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Thanks for posting Louise…you’ve inspired me to get on with it!
Totally agree Chuck, with equine nutrition, the place to start is by finding out what the majority of the diet contains before you can move on from there and start adding in additional nutrients.
It’s really too big a subject to answer Trisha as there as specifics in every case e.g. there are many reasons why a horse has difficulty keeping on weight and reaching for a high starch / sugar feed of grains isn’t necessary the solution. Cereals are not a natural food for horses and as an equine naturopath I don’t consider them a first choice for a healthy diet. I’d love to hear other views on this though, but for me looking at the horse holistically is the first step and that includes, teeth, parasites, age, intestinal function, saliva production, workload, lifestyle, diet etc.
We have much in common…I hope one day we will meet.
I think a little cabbage is fine every so often, and my horses eat it, but this is also the advice of equine nutritionist, Dr. Juliet Getty: “I think it’s good to avoid feeding cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts; they’re not really toxic but they can produce excessive amounts of gas which can bring on a gas colic”.
Great question! and I’d like to offer my take on this Trisha. In this specific case, it would be good to know a bit more about the ratio of grains used to forage and also if the grains are processed in any way as this is crucial information to give an answer specific to the horses you mention. Plus what the work load is for these horses, another important fact in the mix. There could be all sorts of reasons why they look great that have nothing to do with grains. I would also question how they feel inside, do they have any so-called vices such as cribbing, which might indicate ulcers etc.
Generally though, grain or concentrates aren’t suited to a horse’s digestive system. This is because grains lower the pH in the upper part of the stomach as well as providing much less saliva from lack of chewing (due to lack of fibre compared to forage). The consequence of a lowered pH and not enough buffering saliva or protective forage, makes the gut susceptible to acid damage, and ulcers.
It’s important to understand a little about the equine digestion – after being in the stomach the food moves to the small intestine where the starch is digested but only in limited amounts at one time. If too much starch comes into the small intestine at one time, such as from a grain / concentrate meal, undigested starch can enter the hind gut and upset the balance of intestinal microbes there. It’s in the hind gut where digestion is finished off and where the fibre is digested. In here the bacteria balance is crucial. Horses are hind gut fermenters and don’t produce enzymes to digest fibre. The digestion and adsorption of fibre is entirely dependent on microbial fermentation. Grain feeding can upset that process because when undigested starches and sugars reach the hindgut they negatively affect the balance of intestinal microbes, impair digestion and can cause health issues such as colic, hind gut acidosis and laminitis.
I would always advise caution with feeding grains to horses due to the health consequences of a diet high in concentrated sugars and simpler starches which goes against the horse’s natural dietary requirements. My advice is that the majority of a horse’s diet should come from free access / ad lib forage.