Hay/Pasture Sampling, Ration Balancing – The Basics, Part Four
Jason is back with another installment in his series on the basics. If you would like a recap on his other posts in this series, follow the links below:
Getting the Basics Right Won’t Fix Every Problem
The Basics, Part Three, Forage
I was going to write a lengthy post about how to take a hay sample/pasture sample and where to send it. Thankfully, before I went to all that trouble I reviewed the website at www.equi-analytical.com, which is where I recommend sending hay and pasture samples for analysis. If you are sincerely interested in learning more about how to take a sample and where to send it please visit their website. They say much more eloquently and in much more detail more or less exactly what I was going to say, so rather than re-invent the wheel I am going to leave those details to the professionals.
I will add a couple pointers about sampling tools though. If your local feed store doesn’t have access to a hay probe, the very best kind (and very easiest to use) are probes that attach to a drill. Some attach to a power drill, some fit onto a manual brace and bit. Either works well. It’s been my experience that any sort of probe that doesn’t attach to a drill and requires you to push it into a bale of hay will require an awful lot of force and will deliver disappointing/poor results.
The best tool to take a pasture sample (again this is my opinion) is a push lawnmower. If that doesn’t work because the grass is too short then a pair of scissors can also work well. Whatever tool you decide to use to take a pasture sample *make sure to take the sample from where the horse is/horses are currently eating*. That means NOT sampling the very easy to cut tall grass because *nobody is eating that.* If they were, by default it wouldn’t be tall. It’s very likely that they spend their time grazing the shortest grass in your pasture that isn’t in a traffic area.
The easiest way to evaluate a ration is to hand your hay or pasture samples to your local feed professional. Hopefully he or she will have access to good ration balancing software and hopefully the professional in question will be competent to use the software he or she has available to him. If one or both of my aforementioned statements are NOT true then please know it is entirely possible to hire an independent professional to evaluate and re-balance your ration for you. It’s also quite possible to do it yourself. The problem is that while ration evaluation and re-balancing is very much a science, there is more than a little art to interpreting the results and comparing the paper ration evaluation to what’s actually going on with the horse(s) being evaluated. That said if you wish to evaluate your own ration you can purchase access to a several feed programs. I have found www.feedxl.com to be the most user friendly and easiest to understand for the non-nutrition professional.
A few general things to note on ration balancing and evaluation:
For most horses most of the time the majority of their nutrients should come from forage or forage equivalents. Generally speaking the goal should be to feed more forages and less grains and supplements. If one can feed free choice forage of adequate quality there are a lot of horses in this world that need minimal supplementation beyond access to salt, preferably free choice. If your horse does need more than that, and many do, the goal of any ration re-balance should be to complement the nutrients supplied by forages and forage equivalents until nutrient requirements are slightly in excess and are in the correct proportion to one another. In some cases this can take a surprising amount, even to me, of feed or supplement. We have many horses on this farm that get no more than a pound of feed a day and they only get this to ensure their mineral requirements are being met and so we can check them. We have other horses, typically horses who are very elderly and/or have poor dentition, that get as much as 20 lbs dry matter of feed consisting of a blend of grain, hay pellets/cubes and beet pulp, per day.
When talking about one’s horse in terms of feeds and supplements most horse people focus most of their time and energy on minerals and trace minerals. Make no mistake these are very important nutrients and one shouldn’t exclude them. In layman’s terms, and I wince as I write this but it’s BIG picture correct, by and large minerals and vitamins act as catalysts for nutrient transfer and/or absorption at various sites inside your horse. As such they are very important. The part many people miss is that over feeding them either as single or bundled nutrients can be as detrimental and deleterious to your horse(s) as underfeeding them. A little mineral goes a very long way.
Minerals are only a part of the bigger picture. Two nutrients that often get completely ignored are protein and energy. Again, using very basic layman’s terms protein is responsible for building and maintaining lean muscle mass in your horse. Underfeeding protein isn’t particularly common. More common is that protein is overfed and it actually takes energy to convert protein to urea for urinary excretion.
Energy measured as DE, digestible energy, is probably the single most important nutrient other than water that your horse consumes. Fortunately it’s also the easiest for most of us to compare whether or not the on paper ration evaluation matches what’s going on in the real world. If the paper ration evaluation says your horse is getting the right amount of energy and he is in reasonable weight then the paper ration evaluation is probably correct.
These are some general ration pointers and guidelines gleaned from working fifteen years in industry balancing and evaluating equine and ruminant rations, followed by numerous years working with feed that I designed for our large herd of retired special needs horses here at Paradigm Farms. I hope you found this information useful to your needs. Even all these years later I am passionate about matters related to feed and forage, which is proof enough that maybe I’m in the right field and doing what I’m supposed to do!
King and Convey
Convey and Ricardo
Trigger, Chance and Convey
Penny and Maggie
Lofty and Donneur
Quigly and Sebastian
Johnny and Happy
Paramount and Lighty
Silver, Lotus and Romeo
Havana, Renny and Remmy
Art and Baner
Asterik and Gus
Dolly, Penny and Jake
Gibson and Gus
Moses, Cocomo and Romeo
Silver and George