Star Milling

Equine Nutrition - Seniors

Please click on the question to see the answer.

For a 14.3 H QHxArab cross let’s assume a body weight goal approximately 950 - 1000 lbs. With light work, she should be fed approximately 16-17 lbs of forage per day. Long stem hay is critical to gut health and if you take a look at my fact sheet on Feeding Guidelines for Horses, it recommends that processed hay (hay pellets/cubes) should not exceed 50% of the total forage intake. The reason is that horses drink less water with pellets/cubes and water is important to gut health with microbes that reside in the gut. Therefore hay pellets should not exceed 8 lbs and long stem hay would be 8 lbs.

Since you will be switching a portion of the diet to hay pellets, keep the Integrity Adult/Senior at 2 lbs per day compared to 3lbs at 4 days/wk. Observe for a couple of weeks and see if there are benefits with shifting the hay source. Softening the hay pellets may be useful with added water and the Adult/Senior can be included. Observe her while she’s eating for head tilting, quidding, etc. to ensure that dental issues are not the reason for the weight decline. At 27 years old, she’s getting up there so changes in body composition are to be expected but you want to eliminate the obvious ones.

If your feeding and exercise protocol have not changed and now there is weight change, there are other non-nutritional factors that could influence weight loss including deworming frequency and teeth/gums. As the horse ages it’s not uncommon for a horse to have gum inflammation which would reduce eating hay. If that is the case you may want to consult with your veterinarian.

Integrity Lite No Molasses is the lowest starch/sugar formula and does not contain any grains, specifically no corn, barley, or oats.

For a 14.3 H QHxArab cross let’s assume a body weight goal approximately 950 - 1000 lbs. With light work, she should be fed approximately 16-17 lbs of forage per day. Long stem hay is critical to gut health and if you take a look in Dr. Bray’s Corner there is a fact sheet on Feeding Guidelines for Horses that recommends that processed hay (hay pellets/cubes) should not exceed 50% of the total forage intake because horses drink less water with pellets/cubes. Water is important to gut health with microbes that reside in the gut lumen, therefore hay pellets should not exceed 8 lbs and long stem hay would be 8 lbs.

Since you will be switching a portion of the diet to hay pellets, keep the Adult/Senior at 2 lbs per day. Softening the hay pellets may be useful with added water and the Adult/Senior can be included. Do that for a couple weeks and see if there are benefits with shifting the hay source. Observe her eating hay and keep an eye out for tilting of the head or quidding to be sure that teeth/gum issues are not the reason for the weight decline. Twenty-seven years is getting up there for horses so changes in body composition are to be expected, but you want to eliminate the obvious ones. Weight builder supplements are not something that I recommend.

If your feeding and exercise protocol have not changed and now there is weight change, there are other non-nutritional factors that could influence weight loss including deworming frequency and teeth. As the horse ages it’s not uncommon for a horse to have gum inflammation which would reduce eating hay. You may also want to consult with your veterinarian.

I’m glad you had his teeth and gums checked. Annual oral exams during routine veterinarian visits are important especially with older horses. In addition to the points that form with growth and wear, as a horse ages, molar attachment may be less secured therefore the slightest movement can be irritating.

Once the inflammation disappears from the molars removal, he should be able to chew reasonably well but I would still moisten any pellet type forages to soften them. There are horses that do not adapt well to food mixed with water, so it’s good that he prefers the hay. Long stem hay (hay from the bale) requires the horse to drink more water—a combination that promotes gut health.

I am not a big fan of complete feeds. Complete feeds are a combination of hay, grains and other feedstuffs that are in pellet form. These types of feeds have a fixed ratio of forage to “grains” that is often 80% forage and 20% “grains” (and other feed ingredients). Horses consume less water with processed hay (hay in pellet form) and these feeds are usually more energy dense since they contain a fixed amount of grains and other feedstuffs that are higher energy than hays.

One potential concern with complete feeds is that your horse may need to be fed less to maintain a target Body Condition Score (BCS). Less feed translates to less fiber intake from the complete pellet that is 80% forage. Although fiber is not a nutrient, it is a critical dietary component to maintain gut health.

You may want to switch to Integrity Lite if he is just a companion with minimal activity. Integrity Lite has the highest amount of soluble fiber feedstuffs (beet pulp and soy hulls). If he is consuming less fiber via the hay and hay pellets, the Integrity Lite will provide a source of fiber that promotes the gut to move. Integrity Adult/Senior is higher in fat and contains oats, therefore is a higher energy feed formulated for inactive horses.

I would need to know his weight and BCS, but let’s assume for conversation he is around a 1,000 lbs. Then you could feed up to 4 lbs. of Integrity Lite per day of inactivity. Another option is to just add Integrity Rice Bran (meal form) to his current diet and observe his body weight changes for 10-14 days.

The short answer is that there is currently no feed or feed additive or supplement that will help treat and/or maintain comfort for your horse’s arthritis. While there are many OTC (over-the-counter) products that are popularly touted and promoted for treating arthritis, such as asomega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin, copper, manganese and zinc, vitamin E and herbs, there is no clear science-based evidence that these products have any benefit. In fact, most of the evidence cited is anecdotal for both horses and humans.

There are two reports on glucosamine and chondroitin for humans that found approximately 70% of these commercial products did not contain the levels of the active ingredients listed on the packaging. So not only are there concerns with effectiveness, but there are also issues with the right amount or dosage. If the human industry has difficulty guaranteeing active ingredient levels, and the animal industry has less regulatory oversight, then draw your own conclusions.

That being said, there are injectables with hyaluronic acid that can provide some benefit for your horse’s arthritis symptoms. You need to visit your veterinarian to determine if this type of product would help. There are NASIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that have also been proven effective, but again, you need to discuss these options with a veterinarian.

I do believe that conditioning can delay the consequences of the disease. Overweight and out-of-shape horses will place more strain on their limbs; a body condition score of 5 (BCS 5) needs to be achieved. Exercise is critical, and it must be consistent and linear. An accomplished rider who has a true balanced seat will minimize the weight bearing effects on an exercising horse. The horse’s hooves are critical for balance and should be managed every six weeks. I discourage shoes for arthritic horses because shoes restrict the natural mechanism of the hoof with blood and fluid circulation in the lower extremities. We know the benefits of cross training and strengthening the core and supporting tissues with humans, but I have not given much thought about how that model could be applied to horses.

On a related note, I know two 60-year-olds who suffered from arthritis in both knees and their lower back. Both had knee replacement surgery. Afterward, they started cross training, weight lifting, maintaining healthy diets and watching their weight. As a result, neither one is experiencing regular pain and discomfort related to the arthritis or taking prescription medication. I am one of them. So conditioning in horses is just as important as it is for humans, but then that was a testimonial.

You should not add any medication (prescription or over-the-counter) during the soaking process. The active ingredient type, air and water exposure and length of time soaking could be issues that may have an adverse effect on the effectiveness of the meds. Add the meds at the time of feeding. Another option is to prepare the meds in a separate, smaller container so your helpers can add after soaking and just before feeding.

For a Cushing horse I would suggest you not feed alfalfa hay and switch to a grass forage such as Bermuda or Timothy (although costly). I do not generally recommend feeding beet pulp as the only feed source to compliment the forage portion of the diet unless the horse is maintenance fed and there is a history of frequent colic. Then the amount will depend on the horse’s body weight, hay type and amount, and how the horse is used. A ration of alfalfa hay and beet pulp is not a balanced diet. Beet pulp has an energy level similar to alfalfa hay so the more one feeds the more energy is being added to the diet. The Integrity Lite is a balanced formula to compliment the forage portion of a horse’s diet and contains high levels of beet pulp and soy hulls. Soy hulls are similar to beet pulp in that it contains soluble fiber and promotes gut integrity. Integrity Lite was formulated for horses that are maintenance fed or lightly used for pleasure riding and is perhaps one of the lowest starch formulas available.

(Note: There were multiple communications with this person order to have more details about the horse.)

The goal is to maintain body weight on a total diet that is low in starches and sugars. That type of diet includes hay and the form will depend on the health of his teeth and his ability to chew; choices are flake hay or processed (cube or pellet) hay. A quick note: if his molars (jaw teeth) are compromised then you will need to feed primarily processed hay, thus mixing the total diet (including the hay) in a gruel (aka oatmeal consistency) by adding water.

Your referenced “low sugar hay,” which sounds like someone’s marketing pitch. The starch and sugar content of hay will vary based on grass type of course but perhaps more importantly with maturity of the hay. The seller would need to have laboratory data such as %ESC (Ethanol Soluble Carbohydrates) and %starch to make and support such a claim. Grass hays are generally considered low starch and low sugar forages.

The general concern with grass forages is with young spring grass that will have elevated levels of the carbohydrates fructans. In California, the grass hays available are typically modest to mature hays because the producer wants to maximize the yield from the hay fields. Because of the mild climate, west coast hay producers can manage their hay production so that 7 – 8 cuttings per year are not uncommon, thus there is usually some level of consistency in hay quality from the same hay producer. I would be very skeptical of any claim on hay starch content unless that particular hay cutting has a lab analysis verifying the amount of starch and ESC in the hay and identifying the hay producer, the field number, and date the field was cut.

So with that background information let’s talk about your horse. The Timothy cubes are a good choice and the amount fed seems appropriate for his body weight. I do not have the low starch feed label on the product you referenced and that company’s web site does not provide the list of ingredients. The list of ingredients and specially the first 4 ingredients are important in selecting a feed to compliment the forage portion of the diet. This company’s low starch feed you referenced is designed to be the primary feed source, hence the recommended amounts of 12 – 20 lbs. per day. My feeding philosophy is different in that I formulate balance feed mixes to compliment the forage being fed and the Complete-Feed approach (one-feed-fits-all) is usually not one that fits in my portfolio of recommendations. I like flexibility in feeding and the Integrity formulas are designed for flexibility and designed to complement the forage portion of the diet.

The Integrity Lite—No molasses has low starch (1.6% starch) and low %ESC (5.8%). The formula does not contain grains, is high fiber (20%), modest in protein (12%), contains 4% fat, and the first 4 ingredients are beet pulp shreds, soybean hulls pellet, oat hay pellet, soybean meal. Based on the information you provided in a second email I would suggest feeding 2 pounds per day and adjust for maintaining body weight. If your horse needs additionally calories you can also add fat to the mix in the form of oil—1/3 cups per day. This approach provides flexibility in how much is being fed while maintaining a consistent fiber intake with the Timothy hay and high fiber in Integrity Lite.

Since your pony is 33 years old and most likely a companion and not active, I would suggest the Integrity Lite without molasses which has 1.6 % starch.

There is much confusion in the horse industry about carbohydrates which is understandable because carbohydrates are a complicated class of chemicals. There are different laboratory assessments used to measure the different classes of carbohydrate chemicals. A standard to provide an understanding of starch content in horse feeds is the numerical value that represents % starch and the ethanol soluble carbohydrates (ESC). The ESC for Integrity Lite without molasses for is 5.9% thus the %Starch + %ESC for Integrity Lite without molasses is 7.5%.

Integrity Lite without molasses of course does not have molasses, does not contain any grains and the first two ingredients are beet pulp and soybean hulls which are “fiber” sources that promote gut integrity. You indicated your pony has worn-down molars and has issues with chewing so adding water to soften the feed is a practice some horse owners will use. Start with equal volume of water and the goal is to soften the feed. If your pony is an aggressive eater and tends to eat fast and not take time to chew, you can place “small rock boulders” in the feed bucket to create obstacles so that he has to navigate around the heavy objects to eat. This nutritional management practice will slow down the rate of feed consumption. Obviously, the “small rock boulders” phrase is a bit-of-humor because the rock-obstacles must be large and heavy enough so that the pony or horse is unable to pick any up by the mouth.

The Integrity Lite contains not more than 20% crude fiber but I always recommend a fiber source such as baled-hay or pasture. If baled-hay (long-stem fiber source) is not an option then you can feed a hay pellet. Fiber is a critical part of the horse’s diet so adding the hay pellet with the Integrity Lite is a better option than a ‘complete’ feed. You will have flexibility in regulating his diet.

Follow-up Note: Further details about the pony (see What to Feed your Horse) provided the information needed to recommend a blend of 1 lb. Integrity Lite without molasses with 6.5 lbs. of a hay pellet to start; adjustments would be made based on body condition score changes.

No! There is inadequate fiber in that diet. Unfortunately, there is no industry standard for senior diets relative to guarantee analysis or “must-have” ingredients. For example, if you look at the senior formulas on the market today, the crude fiber content will range from 8 – 22%; fiber is a dietary component, not a required nutrient. Star Milling’s Integrity Adult/Senior contains 16% crude fiber and equally important is that the first two ingredients are beet pulp and soy-hulls. Integrity Adult/Senior was formulated to compliment the forage portion of the horse’s diet for energy, nutrients and fiber.

Horse owners know a horse needs fiber in their diet. Depending on where you live, the fiber source may be from pasture grazing, baled hay, hay cubes, or hay pellets. Fiber is critical for “Gut Integrity”!

Microorganisms that live in the gut depend on fiber and the horse depends on micros to supply a source of energy and a few selective nutrients. Fiber is also critical for gut motility. Remember the gut is a muscle and contraction with consistency is vital for a healthy gut.

So how much fiber does the horse require? The recently published NRC (6th ed.) only addresses issues associated with inadequate fiber intake but does reference the 1989 NRC report of “no less than 1% of BW as forage (DM) per day.” There is no study that states a horse requires X grams of crude fiber per pound of body weight. When we eventually take the step to identify fiber requirement then most likely fiber requirements will be identified as ADF (acid detergent fiber) which is a laboratory assessment that represents certain fiber components. Other fiber assessments that may be considered are NDF (neutral detergent fiber) and TDF (total dietary fiber).

I frequently emphasize the importance of fiber for adult horses by recommending dried forage (hay of some type) at a minimum of 1.5% of body weight (as-feed) and then I further add my Forage Feeding Rules: not more than 50% of the forage can be alfalfa; not more than 50% of the forage can be from a cereal grain hay; 50% of the forage must be a long stem source (baled not cube or pellet); not more than 50% of the forage can be from process hay (pellets, cubes) and so on. These guidelines emphasize the importance of fiber and the source of that fiber. Granted there is not any research that states the number of grams of crude fiber or ADF a horse requires but practical knowledge tells us a certain amount is needed for gut integrity. If we look at moderate quality grass hay and how much that horse needs to consume to sustain body weight and gut integrity, one can mathematically estimate the amount of fiber consumed per day and then how much fiber is required per pound of body weight.

Let’s use a 1,100 pound horse as an example and let’s just look at protein and fiber intakes from a senior formula that has 16% crude fiber and 14% crude protein. Energetically if this horse is fed for maintenance, he will need approximately 16.7 Mcal of digestible energy (DE) per day. If this senior feed contains 1.3 Mcal of DE/pound (and most likely that energy information is not on the label or bag) then you would feed about12.8 pound per day just to maintain the body weight of the horse. So how much protein and crude fiber is that horse consuming per day from the 12.8 pounds of senior feed? He is consuming 933 grams of crude fiber and 813 grams of crude protein. The horse’s protein requirement, according to NRC (6th ed.), is 656 grams and as stated above they do not provide a crude fiber or ADF requirement. My estimated fiber requirement for this horse would be approximately 1,930 grams of crude fiber or 2,375 gram of ADF. (I’m not going to bore you with my calculations for now) So compare my estimated fiber requirement of 1,930 grams to 933 grams provided by a diet of just senior feed; in other words the requirement is at least twice that which is provided in this diet example.

Remember, fiber intake is a critical consideration in feeding horses! The first items on the list with feeding a horse: What is the fiber source and how much do I feed?

Answer: So for your horse, a diet consisting of 4 pounds of Integrity Senior, 10 pound of a grass hay pellet mixed with water in a gruel (oatmeal consistency) along with access to a flake of grass hay will meet his energy protein, fiber & other nutrient requirements. You still need to provide him long stem hay to nibble and with this recommendation he only needs to consume a pound of that long stem hay. Now if you notice, the fiber sources are not “meeting the rule” that 50% of the fiber must be from long-stem fiber sources; but this horse is not the average adult and yes we need to make adjustments; …which is why Integrity Senior is fed because the first two ingredients are beet pulp and soy-hulls, fiber sources with bulk-laxative like properties.

The high-moisture feed you reference is not a feedstuff I recommend because of concerns with adequate fiber intake. Forages are the essential food source for horses (in fact, for all non-ruminant herbivores). Forages provide a source of energy and nutrients but more importantly, provide a source of fiber. Fiber is not a nutrient but is an essential component of a horse’s diet because of its role in promoting a healthy gut. Hay is approximately 90% dry matter (10% water) compared to the high moisture feed which is 55% dry matter (45% water). When comparing feeds, the comparison MUST be with equivalent dry matter or moisture content. The feeding recommendations of the high moisture forage provide inadequate fiber to the horse’s diet. In addition, the feedstuff relative to the cost per unit weight of dry matter is much more expensive than grass forage in the form of hay. Anytime a feed is processed, the cost of the feed is higher.

There is much confusion in the industry relative to non-structural carbohydrates (includes starch and sugars) being fed to horses. That confusion is perpetuated by internet blogs, some feed reps, and even professionals whose intentions are perhaps good, but usually limited relative to their knowledge with nutrition and nutritional management of horses. In the May 30, 2011 Feedstuffs, Dr. Pagan of KER wrote an excellent article on non-structural carbohydrates that address the misleading information circulating in the industry.

Our approach at Star Milling is to address the specific questions of customers, which is one reason why Star Milling setup Dr. Bray’s Corner so that the company can directly help our customers with questions. The Integrity Lite, No Molasses formula is the feed that best serves your needs and I have provided a table with the % starch and % starch + % ESC information regarding both Integrity Lite products. However please note that the emphasis is on total starch consumed not just the starch that is in the concentrate. The amount of concentrate being fed relative to the type and amount of forage being fed are key considerations when reviewing a horse’s diet that has been diagnosed with IR. Please note that Integrity Lite with no molasses is significantly lower than the formulas you are currently feeding.

Horse Feed and Form % Starch % Starch + % ESC
Integrity Lite, textured 3.3 10.6
Integrity Lite, No Molasses, textured 1.6 7.5
Your current Lite Pelleted  being fed 4.5 9.5
Your current Senior Textured being fed 6.4 13.2

The production of gas in the gut (gastrointestinal tract) is normal for all mammals and especially for those animals whose gut is designed to eat large quantities of plant materials. Horses are classified as non-ruminant herbivores. Their hindgut, which includes the cecum and colon, is the major site for fermentation of the plant materials that are not (or can not) be digested in the foregut through chemical and enzymatic digestion. In the fermentation process, it’s the “job” of the microorganisms to digest the plant materials and produce selective nutrients and energy that are available to the horse. “Gas” is a by-product of the fermentation process and the horse’s gut is capable of moving the gas though the colon to be released. Excess gas production, which has the potential of causing a first class bellyache, known as colic, can result from numerous factors. These factors include inadequate fiber in the diet, inadequate exercise, inadequate consumption of water (note: fiber and exercise influence water consumption), inadequate management routine, certain drugs, especially antibiotics, over feeding starchy feeds, changes in feeds and amount fed, inconsistent daily meal frequency and amounts fed, and (perhaps the cause that will step on the toes of horse owners) inadequate nutritional management experience and knowledge.

Beet pulp and soy hulls contain a type of fiber that is fermentable and is broken down by the microorganisms that live in the gut. The grasses that are fed via pasture and hay also have some fermentable fiber as well as the fiber that is classified as insoluble fiber. If there is inadequate forage provided, and the horse is fed a large quantity of fermentable fiber, then excess gas production could occur. Another scenario is if large portions of grain type feeds (in which major ingredients including corn, oats, and/or barley) are fed, then an excess gas production could occur. Any combination of factors listed in the first paragraph can cause excess gas production. The bottom line is that nutritional management of the horse plays the most important role in his gut health. Nutritional Management does not come from what we read on the internet, it’s a result of time, experience and education.

In addition, there some horses whose gut may be more sensitive to fermentable fiber type feeds. Through my 40+ years of experiences with horses as an owner, breeder, farm manager, university professor, and nutritional consultant, I have not had one horse that could not be easily managed with a diet that includes fermentable fiber such as beet pulp and soy hulls.

Summary: Beet pulp and soy hulls:

  • Are important feedstuffs in the nutritional management of horses.
  • Are safe sources of energy in balanced concentrates to fuel the horse in whatever he does.
  • Are solid ingredients with other feedstuffs that are formulated for a balanced concentrate mix that will complement the forage portion of the horse’s diet.
  • Have bulk laxative like properties that will assist the gut to contract with consistency and regularity as well as maintain a healthy microorganism population in the gut.

The bottom line: the information provided by your veterinarian is incorrect.

If you remove baled hay from your mare’s diet, she still needs an adequate source of dietary fiber. You did not mention the specific dental issues but I surmised there are issues with her molars (jaw teeth) which are needed to reduce the particle size of the food being consumed. So, your option is to select a forage source in which the particle size has already been reduced which is a hay pellet and you will need to soak the hay pellet in water to an oatmeal consistency; you also may want to consider feeding smaller amounts more frequently. For example if she was being fed hay two times per day then divide the hay pellet daily feed allotment into three feedings. Also you most likely will feed less total weight of hay pellet since there will not being any orts (feed loss) as compared to baled hay. I usually suggest feeding hay pellets approximately 10% less (weight) than baled hay; that is, if the mare was being fed 16 lbs. of long stem hay per day then feed approximately 14 1/2 lbs. of the hay pellet per day. You will need to monitor her body condition score for weigh changes.

Star Milling has several hay pellets including Timothy, teff, Bermuda & Bermuda/alfalfa. You will need to review the fact sheet on Feeding Guidelines for Horses relative to the rate of changing the diet. When the diet is switched from a long stem forage source to a hay pellet (smaller particle size), the horse will drink less water. In addition, the smaller particle size of the fiber source is associated with a reduction in passage rate; in other words the gut will contract with less vigor. One final point of interest is that when a diet is changed, the major goal is not to upset the microflora (bacteria) that are habitants of the gut. Gut integrity is the number one nutritional management goal. The current line of Integrity products was not formulated to be a total replacement for forages but the Integrity Lite may be the balanced concentrate you will need to compliment the forage portion of her diet.

The feeding guidelines that are provided on packaging address body weight, (and/or body condition score), and production/work levels only. This information is basic but there are a plethora of other factors that influence a horse’s diet besides body weight and production level, which is why I always use the phrase “Feeding Guidelines” for feeding recommendations. In the fact sheet section of Dr. Bray’s Corner, there is a fact sheet titled “What to Feed your Horse” This information provides a series of questions and subset list of questions that helps me provide recommendations. I wish I could print that fact sheet on the packaging but we do have Dr. Bray’s Corner which provides nutritional management recommendations.

Feeding horses is much more than flakes of hay and scoops of grain. Star Milling’s Dr. Bray’s Corner emphasizes the importance developing nutritional management skills and the importance of using the body condition scoring system to guide the horse owner in feeding decisions.

Relative to your follow up question regarding orchard hay or another forage: all the grass hays are similar in nutrient/energy concentration because orchard grass on the West Coast is inconsistent with the calcium-phosphorus ratio I usually suggest a small amount (20%) of alfalfa hay be fed with the orchard as well.

The lowest starch and highest fiber formula in the Integrity product line is Integrity Lite without molasses. This formula is well suited for older horses that may be inactive or worked lightly. As with all Integrity formulas, Integrity Lite is a balanced formula to complement the forage portion of the horse’s diet. Integrity Timothy is a formula more suited for more active working horses and does not contain the high starch grains corn and barley.