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

   Welcome to my forum. 

Here you will find more than 6 years of questions and my answers. It is searchable and offers a great deal of information. 

Currently, I am discontinuing new questions. This may change in the future, but in the meantime, please know that It has been a true pleasure serving you. 

Take a look at my Nutrition Library and Tips of the Month for a variety of answers on selected topics. Be sure to sign up for my monthly e-newsletter, Forage for Thought

I also have a growing number of recordings on "Teleseminars on Nutrition Topics that Concern You" as well as the new, Spotlight on Equine Nutrition Series -- printed versions of favorite teleseminars.

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All the best,

 Dr. Getty 


Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition
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Re: Free Choice Not Working

Hi Adelle,

Thank you for writing. Your situation is a perfect illustration of how each horse is an individual. Out of 7 horses, two have gained weight with free choice feeding while the other 5 have not and are doing well.

What is apparent in this situation is that the two that are gaining weight have a very sluggish metabolic rate. This happens when horses are restricted in their feeding for a long time -- the body goes into "survival mode" and hoards every calorie it can. Then, when presented with lots of food, the rate at which the body burns calories is so severely slowed, that body fat accumulates at a rapid rate.

So the key is to stimulate the metabolic rate and this is difficult to do. Eventually, once your horses' instincts have had a chance to kick in, their eating will slow down. But the longer a horse has been away from their natural desire to graze all the time, the longer it can take for body to adjust. For some horses, it takes very little time (as with your 5) but with others, it can take a while.

So, the best way to help your horses' metabolic rate to increase is to encourage them to move -- exercise is critical for these animals. A round bale encourages horses to stay in one place. And while it is fine for many horses, it is not appropriate for yours. Slow feeders, placed far apart from one another, with a small amount of hay in each one, will encourage them to walk around more. And of course, as the weather warms, you will be able to provide more structured exercise.

Finally, have your hay tested. Be sure that it is low in calories. And give your horses two things -- magnesium (5,000 mg per 250 lbs of body weight) and psyllium husks -- 1/3 cup per meal or if you don't provide meals, see if they'll eat the pellets out of your hand.

Keep me posted.

All the best,

Dr. Getty
Author of Feed Your Horse Like A Horse

Hi Dr. Getty, I have a question for you with regards to feeding free choice hay.
I have been feeding my horses free choice with large bale slow feed hay nets. My horses were all exposed to hay nets previously and I introduced the nets transitionally as well.
I have 2 horses who have gained weight since being on the free choice slow feed hay! It has been 3 months and they only continue to gain. I have the bales out in the pasture so they walk for shelter and water, and the other 5 horses have faired perfectly.
I do not feel the other two are "stressed" - I in fact have seen a vast improvement in their behaviour since going to the nets versus a 2x a day hand feeding where they were done eating in an hour or two. They are much calmer and willing to work and have a lot more "brain" about them. So I do not think they are stressed with the nets. But they have gone from a "6" to an "8" on the body scale... with no signs of slowing down! When hand feeding in small nets and weighing 9 pounds of feed 2x per day - they both maintained a much healthier weight, but stood around with no food for 20 hours which is less than ideal.
So just looking for your expertise... They are on a balanced vitamin supplement and so being they were at a great weight 3 months ago and the only thing that's changed is free choice, I'm not thinking there is anything health wise interfering... but your opinion is much appreciated. Thanks!

Where are you from? Bayfield, CO