best weight gain feed for horses

Best Weight Gain Feed For Horses

Written by: Annemarie Dutton

If your horse is too thin, from either a short-term or a chronic condition, you can maintain its weight with careful feeding.  

Feeding a horse for weight gain is not complicated. Knowing that you need to is the hard part.

We first need to understand why horses lose weight.

If you care for your horse every day, you may not notice slight variations in its body condition that indicate weight loss.

Then one day, he turns toward you with a faint outline of every rib along his sides, and his hips a little less rounded. 

Your horse is losing weight, and you ask: Is he sick? Am I not feeding him correctly? What is wrong?

A  horse typically loses weight because it does not meet its caloric needs. Either it is burning more energy than it is consuming, or somehow it is not properly utilizing the feed that it does eat.

Why Do Horses Lose Weight?

Illnesses

Several diseases can lead to weight loss.  Symptoms are diarrhea, colic, fever, or lethargy. In some instances, signs of illness might be subtle or nonexistent. 

If your horse starts losing weight and its diet is unchanged, we recommend that you contact a veterinarian who can check its liver and kidney function and screen for chronic infections.

Dental issues

A horse’s dental health can affect its eating ability. Uneven wear can cause hooks, waves, and other problems that inhibit chewing, and cracked, broken, or infected teeth can be painful enough to prevent a horse from chewing his food properly. In addition to weight loss, signs that a horse is experiencing dental problems might include dropping partially chewed feeds from the mouth, bad breath, fussiness with the bit, and undigested grains and bits of hay in the manure.

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Social Problems

Horses who live in stable herds develop distinct social orders, and those at the bottom of the pecking order, often the very young, the aging, or the submissive, may be chased away from the hay feeder and other food sources. One solution is to bring the low-ranking horse into a paddock or stall where he can eat undisturbed. 

Environmental conditions

Horses burn more calories to stay warm in cold weather, but extreme heat can also cause them to lose interest in food.

In the winter, you can help a horse keep warm with blankets when temperatures dip. 

Pastured horses should have access to shelter that will shield them from prevailing winds. Access to hay will also help a horse generate internal heat around the clock. Slow feeders can keep the hay clean while helping the ration last longer.

Getting Started With Weight 

Once you have identified and addressed the most probable reasons for your horse’s weight loss, you should develop a program to stop the reduction.

If you have a skinny horse whose vertebrae, ribs, and other bones are prominent, seek medical attention. Giving starving horses too much food too quickly can cause digestive consequences that could be fatal.

However, if your horse is only moderately thin, you can probably manage his weight gain yourself.

As you help your horse gain weight, changes to your horse’s diet need to be made gradually. After all, your horse didn’t become skinny overnight.

Abrupt changes in weight can lead to colic, laminitis, and other illnesses.

The forage

Before shopping for new products, gradually increase your horse’s current feed.  The average pleasure horse can maintain a healthy weight on forage alone with light to moderate work.

A horse needs to consume a daily ration of 2 to 3 percent of his body weight each day to maintain a steady weight.  Of the ration, at least 1.5 to 2 percent needs to be some form of forage. 

Choose the best quality hay you can find for your underweight horse.

It is suggested that you increase the amount of hay until his total feed reaches at least 2.5 percent of his desired body weight. 

You want to choose the highest quality leafy, green hay with a minimum of brown stalks and mature seed heads for your horse. One quick way to test the quality of hay is to squeeze a handful. Stiff stalks that hurt your palm are not a good choice if you need a higher-calorie feed.

Blending a flake or two of good-quality alfalfa with a ration of grass hay is another way to add nutritional value to your forage. Alfalfa is higher in calories and protein than grass hays, which makes it an excellent choice to help to add weight to a thin horse.

Other Fiber

Beet pulp is another fiber supplement, which contains about the same digestible energy as good-quality hay. Horses seem to like beet pulp. It is a suitable medium for blending in supplements or other feed additives such as oils or rice bran. 

Introduce it slowly, one pound (dry weight) per feeding, up to 0.5 percent of your horse’s body weight. 

Although beet pulp is a good source of calories, it is not a complete protein source, and it is relatively low in vitamins and most minerals, so it works best as an addition to, not a substitute for, your horse’s regular rations.

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Fat and Calories

Forage is not a calorie-dense food, and there’s a limit to how much a horse will eat in a day. So if your horse has been consuming forage and is not gaining weight after several weeks, add more calories to his ration.

The safest way to increase your horse’s energy ration is to boost its fat content. While carbohydrates and proteins offer around four calories per gram, fats provide nine calories per gram. If introduced slowly, horses can adapt to higher fat intakes.

You’ll find many supplements and feeds on the market formulated to help horses gain weight safely. Most contain high amounts of fat and amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that support a horse’s build and maintain muscle. 

One of the simplest and cheapest ways to add fat to your horse’s diet is vegetable oil from the grocery store, which can be poured over his regular concentrate ration. Corn oil is palatable to most horses, but you can also use canola, peanut, or any other vegetable oil your horse likes. 

Rice bran is another source of fat that most horses love, and it’s also rich in vitamin E and fiber. The biggest concern with rice bran is that it is also high in phosphorus, inhibiting the amount of calcium available in the horse’s body. If you’re feeding natural rice bran, you might want to add a calcium supplement or another calcium-rich food, such as alfalfa.

Concentrates

Commercial concentrates, formulated for complete, balanced nutrition, can be a valuable source of calories for an underweight horse, but use them wisely. First, select a product formulated for your horse’s age and activity level. Then, follow the instructions on the label to introduce the feed carefully into its diet.

No matter what type of concentrates and added fats you incorporate into your horse’s diet, remember to make sure he always gets at least 1.5 to  2 percent of his body weight in forage each day. 

Weight Gain Feed For Horses

Forage is essential for horses that need to gain weight.

Choose a bucket feed high in fiber and oil as the primary energy source in the ration. These slow-release energy sources are less likely to encourage the horse to waste energy on over-excitable or fizzy behavior. 

Fiber and oil provide plenty of energy. Alfa-A Oil, for example, contains as much energy as a conditioning mix (12.5 MJ/kg) but with around ten times less starch.

How Long Will Weight Gain Take?

Gaining weight will not happen overnight, and as a horse owner, you should have reasonable expectations as to how long it will take. Weight gain can take up to 6 months to achieve your horse’s ideal body weight and would require very energy-dense feeding rules.

Conclusion

Whether your horse is underweight or overweight, it is vital to regularly evaluate his condition through advancing age, environmental changes, and performance demands. Addressing unwanted fluctuations before they become potential health risks is the key to maintaining optimal body weight.

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