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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Baby's First Tummyache

UGH!!! Well my plan for tonight was to come online and blog about how much I hate giving a bran mash once a week in place of a meal, but before I could do so I headed out to do night check at 8 (they got their mash at around 5). Now I can add one more reason to why I hate bran mashes - they make my horse sick!!

Why do I loathe said once-a-week big, warm, mushy mashes? Because the horse's digestive system is SENSITIVE. When we feed them one type of forage or grain and keep it steady, their systems adjust properly to it - the proper hindgut flora adapt to that type of forage and flourish and can easy and efficiently break down all the nutrients available to them. Their flora ADAPT to those types of forage and grain, and the whole sytem is happy and in balance. Well, in comes once-a-week dinnertime bran mash, and the gut flora go HOLY CRAP! What the hell is this stuff, I'm not used to this!! and freak out, thus producing the commonly seen diarrhea. Bran's tendency is to irritate the bowl linings. In order to have an actual laxative effect, you would have to feed HUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE quantities of it, and we just don't feed that much, so the idea that giving a bran mash once a week has a good laxative effect on a horse is just RUBBISH. He's pooping out water because you've just trashes his good gut flora! Now they have to readjust again because you threw them all out of whack! By the way, feeding bran daily over a long period of time can actually contribute to the formation of enteroliths, which are SO much fun. And don't think that a bran mash encourages gut motility - there is NO scientific evidence to prove it. AND do you really think that if your horse is getting plenty of forage that a bran mash is going to give him some much-needed fiber? Hello - hay IS fiber! You're not helping him by giving him a bran mash - give him some more hay!

Another thing about bran mashes: the calcium-phosphorus ratio. Calcium and phosphorus, as you know, work together to build bones and help muscles work correctly, BUT they need to be absorbed in correct proportions, which varies for growing horses versus adult horses. If there's not enough calcium to match the phosphorus in a bran-fed horse's daily feed, his body will pull extra calcium from his bones in order to balance the excess phosphorus in his gut, and that is not so good! If a horse gets too much phosphorus over too long a period, his body will take so much calcium from the bones that it can weaken the skeleton and leads to bone disorders. By the way, grass hays contain the exact ratio of calcium to phosphorus that horses need, versus wheat bran and rice bran contain - which contain about 10 times too much phosphorus, on a per pound basis. Don't get me going on alfalfa either.

So what's the moral here? If you feed a fair quantity of bran a day (or worse, in place of other grains and forages), then your horse's hindgut flora WILL be adjusted to it - but your calcium-phosphorus ratios will be WAY screwed up. If you feed a once-weekly large bran mash instead of a meal, you won't have calcium-phosphorus issues, but you WILL kill off a bunch of good gut flora, which can lead to digestive issues. Would you ever do this to your horse: "Hi Spot, you get 2 lbs of Gro N' Win (Buckeye ration balancer) a day, therefore once a week I will give you 5 lbs of Ultium (higher-end Purina feed) with warm water to get more water into you/have a laxative effect on you/warm you up/increase gut motility." NEVER. Because we KNOW how sensitive a horse's digestive system is. So WHY do people think bran is exempt from this? Giving a big bran mash is EXACTLY like giving several pounds of a different feed that the horse is not adjusted to. We watch the changes in our hay, we are careful to give the exact amounts of X grain (and make sure that it is the correct type of whatever grain is in the feed room) but we STILL think that bran mash is somehow in a special non-tummyache-causing category of its own? WRONG. A once-weekly bran mash constitutes an abrupt change in a horse's diet - so no wonder they get the runny poops and the achey tummies.


So that was the ORIGINAL post. Here's what I have to add to it:

In the two and a half years I've owned her, Gogo has NEVER even ONCE had a tummyache or digestive problem in her life. We even had her scoped for ulcers when she dropped a ton of weight this summer (the barn manager was starving her, but we didn't know that at the time, we thought she might have ulcers) but even then, her digestive system was in prime working order. I attribute this mostly to a lot of exercise, time to be a horse, large amounts of good quality grass hay, and minimal amounts of fortified grain. Every change I've ever made to her feed was made over the course of at least two weeks. Gogo has never, ever had a bran mash in her entire life, until tonight. The kids working today were like, here's Gogo's mash!, and it was rather huge, which bothered me a little. I let them give it to her against my better judgement, and figured I would come back at nightcheck and give her her actual grain dinner myself.

Nightcheck comes (a few hours after her bran mash), and I go out to toss hay. I toss Gogo hers, and then look in on her a few minutes later - she's ignoring her hay and covered in shavings, and her stall is a right mess. As I watch, she paws, gets down and rolls, then gets up, gets back down, gets up, and by the time I get in her stall with her halter she's down again. GREAT. Her first EVER tummyache - I can only attribute it to the bran mash. I pulled her out, take her TPR - it's totally normal, thankfully. HR is 36bmp, temp is 100.3, RR is 12bmp, totally normal and fine. Gave her a dose of banamine, off we go into the arena to walk, where she proceeded to chuck herself on the ground twice, once to roll until I got her back up, and once to lay flat out on her side for a few very long minutes while I knelt down and stroked her face. She decided to get up, and was much better after that - we walked until a good half-hour had passed, until I was sure the banamine was kicking in. Brushed the arena mess off of her, tossed her blankie back on, and put her back in her stall, where she sighed, took a long pee, and started snuffling around for the hay scraps leftover (took the other hay out of her stall). I was out there for another 10 minutes with her, and she seems to be totally fine. That was a good half-hour ago - I'm going out in a few minutes to check on her again.


SO. In conclusion:

Myth #1: Bran mash warms my horse up.
Truth: Temporarily, in the same way a mug of hot coffee warms you up. A better option is to give the horse some more hay - much better all around for them. A byproduct from digesting forage is HEAT - hence why we feed horses extra hay in the winter. By merely consuming extra hay, their bodies are internally heating themselves from the inside.

Myth #2: Bran mash gets much-needed fiber into my horse.
Not really. HAY gets much-needed fiber into your horse, or haylage, or pasture, etc. If your horse is getting enough daily forage, a bran mash is of no benefit in terms of additional fiber.

Myth #3: Bran mash gets much-needed water into my horse, especially in the cold winter months.
Truth: Well, technically, yes. However, a much better option, if you really are worried about it, is to wet your horse's grain. Same benefits, without destroying any healthy hindgut flora.

Myth #4: Bran mash has a laxative effect.
Absolutely no scientific evidence supporting this theory. Also, if it WERE to have a laxative effect, you'd have to feed WAY more than your horse could EVER consume. Your horse can have diarrhea the next day because you have, in effect, just killed off his healthy host of hindgut flora. A once-weekly bran mash is a very abrupt change in a horse's diet, and those hindgut bacteria thrive on a steady, unchanging environment.

What to do instead? Lots of hay, and wetting your horse's grain - much, much better options.



Daun said...

Thank you for writing this! I agree 100%!

We give a warm mash in the morning to the old mare, but we use her normal feed plus some beet pulp. Brego has yet to need warm feed mash, but he will. He's the master hydrator, still drinking about 15 gallons a day. When it's very cold, we'll give him the mash.

MARGIE said...

I leased a horse at a barn that sounds remarkably like yours. EVERYONE has to join in the fun. I'm with you on the tummyache. No more bran mash for Go Go. Thanks for the lesson in tummy flora. I have a sensitive TB that they would have probably killed off with that bran mash crap. Since his colic surgery (ugh) his dinners are safechoice well watered down. lots of good grass hay. A little corn oil. Lots of turn out. Hope your girl is feeling better soon.

Andrea said...

So glad there are sane, thinking horsepeople out there like me!! :D :D

Daun, that mash sounds delicious. As it gets colder I might add some warm water to Gogo's grain to make me feel better about myself - she still drinks gallons and gallons every day on her own. I figure that loading on the hay is a better option for keeping her warm anyway because of all the byproduct heat produced in the hindgut from the forage fermenting in there. Mmmmm tasty!

Margie - Oh colic surgeries! My last one missed going in for a surgery by mere minutes, we figure - he had broken out of his stall and gorged himself on everything he could find one night O.o And yes, Gogo is bright and perky this morning, and she's outside right now as I speak - wow, I just looked out the window and it's blizzarding... maybe I should go get her.

Beckz said...

Good post. I don't feed bran at all, have never seen the purpose.

dp said...

I will pour a kettle full of hot water over regular feed if I think it's necessary (rarely) but never feed something beyond the horse's normal diet. Bran mashes make me think of Black Beauty -- a nice story, but antiquated.

sugarmama said...

interesting post. i will keep this in mind and will refernce it in the future. it was a rule in my old barn that we HAD to feed a bran mash after every show. to help the digestive track and stress. i never had a bad outcome...but good to know. thanks!(and to not stand there and mix the bran forever will also be wonderful!!!)