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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

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

Friday, January 2, 2009

Ration Balancers

Because I am such a nutrition freak, I thought I might talk a little bit this morning (I slept in til 6:30AM!!!!!) about ration balancers, and their place in my life. A ration balancer is a lot like a vitamin-mineral supplement for your horse that also has the added benefit of protein and additional calories that a regular vitamin-mineral supplement doesn't have. They are usually fed to balance the nutritional content of a horse's total ration (daily hay, grain, pasture) and are meant to address whatever nutritional imbalances one might have - for instance, an easy keeper getting a few handfuls of a pelleted feed that is meant to be feed in high poundage amounts will have a diet lacking in nutrients. Feed companies design their feeds to be fed in specific amounts because those specific amounts, if fed correctly, will (or well, should) give your horse all of their daily vitamin-mineral requirements. Most "complete feeds" are fortified with all the vitamins and minerals that your horse needs, so if you are feeding at least the minimum recommended amount, your horse is covered. However, many people don't feed that much fortified grain, often because it provides way too many calories for their horse, or because they don't understand the idea of vits-mins per pound of feed. There are tons of horsepeople in this world - this barn for instance - who feed a quart of this sweet feed, or half a coffee can of that pellet. There isn't enough nutrition in a few ounces of a complete feed to come even remotely close to meeting a horse's daily nutritional needs. This is especially evident in the Northeast here, where supposedly most of the hay is deficient in selenium. Ration balancers differs from a vitamin-mineral supplement in the amount of protein and calories that they add to a horse's diet and the amount you feed: rather than giving your horse just a few ounces, as you would in a regular vit-min supplement, you generally feed 1-2 pounds of a ration balancer. This is an excellent solution for an easy keeper or a metabolic horse, like that horse I was just chatting about a few sentences up that is getting a handful of the grain that is meant to be fed in high poundage amounts - Fatso gets 1-2lbs of grain instead of 8-10lbs of grain, and still gets all his vits-mins and protein requirements in for the day. Ration balancers are super mineral, vitamin and protein packed, so technically they are a top dress, and NOT an actual feed. A word of warning: Don't feed this higher amounts of ration balancer if your horse isn't maintaining his condition on it! If you feed more than the daily recommended poundage of a ration balancer to your horse, not only are you going to be way overloading their system with vits-mins, but you are going to be bucked off into the rafters when all that excess protein hits your horse's system. Protein is a very poor energy source compared to fats or carbs, but horses do need high quality amino acids every day (especially evident visually in the haircoat, hooves, and muscle tone), so excess protein either gets burned up as energy or peed out. Most ration balancers come in varying high protein levels - for example, Buckeye's Gro N' Win is a 32% protein, compared to something like a regular pelleted feed, which comes in 10%, 12%, or 14% options. A lot of ration balancers can also come in lower protein levels - Purina, for example, makes a 30% and a 12%. What you choose to feed depends on the quality of and protein level in your forage. (Remember: don't be scared away by the fact that the protein levels may look ridiculously high! Remember that you are feeding only a small amount of a 32% protein ration balancer, whereas you typically must feed several pounds of a 12% or 14% pellet to deliver the same nutritional punch. For example, if you are feeding hay or pellets with a 10% protein content, you would need to feed 15 pounds for your horse to get 1.5 pounds of protein per day.) Every horse has different daily protein requirements - growing horses, mature horses in heavy work, idle maintenance horses, minis, easy keepers, hard keepers, etc.

In short: a ration balancer is a nutrient-dense, high protein top dress grain (not a complete feed) meant to deliver all of a horse's daily vit-min requirements in a small, lower-calorie quantity, versus a large-poundage, higher-calorie complete feed. (I'm using the term "complete feed" very loosely.... technical complete feeds are designed to be fed with or without hay, if you have a horse that, for whatever reason, cannot consume hay.) Ration balancers deliver, in a 1-2lb package, all of your horse's daily vits-mins, and some protein and calories too.

Another direct quote found on the internet somewhere:
"So does feeding a ration balancer completely eliminate the need for other vitamin/mineral supplements? It depends on the quality of your hay or whether you are still feeding some fortified feed. The best way to build a completely balanced diet for your horse is to start by analyzing your hay, supplement to correct vitamin and mineral deficiencies, ensure that your horse has an overall protein intake of about 10% -12% and then add calories to maintain weight if necessary. For those of us who have limited storage capacity and a changing supply of hay, that’s impractical. Your mileage may vary depending on what else you feed."

And that's the ideal thing to do - test your hay, find our what your horse is missing, and supplement that way. Pete Ramey has an awesome article on it: Feeding the Hoof. Very unfortunately for someone like me, this is really not ideal at the moment, but if/when I ever have my own place and can dictate where I get my own hay from (that isn't changing all the time), I'll be able to follow this.

What I did when I was in Ohio was this: my mare was VERY fat when I first got her, so in order to correct that, I had her on 2lbs of Gro N' Win daily, and around 10 flakes of THE best quality grass hay money can buy. This was all she needed in terms of calories, protein, and vits-mins to maintain her body condition at around a 6 or so (slightly heavier than ideal, but at some point there was nothing I could cut out of her diet anymore and still ensure that she was getting everything she needed!). During the eventing season, when our hay and pasture changed and she lost weight, all she needed was an added fat supplement top dress grain called Ultimate Finish, which is fed in very small poundages as well (.5-1lbs daily). Fats are an excellent addition to an already balanced diet that just needs additional calories.

The ideal world for me? An exact-poundage, high-quality ration balancer fed in accordance to the recommended poundage needed for an 1100lb horse in moderate-heavy work (1.5-2.5lbs), free-choice excellent (and I mean EXCELLENT) quality grass hay, and a high-quality fat supplement (.5-1lbs) on top of this if my horse could not maintain her condition and needed additional calories.

(This is what I mean by excellent quality grass hay - that the whole bale looks like this:)

(ALL LEAF! NO STEM! :) 2/3 of the protein and 3/4 of the calories in grass hay is found in the leaf!)

My current situation? 10-14 flakes of fairly low quality (sometimes decent quality) hay, 1lb of Purina's Enrich 32 ration balancer (which I personally think is the lowest quality RB out of the Big 3: Buckeye, Purina, Triple Crown), 6lbs of Purina's Ultium (highest-end Purina grain). She's maintaining her condition - she's adding more muscle as well, or so it seems, which she needed to because she was dropping weight again. When she was in Ohio on the great diet, her weight never really fluctuated and she always looked awesome.... sigh.

And like I said, not all ration balancers are created equally. I found this SUPER AWESOME AMAZING Ration Balancer Comparison Chart online, and as it turns out, it looks like Buckeye is the best offered after all.

Very Handy Ration Balancer Comparison Chart
(By the way, the Purina ration balancer is no longer called Born to Win.. it's Enrich 32 now. Same product, different name.)

I'm interested to see what the longer term effects of the Purina products are. Because 2lbs of Gro N' Win and 1lb of Ultimate Finish is WAY different from 1lb of Enrich 32 and 6lbs of Ultium, and I definitely DON'T like where this looks to be heading. Unfortunately, it's difficult to afford buying my own grain right now as a super poor working student/groom, and Vicki offers some pellets, some sweet feed, and some Ultium, so... that's what I went with temporarily.

But you better believe I'll still be supplementing with a ration balancer, unless she goes up to the full 8lbs required daily for a horse her size and with her workload. And the day my easy keeper needs that is the day I shoot myself in the head.

I also wonder if her feet will change. I had a recent revelation about biotin - a horse has a daily requirement of 1-2g, and Buckeye feeds are all fortified with additional biotin. Purina products are not - which means Gogo is no longer getting any sort of additional biotin. BUT, biotin is a water-soluble B-vitamin (actually used to be known as Vitamin H, I didn't know this!), so a horse is actually manufacturing it herself (in the horse, B-vitamins are synthesized in the hindgut). So TECHNICALLY a horse with high-quality hooves shouldn't need additional biotin supplementation, because she is already making it herself. BUT, a lot of factors go into why a horse may or may not be able to absorb all of its nutrients consumed and produced... hell, if you let the tractor idle too long in the barn aisle, the fumes can negatively effect the absorption of biotin (and other things.... not to mention the other 9 billion things wrong with letting a tractor idle in a barn aisle). Supposedly high-quality lysine is the big deal with Purina's feeds, but I was under the impression that methionine is more important for high-quality hooves... oh amino acids. Flax seed also has biotin in it naturally.... I didn't know that either.

We'll see when she grows a full new foot in whether or not there's been any change. She's pretty resilient, and so is her body, so it'll be interesting to see if there's any change at all with this new feed regimen (let's just hope there's not.)

Off to handwalk the beast on our day off.... I'll blog about changes in schedules and flexibility next!


Kris said...

Both my ponies are on grow and win, the older one is also on some trifecta, but we're slowly weaning that one out. She's looking a bit, erm, round. They both eat mostly alfalfa which I think is why they're up around a six instead of a five on the body condition scale.

Buckeye has been great for me. The crazy rambunctious bucking days are completely gone now that we've cut grain completely out of their diets and feed only Buckeye. It also keeps their coats really nice and shiny. (Although I do like to give some credit to my superior grooming skills as not all barn horses are that shiny! hahahaha)

Kris said...

I say ponies, but they are both actually warmbloods. Not exactly the same thing!

Gina said...

What would the effects/ neccissary additives to feeding a ather hard to keep horse?

My boy eats SOOO much, not just grain, in fact mostly not grain, but he is just keeping in winter and gains so slowly in summer. I would really like him to go up another 50-100 lbs.

Andrea said...

I would opt for a higher fat, higher calorie feed - a ration balancer isn't really a good option for a hard keeper that needs more calories than a RB can supply. Just make sure, like you said, he's getting plenty of good quality hay and fresh water, and then go from there. Ideally you should have your forage tested and then supplement vits/mins/etc additionally from there, but I know that isn't a feasable option for many people, myself included, so sometimes we have to make due with high quality forage and a high quality feed. All the big feed companies have all sorts of different feeds manufactured for horses in varying stages of growth, various stages of work, various sizes, various body types, etc! There are tons and tons to choose from. What are you currently feeding?