result of the deteriorating teeth, aging horses need finer roughage, but they can often still absorb and chew grass very well. Grass has a dry matter content of around 15%. Due to the low fiber content, it is easy to digest and, in addition, it generally contains a lot of nutritional value. Due to the low fiber content, old horses can chew grass better than, for example, hay or pre-dry pit. Pre-dry pit is harder for old horses to chew because it is tougher than hay. Old horses lose weight especially in the winter when there is no more grass in the pasture and they depend on the food that is offered to them in the stable.
Preventing overweight horses
If the skinny horse has succeeded in gaining weight, it is possible that the diet will have to be adjusted slightly to prevent an overweight horse. It is advisable to lower the fat content rather than the fiber content. To minimize the burden on the digestive system of an older horse, it is important not to make any sudden changes in the ration, and to do this in a dosed way. Keep your horse's diet as constant as possible. Just like when you are trying to gain weight, it is advisable to keep the sugar and starch content of the diet for old horses low to keep them on weight.
Did you know that the chopped roughages from Hartog contain fewer sugars than average hay or pre-dry pit?
The next article Older horses Part 5: Hormone management of the horse