As owners adjust their horses’ diets under COVID-19 restrictions, retailers are being asked for guidance.

Feeding horses is tricky for many owners just now. Some can’t visit their animals as often as they’d like, others need to economise and riding plans have changed.

In response to a surge of calls to the TopSpec helpline, the company’s nutrition director Nicola Tyler has set up a ‘crisis advice’ Facebook posting in which she shares examples of questions and her answers.

Nicola invites questions about any brands or types of feed. Here ETN shares some recent queries - the answers to which may prove useful to pass onto your customers. 

Q. Do I have to buy chop? I want to economise… 

A. As her mare was receiving ad-lib hay, we advised there was no need to add chop to the feed - either to prevent feed bolting or for the chop’s nutritional contribution. Make sure the feed is well-damped with water, we said, and place two large, brick-sized but smooth stones in the bottom of the feed container. This owner will save a little money; her mare will eat slowly and not be in danger of bolting her feed. There are other situations where feeding chop/chaff has benefits.

Q. Can I feed once a day instead of twice, because of commitments during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

A. There is a slight loss of digestive efficiency, but this is outweighed by necessity during the crisis. The answer is yes, providing she does not exceed the individual meal limit, which for her 600kg horse was a total of 2.4kg (dry weight). He had been having 1.5kgs per meal, so by halving the total chop to 300g (1 Stubbs scoop) and reducing the total TopSpec CoolCondition Cubes by 500g, his one meal a day made up to 2.2kg, which fitted with his slightly reduced workload. We recommended that the TopSpec CoolCondition Cubes be reduced further when he started to gain weight on Spring grass. The important point was to continue feeding 600g/day of TopSpec Comprehensive Feed Balancer while he remained in work and needed the muscle tone.

Q. Can sugar beet pulp be fed in the spring as an economical feed? My vet used to say “no”.  

A. Your vet will have been thinking of molassed sugar beet (in shred or nut form) that contains approximately 20% sugar. If this is fed in the Spring when grass sugar levels are high, some horses get loose droppings or even diarrhoea. There are two ways of avoiding this and using an economical feed. One is to soak the sugar out of the beet as follows: soak shreds in four times the volume of water for between one and 12 hours, then scoop out the shreds (with a colander) to feed, and throw away the brown, sugary water. A convenient modern alternative is to use quick-soak unmolassed sugar beet pulp such as Speedi-Beet or EquiGlo. Try to increase the calcium level by mixing with unmolassed alfalfa such as TopChop Alfalfa or Dengie Alfa-A Molasses Free. This is critical for lactating brood mares and youngstock until they are three years old.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay