While most healthy horses can tolerate wide variations and imbalances, knowing what's in your feed can help provide optimum health and performance.
Where to Get Your Hay or Feed Analyzed
Dairy One Forage Lab
730 Warren Road
Ithica, NY 14850
Tests to request:
F-321 Forage NIR ($16) and
M-329 Wet Chemistry Minerals ($10)
Test # 10 – Basic ($28) plus
ESC-simple sugars ($7) and Starch ($9).
Also request Nitrates ($6) for breeding mares (and for sudan hay or for small grain hays grown in stressed conditions).
These tests will give you Protein, DE (digestible energy/Mcal), NFC, NSC (sugar and starch), major mineral, trace minerals. The NIR test also shows fat, lignen and estimated lysine. Results are reported as "%" or "ppm" and require some math to put it into a useful format.
Equine Analytical Laboratories
730 Warren Road
Ithica, NY 14850
Test to request:
(601) Equi Tech ($29, NIR)
(603) Trainer ($49, wet chemistry)
This is the "equine" division of Dairy One. The comparable tests cost a bit more, however the report format also shows results in grams or milligrams based on the "amount fed" you indicate on the submittal form. There is a wealth of information on the website, including a "basic" version of the NRC tables. Purchase of a hay probe from Equi-Analytical includes one "free" hay analysis.
Litchfield Analytical Services
535 Marshall St/PO Box 457
Litchfield, MI 49252
Test 4T ($26) plus NSC ($32, includes starch and sugar) Total $58
Equus Plus ($49, preferred)
(Selenium is $38)
No specific “submittal” form; although their website is a little difficult to navigate Litchfield was the first to provide NSC (non-structural carbohydrates: sugar and starch) testing for us and is still considered to be the “gold standard”.
A&L Canada Laboratories, Inc.
2136 Jet Stream Rd.
Phone: (519) 457-2575 Fax: (519) 457-2664
http://www.alcanada.com/indexx.php (select Submission FormsFeed Submission Form)
Request Test F2 - forage package ($25) plus DE for horses and Cushings Sugar and Starch ($25)
Total cost $50
You must write in “DE for Horses and Cushings Sugar and Starch” on the submittal form
(Selenium is $25)
Should I request the NIR or Wet Chemistry Test?
The "wet chemistry" tests are considered by many to be more precise, especially for sugar and starch (NSC). I would recommend using "wet chem" to test hay for insulin resistant (IR) mares in late pregnancy/lactation and horses with persistent or recurring laminitis.
I have found the less expensive NIR tests results to be fairly consistent with "wet chem" test results when I have had both tests run on the same sample of Bermuda hay.
How to Send Samples
The forage lab websites all have sections on taking a good hay sample. Using a hay corer will provide a more accurate representative sample for analysis. Samples should be taken from several bales (I usually sample 20+ bales in a load). The samples are mixed well in a clean bucket, then a few handfuls are placed in a "zip lock" bag – enough to fill a one-quart bag.
For pellets, obtain about a cup from several bags, mix them together, then place about a cup of the mixed samples into a "zip lock" bag.
The laboratories will provide mailers, but using a priority mailer (envelope or box for hay, a box for pellets) from the U.S. Post Office works well. Mark the plastic bag containing the sample with a description of the sample (such as "Brand X Pellets" or "Bermuda Hay"). Enclose a check for payment and the submittal form in an envelope with the complete Lab address on it. (Be sure you put your email address on the submittal form to get faster results via email.) Place the envelope and the sample in the mailer and send via Priority Mail. You should receive your results within one week by email.
What to Do With the Results
If you are comfortable with numbers, I can provide you with an Excel spreadsheet or a "paper and pencil" worksheet that you can use to calculate your supplement needs. I can also assist with in depth interpretation of the results. I use guidelines developed by Eleanor Kellon, VMD, which expand on the basic recommendations in the NRC (National Research Council) Nutritional Requirements of Horses. Current research in equine nutrition supports many changes from the last published NRC recommendations, which, in general, are "minimum requirements" rather than optimal levels.
Because minerals are synergistic and many affect the absorption and utilization of other minerals and nutrients, it is important that they be balanced. For example, most horse owners are aware that calcium should be one and a half to two times the amount of phosphorus in a horses ration; but may not know that calcium and magnesium should also be balanced.
The general balancing ratios suggested by Dr. Kellon are:
Major (Macro) Minerals:
Calcium 1-1/2 to 2 times phosphorus and magnesium
Potassium 3.3 to 10 times sodium (3.3:1 is the ideal target)
Trace (Micro) Minerals:
Iron 4 to 10 times copper (4:1 is the ideal target)
Copper generally not to exceed 4 times NRC value (based on kg of dry feed)
Zinc and manganese 3 times copper, with manganese lower than zinc
Healthy horses can tolerate fairly large deviations from these ratios but many circumstances call for staying close to ideal targets. Pregnancy, lactation and growth increase the requirements for protein – both amount and quality – and calories, and lessen the tolerance for imbalance, as do strenuous work and stressful conditions (climate, travel, environment). Metabolic conditions, age and illness also lower the tolerance for imbalance.
Other factors may affect balancing a ration, including long standing excesses or deficiencies, high levels of toxic minerals (molybdenum, aluminum, etc.), area water mineral levels, iron overload (which requires specific blood work to diagnose). These conditions may require addition of minerals beyond the normal "safe" levels, diluting the ration with forage from a different growing area or outright rejection of a forage or feed.
High iron levels in hay and feed are a fairly new concern in equine nutrition for adult horses (it has been studied fairly extensively in zoo animals) and it has been shown that excessive iron can be "pro-inflammatory" in some circumstances.
If your hay or feed falls outside acceptable parameters or if your horse has performance or health issues, it can be helpful to consult with an equine nutritionist. Good resources are extension services and university veterinary schools. Veterinarians who specialize in reproduction or equine sports medicine are more apt to be current in nutritional research. While many field vets rely on feed companies for nutritional education, many more are becoming involved in independently studying equine nutrition.
Many feed and supplement company representatives are nutritionists; however some sales representatives only have limited nutritional education. Look for one who shows how their products can meet your horse's nutritional requirements, not how they can fit your horse's requirements to their products. Because they hope you will buy their products, feed company nutritionists do not charge for services.
While I am not a certified nutritionist, I have studied equine nutrition for the past several years and can help you determine requirements and interpret feed analysis results. My emphasis is on education so the horse owner obtains the knowledge to make informed decisions about their horses' diet.
I tend to be skeptical of "magic bullet" feeds or supplements and of those whose advice is biased by the products they are trying to sell. While many feeds, supplements and herbs are useful and helpful, I feel the horse owner is responsible to understand what they are and how and why they work. You can reach me at DesertEquineBalance@gmail.com.
All feed and supplement recommendations should be reviewed with your veterinarian.
National Research Council Nutritional Requirements for Horses (NRC)
Sixth Revised Edition (2007) http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11653
http://www.equi-analytical.com/default.htm under the "Putting results to work" tab.
The entire previous NRC Nutritional Requirements for Horses (1989) book is available online Update - this is no longer available
Horse Journal Guide to Equine Supplements and Nutraceuticals by Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD,
Equine Supplementsand Nutraceuticals by Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD, (no longer in print but you might get lucky) is available from Breakthrough Publications, www.booksonhorses.com (and other sources such as Amazon) and contains excellent discussion on general and specific needs as well as information and maps concerning toxicity.
Susan Evans Garlinghouse, DVM's website contains "must read" articles on nutrition for endurance horses.