Ask Horse Journal: 08/00

Hay Or Grain First’
I was interested in your article “Hay Before Grain, Please” (February 2000). I remember a 1997 article in another magazine that said the key to performance feeding may have as much to do with when a horse eats as what he eats and when you feed hay relative to grain. It said a large hay meal produces excessive saliva from chewing, which accelerates the digestive process, sending the ensuing grain through the small intestine before it can be digested.

This could mean grain enters the large intestine where it ferments and the resulting byproducts kill the bacteria living in the hindgut. The dying bacteria produce endotoxins, ultimately causing founder. It said that if feeding hay and grain together, horses predictably ate the grain first and wolfed down the hay. The result was the same, because the grain hadn’t been given an adequate head start. They theorized that you may have to give the grain two to three hours to digest before you give the hay.

This makes me wonder at the stories of horses foundering when the horse is kept stabled or in a dry lot and not in lush pasture. Perhaps this may be a cause. What do you think’

-Lauren Forestell
Orange, VA

We searched the published literature on gastric emptying in horses and could find no evidence to support this theory. It has been known for a long time that eating dry, fibrous/tough foods like hay results in increased salivation. This is because the food is dry and it must be chewed more thoroughly to be swallowed. However, the flow of saliva stops when the hay eating stops. Furthermore, the amount of fluid consumed or saliva produced does not influence how rapidly the stomach empties. Fluids swallowed when the stomach has food in it will pass around the mass and enter the intestines without “flushing” the food ahead of them. If the amount of saliva produced really influenced how quickly a meal entered the intestines from the stomach, this theory would predict that hay meals leave the stomach more quickly than grain meals but the reverse is actually the case. Hay can be found in a horse’s stomach for as long as 24 hours after it was eaten.

Fears of horses foundering because they are given grain are in part exaggerated. (Ponies are an exception here, as are some members of small breeds like Morgans, but this is for hormonal reasons that have nothing to do with digestion.) It is always preferable to maintain your horse on pasture and/or hay only if he can maintain his weight that way because this is the way nature designed horses to be. It allows them to eat fairly constantly and protects them from problems like stomach ulcers. However, underweight horses, horses recovering from illnesses or severe injuries and high-performance horses almost always need some grain to gain or hold their normal weight. They simply can’t eat enough grass or hay to do it — not enough calories per volume of grass or hay. When a suitable, clean grain is introduced slowly, in addition to adequate hay or grass, it is well tolerated by most horses. In fact, high-performance horses can (and often do) tolerate up to 50% of their calories in the form of grain without foundering or having digestive upsets.


Tick Bites And Picky Eaters
I have two questions that I have been having a very hard time finding the answers for. My 12-year-old Quarter Horse gelding has severe reactions to tick bites. The area swells up, fills with fluid, oozes and then crusts over and dries up, but after a long time, sometimes up to two months.

My other question is about my eight-year-old Thorougbred gelding. He is a slow, picky eater who prefers to be outside all the time versus in his stall. He was on pellets that have a weight-gain supplement, but since I purchased him, we have tried to switch him to sweet feed, which he seems to like better, but he immediately started to get “too hot to handle.” He is a big, beautiful sweetie-pie and I want to do the best for him. He now has a wonderful pasture to graze and play in, but I am concerned about the combination of feed versus temperament. I don’t want him to lose weight, but I don’t want to lose my confidence either.

-Joan Brothers
Finksburg, MD

Hypersensitivity to insect bites is a fairly common problem, although the reaction you are describing is definitely extreme. Insect repellents and chronic use of corticosteroids is one approach, but by far your best option would be “allergy shots,” a series of injections that will desensitize him to the bites. Call the nearest veterinary school or full-service equine clinic to locate someone in your area.

As for your other horse, with high-quality pasture and/or free choice good hay you shouldn’t need much, if any, grain to hold his weight unless you are working him heavily. Without knowing the breakdown of the pelleted feed (grain is in there too, it’s just ground up), it’s difficult to tell whether it is higher grain, a different type of grain or the molasses making him seem more spirited.

A good compromise might be a textured high-beet-pulp feed. These are easily digestible but release the calories more slowly than straight grains because much of them come from the digestible fiber of the beet pulp. You have to be careful with these, too, because many have a large amount of molasses added to partially rehydrate the beet pulp. Talk to your feed-store representative. Let them know you want a high beet-pulp feed without high molasses. They’ll probably have to call manufacturers to find out how much molasses is in the mix. If you cannot locate one easily, consider using straight beet pulp and oats.


Whey And Copper
In February 2000, you described a mare that was not tolerant of a soy-based supplement and was switched to a whey supplement instead. I am wondering what product you used. Is it the Champion Nutrition whey protein, Stack, described in the March issue’ How much did you feed’

Second, do you know who manufactures a copper supplement such as the one you recommended be fed if a horse is continually supplemented with vitamin C’ I had not heard of a lysine amino-acid complex copper supplement. Or are two different supplements needed’

-Joan Downing

The whey protein supplement in the March issue is one of many available in health-food stores. You can also use the milk/whey protein powders designed as high-quality dietary protein supplements. We have also used the combination milk/egg protein powders that are highly bioavailable and tolerated well by horses.

Milk (and egg/albumin) products are absorbed more efficiently in every species tested (which does not include adult horses, however), which allows you to feed less and get the same effect. We usually use about 75% less than with a vegetable protein source. Exactly how much will depend on what your calculated need is. For example, if you feed 5 kg (a little over 10 pounds) per day of a 12% grain mix and switched to the same amount of a 10% plain grain(s), you would have a protein deficit there of 2% of 5 kg or 250 grams. Of this, 75% of this would be 187.5 grams.

As for the copper, your first step should be to check the copper content of all dietary sources, including your grain mix (if it lists a guaranteed copper level, otherwise you can assume it’s minimal) and any other supplements fed. An 1,100-pound horse in moderate work needs about 170 mg of copper per day at a minimum. If feeding most hays and unsupplemented grain mixes, you are probably below that.

If your grain is supplemented to a good level (30 ppm or above), and you feed at least 25% of the calories as grain, you’re probably OK on minimum requirements, at least on paper. However, the error in standard copper assays is as high as 35% so feeding an additional 60 mg or so per day is good insurance on minimum requirements. When using C regularly, another 60 to 120 mg per day is well within the safe levels. If you do need to supplement copper individually, copper lysine or copper polysaccharide complex can be added.

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