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Managing body condition with forage

Dr. Stephen Duren, Performance Horse Nutrition and Standlee Premium Western Forage® Nutritional Consultants

Many horse owners struggle with the body condition of their horses. Some horses seem to gain condition easily others seem to eat and eat while not gaining body condition and become thin.

A Body Condition Scoring (BCS) system has been developed to help horse owners visually determine if their horses is overweight, underweight or in ideal condition. It assigns values from 1 to 9, to classify horses from underweight to overweight in each the following areas: the loin, ribs, tail head, withers, neck, and behind the shoulders.
Horses with a BCS of:

  • 3 or less are underweight
  • 4-6 are ideal
  • 7-8 is overweight
  • Greater than 8 is obese

So how do we manage the body condition of our horses? If we want a horse to lose condition we need to feed fewer calories and expend more calories through exercise. Horses eat from 1.5% to 3% of their body weight per day in feed. For a 1,000 lb. horse, this equals 15 to 30 lbs. of feed per day. Most horses will consume more forage (hay/pasture) in their diet compared to grain. Horses on a weight loss program should never be fed less than 1.2% of their BW.

Forage type can dictate calorie content, grass hays such as timothy and orchard grass contain fewer calories compared to legumes such as alfalfa. Mixed hays containing a combination of both are intermediate in calorie content. A horse in a low body condition would benefit from some alfalfa in the diet. A horse that is overweight would benefit from more grass hay in the diet.

For more information, please visit StandleeForage.com.

 

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