Poor nutrition over winter is a common occurrence for the feral horse, but there is no reason for the well managed domestic horse to have these challenges. Understanding the deficiencies in older hay can help you maintain optimal nutrition.
It's the time of year when even last year's hay isn't so new anymore and hay is getting hard to find, leading many people to settle for hay that is actually 2-years-old. Properly cured hay stores well in terms of the major calorie sources (fermentable fiber and other carbohydrates) but it does suffer some important nutrient losses.
Freshly harvested hay is rich in a pigment called beta-carotene which is the major precursor of vitamin A. As hay ages, light and air take their toll on the beta-carotene. As levels drop, hay begins to lose its nice green color. This is a sure sign vitamin A value has dropped. Skin, eyes, coat, thyroid and ovaries are among the tissues most affected by insufficient vitamin A. A good time to start supplementing with 20,000 IU of vitamin A is when hay is 6+ months old, increasing to 40,000 IU when over a year old.
Vitamin E activity also drops with storage and is lost even more quickly than vitamin A. All horses eating hay rather than fresh green pasture should be supplemented with 1 to 2 I per pound of body weight daily. Alpha-tocopherol is the major biologically active form of vitamin E. If you use mixed tocopherols you will not be supplying enough vitamin E.
Both vitamin A and vitamin E are fat soluble vitamins and require adequate fat for absorption and transport. Fat is also required for the conversion of beta-carotene to active vitamin A. Curing and storage reduce the natural fat content of hay to 50% or less of the value in fresh pasture, primarily by loss of the fragile omega-3 fatty acids. High omega-3 fatty acid supplements, based on Flax and Chia, help replace these losses. Actual requirements of the horse are unknown at this time, but daily supplementation of at least 2 to 4 ounces of these seeds is generally recommended.
Like vitamin E, vitamin C is rich in fresh pastures and very rapidly declines when hay is cured. The horse is capable of synthesizing his own vitamin C, but this may not be enough for optimal levels. It has been documented that blood levels of vitamin C drop sharply over winter. Vitamin C is an important cofactor for the production and maintenance of strong immune responses and healthy skin, lung and tendon/ligament tissues.
Finally, excessive loss of moisture over time often leads to crumbling of the leaf portion of the hay, visible as a layer of “fines” when the hay is handled. The more “stemmy” portions left behind are lower in protein, B vitamins and fermentable fiber. A higher percentage of minerals bound to the nonfermentable fiber can also reduce mineral nutrition. Use of a full spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement formulated to complement the most common hay mineral profiles (e.g. low to no iron, low manganese) is good insurance.
Uckele Health & Nutrition, maker of CocoSoya®, offers formulas to support winter hay deficiencies.
Vitamin A 5000 promotes eye health and night vision, and is also important for skin health, bone formation, immunity, fetal development, gum health, even gene activity.
Liquid E-50 is a high strength liquid Vitamin E that plays an indispensable role in protecting the lipid membranes of cells and cell structures from damage caused by free radicals.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant to support healthy immune function, a potent detoxifier, promotes collagen formation and connective tissue health, hormone synthesis, brain health, liver function, cardiovascular function, and kidney health.
CocoOmega Oil and Granular are non-GMO and soy free formula that supply fatty acids in a balanced ratio that mimic the ratio of 4 to 1 Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids found in fresh forages. Highly concentrated levels of Omega-3 fatty acids enriched with antioxidants support a shiny coat, strong nourished hooves, and top performance. Also provides EPA and DHA to support brain and nervous system function.
U Balance Foundation is a broad-based, low sugar vitamin and mineral pellet that provides generous levels of key nutrients that may be deficient or imbalanced in the horse's diet. Also provides the three most important amino acids: L-Lysine, DL-Methionine and L-Threonine.
Equibase Grass is a comprehensive base vitamin/mineral mix designed to balance diets based on grass hay/forage or a 50/50 alfalfa grass forage blend with high concentrations of vitamins and minerals.
About Dr. Kellon
Dr. Eleanor Kellon, staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition, is an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years, and a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via integration of research and real-life clinical experience. Prevention of laminitis is the ultimate goal. www.ecirhorse.org
Uckele Health & Nutrition, maker of CocoSoya, is an innovation-driven health company committed to making people and their animals healthier. On the leading edge of nutritional science and technology for over 50 years, Uckele formulates and manufactures a full spectrum of quality nutritional supplements incorporating the latest nutritional advances. www.uckele.com
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