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Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition

   Welcome to my forum. 

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 Dr. Getty 


Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition
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sweet feed/feeding

I recently moved my 11 year old thoroughbred gelding from NJ to FL. He has spent the last 8 years on 3 quarts pellets & 3 quarts sweet feed daily. The barn manager here is upset with the fact that he eats "too slowly", which I never realized was a problem. (I always thought it was better than the alternative of gulping it down too fast!) He has never colicked. Bottom line is, she now gives him 6 quarts of sweet feed, rather than a pellet/sweet feed mix. All about 10% protein. Is this OK for him to get only sweet feed? They also measure out the grain for the evening after the morning feed, so the feed sits out all day (and vice versa- the morning feed is measured out the night before & sits out all night). Is this OK- doesn't the feed go bad sitting out? I would appreciate your thoughts on these issues!
Thank You!

Where are you from? FL

How did you locate this forum? just looking around web

Re: sweet feed/feeding

Hi Sandy,

When you say, “pellets” are you referring to a hay pellet, such as alfalfa pellets? Or are you referring to a complete feed in pelleted form? In either case, it sounds as though you are feeding a very large amount of feed. Ideally, feed should be weighed, not measured by quarts, since they vary in weight. One quart of feed can be anywhere between 2 and 3 pounds. So, even at the low end of 2 pounds, you’re feeding 12 pounds each day.

If the pellets are a forage, such as alfalfa, this amount is relatively safe. However, since a horse’s stomach is quite small, it is best to not exceed 3 to 4 lbs of feed at each meal. The addition of a forage is very important. And, since your barn manager is feeding him 12 pounds of sweet feed each day, your horse’s likelihood of developing laminitis is very high.

Sandy, I don’t often give this kind of advice – but if this were my horse, I would find a new barn that has a manager who knows something about horse digestion. There are so many problems with the way he is being fed:

1. 12 pounds of feed is extremely high for any horse. And, should only be considered for a mare in her last month of pregnancy, and only if it is high in non-starchy feed sources (non-grain).

2. Large amounts of concentrates (sweet feed) cannot be digested in the early part of the digestive tract. Therefore, these starches enter the hind gut where they are fermented by the bacteria that live in your horse’s digestive tract. This fermentation results in acid formation which kills the bacteria. The resulting endotoxins can lead to laminitis (founder) which can at best, cause lameness, and at worst, death.

3. Horse’s should be encouraged to eat at their own pace and you are absolutely right – they should not gulp their food. This can lead to colic. If your horse is eating very slowly and dropping food, he may need to have a dental exam.

4. At least 50% of your horse’s diet should be from forage – hay, hay pellets, chopped hay. Your gelding is getting far too much sweet feed.

5. Feed that sits out all day can become contaminated with insects or, if exposed to birds, bird droppings, which can be toxic. Also, exposure to heat, air, and moisture destroys important vitamins and antioxidants.

So, what should you do? In my opinion – insist that your horse be fed according to your instructions or find a barn where they allow the horse owners to participate in their horse’s care. Since I do not know the details of his weight, workload, and overall health, I can only estimate – but if he was maintaining his weight on the alfalfa pellets and sweet feed, continue feeding him 2 lbs of each at each meal – and no more than that. You can add a third meal if you feel that he needs the extra calories for his work requirement. Or, you can add more hay. He should be allowed to have clean, high quality hay or pasture throughout the day, not just at set intervals, to keep his digestive tract healthy.

I hope this is helpful. You have reason to be concerned and I am glad that you chose to look into this matter. Your instincts are correct. Your barn manager is doing what’s convenient, not what’s best for your horse.

Please keep me posted on how things are going.

All the best,

Dr. Getty