Transitioning horses from pasture to dry feed must be done carefully to protect the horse’s delicate digestive system.
“I’ve treated four colics this week,” said Dr. Lonna Gerstner, DVM, Hawthorne Animal Clinic, Pocatello. “Horses need to be transitioned gradually from pasture to dry feed. And, they must have a mineral block to keep them drinking as much as possible.”
The reason going from pasture to hay is so digestively distressing for horses is because grass is almost all moisture while hay has been dried to remove the moisture, said Dr. Rex Gillespie, DVM, Cottonwood Animal Clinic, Blackfoot. Slow and steady is the pasture transitioning rule. That and constant access to clean water. Mineral blocks encourage more drinking and that helps prevent impaction of the dry feed.
As horses start come in off pasture, it’s time to reevaluate what types of nutritional supplements are best for them.
Every horse needs a mineral block but there are numerous varieties out there to fit each horse’s specific needs. For example, our area is low in selenium and chloride (table salt) so offering an additive with these minerals is vitally important.
I also use the transition time to add corn oil to my horses’ rations to amp up lubrication. I help that along with a probiotic called Forco, There are many probiotic products available. I’ve used Forco successful for a couple decades so I stick with that. I don’t know if it’s available locally because I order it online. This product is always packed in my horse trailer so I can feed a handful before and after long trailer rides….just in case.
As feed types evolve, it becomes important to find what best matches your horse’s age, weight and body condition.
Several reliable feed companies low carb and senior feed for horses. My little fatties love their grain buckets but can’t safely ingest a lot without fear of founder. The low carb feeds let you know exactly how many calories and carbs you are feeding.
Senior feed is obviously for older horses. People start considering horses to be senior in their late teens. Both low carb and senior feed have reduced starch and sugar to enhance the horse’s health and digestion. The feed provides a slow energy source that causes very little or no insulin response.
Senior horses sometimes have additional food challenges if their teeth are worn out or missing. You should watch all your horses to make sure the food in going down the throat and not on the ground. Any horse that is regularly spilling food out of its mouth should see the vet or horse dentist right away.
Watch horses closely any time you switch feeds. It can upset their delicate digestive systems and cause colic, which can be fatal. I’m amazed at how such large creatures can be so fragile so keep a close eye on their behavior. Colic can present as the horse being restless, looking at its belly or kicking at it, laying down and or rolling.
If this happens, call the vet immediately. Colics can often be reversed it caught soon enough. If your horse is displaying any of the above symptoms don’t wait to see if they get better….they won’t. Any vet will respond immediately to a colic because they know how serious and often fatal they are.