Equine nutritional needs: Filling in the gaps

Aug 25, 2020

Horses have a unique digestive system and a relatively small stomach for their body size. In order to get enough feed and nutrition, they would literally need to eat all the time. So, how do we get all the energy and protein, minerals and vitamins into a horse with the challenge of a small stomach? With all the variations in feeding programs, Tim Clark discusses how you can fill in your horse's nutritional gaps.


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 Tom:      I’m Tom Martin, and we’re talking today with Tim Clark, a nutritionist with CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements, about the nutritional needs of equine.

                So, Tim, what is unique about a horse’s nutrition needs and digestive system?

Tim:       When we’re talking about horses, it comes into play that they have a relatively small stomach for their body size, and they are pretty much on a forage-based diet, so there’s not a lot of room to work with, upfront.

                With cattle, we’ve got the rumen. You can pack a lot of feed in there — they can eat a lot of forage, so we’ve got front-end fermentation. Horses are just the opposite; they literally have to eat all the time to be able to get enough feed and nutrition into them. And then, they’re hindgut fermenters. So, to digest that forage — it’s actually fermented in the hindgut, so you still have forage fermentation going on, but it’s kind of turned around compared to a cow.

RELATED: Stable-lyx equine supplements: Fly control and smaller container options

So, cow people might say that the horse has it backwards, but the horse has that sleek physique, and there’s just not a lot of room to work with. So, it does create some challenges when you start thinking about, “How do you get all the energy and protein, minerals and vitamins into a horse with that challenge of a small stomach?”

Tom:      I bet the horse people say that cow people have it frontwards? [Laughs]

Tim:       Well, probably, you know.

Tom:      So, what kind of variation do you see in feeding programs for horses?

Tim:       First and foremost, I’m a ruminant nutritionist, not an equine nutritionist, but there is a ton of variation when you come to feeding horses. First, there’s a lot of different commercial feeds and feeding programs that are out there. And when you’re doing nutrition for any animal, you have to pick what their feed intake is going to be.

                So, let’s say that you’ve got an old horse that needs to be on a senior feed that is formulated for, say, 10, 15 pounds of consumption per day (and) needs to be fed two (or) three times. There are situations where people do that correctly, and there are situations where people feed 5 pounds of a feed that’s formulated for 15 and then they just fill in with forage.

(There are) a lot of different situations as far as how horses are housed and taken care of — (like) size of pasture, to the supplements that are out there — it’s everything from couple-ounce add packs that you can throw in on top of feed to complete feeds that are going to be somewhere between 5 and 10 pounds. So, just a huge amount of variations, both in the type of feeds that the animals are on and how they actually got fed.

Tom:      Do horses, then, benefit from a self-fed supplement, with all that’s in their diet?

Tim:       Yes, they can. It’s a benefit both to the horses and to the horse owners, from a convenience standpoint. A lot of hobby horse owners, they’re not necessarily working on a farm or ranch where they’re around all day; they’re working somewhere else, and the horse probably get fed once, maybe twice a day. So, a self-fed supplement, in that situation, really is a convenient standpoint — that, “Hey, they’re getting everything they need, they’re filling in the gaps with the self-fed supplement.”

So, they do benefit from it, especially when you’re talking about some of the additives or nutrients that we’re trying to get into horses. The sugars are especially helpful, from stimulating their hindgut fermentation without creating acidosis, while the horses don’t want too much corn or starch; it gets them heated up. And then you’ve got additives like biotin (and) organic trace minerals that are beneficial for hoof health and digestive system. So, it is a benefit, both to the horse and the horse owner.

Tom:      Does CRYSTALYX have self-fed products for equine, and if they do, how are they different from other CRYSTALYX products?

Tim:       We do have products that are specific for horses. The Stable-lyx® products we have, that is an equine-specific formula, and we have that formula with ClariFly®, which is a fly-control feed-through product that can be fed to horses. Those are unique for horses in the fact that, to help control intake, they’re going to be a lot higher in salt than the majority of the CRYSTALYX formulas for cattle.

                For cattle, we don’t have challenges getting enough animals per container to make sure that we can control surface area; we’ve got enough competition to get the intakes we want. With horses, we do, in some settings — for working ranches, broodmare facilities, you know — then, we will get 10, 12, 20 animals per container, but that’s the exception, not the norm.

                So, we use salt in the equine Stable-lyx formulas to help limit intake. The nutrient profile is different as far as the additives. We can get intakes of 1 to 3 pounds on the product versus the half to ¾ of a pound they will get on the cattle formula.

                So, but really, with horses — and it says right on the label that horses need to be managed to get the desirable intake. Part of that is, sometimes, we need to limit how long the animals have access to the product just so that we can control how much they consume. 

A few horses can be just bored and spend all day at the CRYSTALYX Stable-lyx barrel or pail and really overconsume. So, it kind of falls onto both the product itself and the horse owner (when it comes to) managing to get the desired intake.

Tom:      So, Tim, what about container sizes? You mentioned earlier that there are a wide variety of classes of horses, as well as feeding situations, and I would imagine that that would mean horse owners would have a need for smaller container options. Do smaller containers also help in managing intake with your horse?

Tim:       Yes. The container’s size really comes into play with having to manage the horses and getting the desired intake. We do sell a lot of the product in our 200-pound large containers for larger groups of horses. But a very popular-sized product is our 60-pound container with the lid, (and) that is easy to have at the paddock or take with (you to) the show, having it on the horse trailer.

                It’s a little bit heavy, when you’re thinking (of carrying) 60 pounds and working around. We’ve recently introduced a 33 1/3-pound container. It’s a flatback pail with a handle, and this one is really convenient for hanging to the stall or hanging on a gate. It comes with the lids, which (makes it) easy to transport if you’re taking animals to a show or riding event.

                So, the smaller containers really do make it easy for the person to be able to take the container away from the animal for some time. Then, often, when it’s just one or two horses per container, that’s what’s required to get the intake that we want.

Tom:      So, Tim, where can people who are listening to this go to learn more about the new Stable-lyx equine pail?

Tim:       There’s information on CRYSTALYX website, Crystalyx.com. If you know (what you’re looking for), you can check out the product information. We now have information on the container sizes. You can also look into the CRYSTALYX blogs — and there’s a blog that I wrote here recently about the equine products and the different container options.

                Or they can visit their local CRYSTALYX dealer and check on the availability and container options.

Tom:      Tim Clark, Nutritionist with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements. Thank you, Tim.

Tim:       Thank you, Tom.

Tom:      I’m Tom Martin. Thanks for listening.