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Feeding advice for thin horse? Beginner to grain and supplements here.

Advance thank you for your input! I have done SO much research, but each situation is different. Please do forgive if this is a bit of a repeat of another post you have seen.

12 yr old gelding, excellent health aside from weight. He has also lost most of his muscle mass. Through his thick winter coat, and this makes me CRINGE, you can feel his ribs easily. I would give him a body score of 4. Height is 14.2 hh. Mustang, and a very easy keeper usually. He has no problem packing on the pounds in just pasture in summer. I need to get this guy healthy! I am wanting to do my regular in-depth groundwork with him, but I think he needs a few more pounds to be healthy to do so (?). He will be doing light to moderate work soon.


Right now he is getting free choice hay; bermuda with mix grass (it’s what grows here) though I’m not sure it’s very nigh nutritional content. (The hay that was delivered this year is stemmy and I have to pick though the bales to find ones that don’t smell faintly of mold. UGH!) I have started him on Nutrena SafeChoice Special Care feed with an Omega HorseShine supplement. Right now he is only on a 1/2lb feed per day as he has never had grain before and I want to introduce slowly (1/2lb is what the bag said for “maintenance” horses. Thought I would stay on the safe side until I consulted wiser folk). I also don’t know too much about grain and don’t want to over feed! My horses have always stayed healthy and even thick on pasture and/or hay. Anyway. ½ cup of the HorseShine added as recommended on the bag. He has 24/7 access to fresh water and a Redmond Mineral Block as well as my mom’s regular red salt lick. His new pasture has gone dormant for the winter. There are places where the grass is graze-able, but he’d rather not. It’s great pasture in the spring and summer!

Here is what I am wondering. (feel free to add to this!!)
A.) Do I need to up his feed? I’m leaning towards yes. If so, how much?
B.) Would it be wise to also give him soaked Timothy/Alfalfa mix cubes? How much you think?
(I thought about giving him Beet Pulp… but I’ve heard a few people whom I respect highly for their horse knowledge, specifically nutrition, talk it down heavily. Worried about how it is only the leftovers from manufacturing so you get any and all of the waste left over. Not much good left in it. Also that it could cause weakness in the hind gut. Rice Bran is really expensive and I’ve heard mixed reviews from everywhere. I’d rather not.)
C.) Anything else I’m leaving out?

How long have you had this horse?
What’s his deworming protocol?
When was the last time his teeth were floated?
What’s his seasonal ‘routine’ that corresponds with the growth/ die off of pasture?

The way you describe lack of muscle tone and marked weight loss, I think parasite load. Like, encysted strongyles or tapes --both of which don’t test on a fecal. Speak with your vet about which product to use (commercial name Equimax or Quest) and go from there.

In the mean time, depending upon how long it’s been since he started the grain, yes, I’d up it. Any changes/ increases additions to grain need to be made slowly over the course of a week or so, depending. If you have addressed the parasite/ teeth issue, then I’d think up to 3 lbs per meal per day is a fine goal. I’d make a point of feeding initially another grain meal instead of just increasing a.m., p.m… A handful of soaked T&A cubes at a midday meal can’t hurt either.

I have no idea how the beetpulp = scraps theory came about. I find it hogwash. If your horse has a need, use it. Preferably molasses free. I find rice bran more of a risk because of the cal/phos ratio and unless you purchase a pre ‘balanced’ product, it can be even more costly.

What about fat? I think the product you mention has 7% fat. I’d prefer one that’s closer to 10%. And, are you feeding this Safe Choice because its assertion of low starch/ carbs/ no corn? Frankly, at 15% NSC rating it’s not the shiznit it’s trying to promote itself to be. For example, my TC Senior has 11% NSC with 10% fat (already contains beet pulp) and is fairly well ‘supplemented’ already.

I’d much rather see you address the first few physical issues I’m curious about then put him on a balanced grain instead of tweaking with more supplements and fat additives. There’s just no way you and I can come up with better formulas than the nutritional research teams at these commercial feed manufacturer’s facilities.

I agree with Sansena’s advice, but wanted to add - think about getting better hay.

Forage is the #1 way to add weight and if, as you said, your hay is smelling moldy then horse may not be eating enough of it.
If you can smell mold it is likely in more of the bales & flakes than you can see.
You could also be inviting colic if horse gets desperate or hungry enough to eat moldy hay.

First of all, if he is actually a 4 BCS he isn’t skinny, lots of horses (especially those in moderate work) are a 4 BCS and are just fine. So hopefully that makes you feel better.

Personally, if he is a pretty easy keeper in the summer and is going to have full pasture access I would let him stay a 4! You don’t want him getting too chubby on summer pasture.

However…the comment about losing muscle mass is concerning and is not really common for the amount of weight loss you’re talking about. Unless he was in work and you stopped working him, he shouldn’t have lost much muscle mass. It would make me suspect something else is going on, such as a high worm load or maybe something like Lyme. An FEC and a blood test are in order.

It sounds like your hay isn’t the best quality. Is there any way you can supplement it with a better hay? Even if it’s just 1 thick, heavy flake 2x a day? Hay is the BEST way to keep weight on a horse and it provides the most nutrition out of anything in their diet. Think about it, a horse gets 20-30 lb of hay a day, vs only a few lbs total of grains and supplements. You could also do a bucket of soaked alfalfa cubes 2x a day with his grain, ~5 lb of alfalfa per feeding.

If you’re feeding the Same Nutrena Special Care that I looked up you need to be feeding WAY more than 1 lb a day to be getting any real caloric gain from it. Maintenance according to the website is .25-.5# per 100# of body weight. IOW, a minimum of 2.5# a day. Definitely up the grain to that and see how he does after a few weeks. I wouldn’t bother switching to TC Senior. Hardkeeping TB? Sure, Mustang that is a 4 BCS, eh, probably doesn’t need the extra fat. ALTHOUGH, since your horse is a mustang, it might be a good idea to switch for the lower NSC in TC Senior. But if it’s not available easily then don’t worry about it.

BP is good for fiber, as are hay cubes. They are not particularly calorie dense and I would personally never use them for a horse that really needed to gain weight (as a weight builder…using them to supplement inferior quality hay is another story). A regular feed is going to do more. A good, inexpensive weight builder is plain veggie or corn oil….which is entirely fat. Other weight builders are Empower Boost and Purina Amplify, both good options.

Personally, for now, I would get an FEC and run some blood. While doing that, up the grain to ~3# a day and try to supplement your hay somehow, with other hay or hay cubes. But I also wouldn’t try to get the horse to gain much weight, as he most likely will pack the weight on quickly once he is on pasture and a 4 BCS is still a healthy weight. I’d rather have a slightly skinny horse than a fat one.

If you check everything else and it is just a feed issue, adding on to what others have said, I like to use a Tribute feed (one of the few better feeds available locally to me) called K Finish. http://www.tributehorsefeeds.com/catalog/performance/k-finish-9kf2-3/

It’s VERY high fat and I just mix it with their grain.

I also like to top dress with Cool Calories http://www.smartpakequine.com/cool-calories-100-3725p

I’ve found that my horse gets ‘down’ to a 4 in winter even on good free choice hay, but beefs up to the point of plump on pasture in summer. I don’t NEED to add these products every winter but I do when it seems like he’s struggling.

After running a fecal and ruling out parasites (don’t forget, tapeworms don’t usually show up on an FEC) your problem is likely poor hay and not enough calories. 1/2 lb of feed is about the size of a coffee mug. A standard, cheap squarish feed scoop holds 3 qts or 3 lbs of pelleted feed. Half of a pound is nothing to a horse calorie-wise. That portion size is reserved for ration balancers that are very concentrated sources of protein and vitamins. Examples are Triple Crown 30, Purina Enrich 32, Nutrena’s Empower and Pennfields Ultra Balancer. Safechoice Special Care is meant to be fed at rates of 2.5-5 lbs per day for a 1000 lb horse. Luggage scales are a cheap way to find out exactly how much you are feeding. Walmart has them for less than $10. You’ll be surprised at just how light some of those flakes of hay really are!!

I’d first add some high quality forage. Baled is usually your cheapest option. Minimally 25lbs total per day, more for weight gain. The greenest, leafiest stuff you can find. Mixed with alfalfa is good, too, but not necessary. If you can’t get good stuff baled, get it bagged (alfalfa or alfalfa mixed pellets or cubes) or get a forage or beet pulp based “grain” like TC Senior or Pennfields Fibergized and you can feed up to 12 lbs per day (thats 4 big 3 quart scoops!) but it’s unlikely you’ll need to add that much.

Alfalfa cubes or pellets are a great calorie additive. Just one 3 qt scoop of alfalfa pellets is 3000 kcal (3lbs at 1 Mcal/lb).

I’m not a fan of plain beet pulp for weight gain in most cases. Calories per volume of soaked BP shreds is pretty low. One dry 3qt scoop weighs about one pound. The pellets are denser (3lbs per 3qt scoop) so you can usually get a horse to eat more, but the shreds are so light that a pound of them soaked can fill a whole 5 gallon bucket. BP pellets aren’t cheap and are rock hard so they need soaking. So once you add up those and a ration balancer or vitamin supplement and oil, you’re already up to the cost of TC Senior or Fibergized and you’re making your life harder.

If he were mine, I’d start with adding better hay and work up to one 3 qt scoop twice daily of Fibergized or TC Senior. That will meet his protein and vitamin requirements even if the hay isn’t great and will be a total of 6lbs of “grain” daily. If he still isn’t gaining weight you can add another 6 lbs of grain or alfalfa pellets and up to 1 cup of oil per day (vegetable oil, rice bran oil or cocosoya).

The Omega Horseshine is a nice additive but your money would be better spent on better hay.