Thursday, August 24, 2006

Analyzing Hay and Feeds

(with updates 22 May 2010)
Relying on tradition or advertising to formulate your horses ration can be misleading - the only way to be certain of what your hay or feed contains is to have it analyzed by a forage laboratory. Despite traditional thought, many grass hays are more than adequate in calcium and protein for most adult horses. Sugar and starch content can vary dramatically depending on growing and cutting conditions. Some pellets and feeds do not provide adequate levels of certain nutrients and some nutrients may be in excess of desired levels (this is especially true of iron).

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
1-800-496-3344
http://www.dairyone.com/Forage/services/Forage/forage_Price_List.htm
Submittal form
http://www.dairyone.com/Forage/services/SingleSample.pdf
Tests to request:
F-321 Forage NIR ($16) and
M-329 Wet Chemistry Minerals ($10)
or
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
1-877-819-4110
http://www.equi-analytical.com/default.htm
Submittal form:
http://www.equi-analytical.com/Services/Sample_information_sheet.pdf
Test to request:
(601) Equi Tech ($29, NIR)
or
(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
http://www.litchlab.com/
Test 4T ($26) plus NSC ($32, includes starch and sugar) Total $58
or
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.
London, ON
Canada
Phone: (519) 457-2575 Fax: (519) 457-2664
alcanadalabs@alcanada.com
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)
Update - higher levels of copper are more commonly seen now with the guidance of an experienced "balancer"
Zinc and manganese 3 times copper, with manganese lower than zinc
Update - we shoot for manganese to be 1.5 x NRC and for manganese to be at least 50% of zinc (the Cu:Mn ratio will often be lower than the previous 1:3 ratio).

There are additional considerations if manganese is high, if horse is iron overloaded or if major minerals are extremely low or high.

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.

Nutrition Consulting

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.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD, is an Equine Nutrition specialist and provides ration consults for race/performance horses and breeders and also provides assistance with equine metabolic problems. Dr. Kellon's basic and advanced nutrition courses can provide you with the tools and knowledge to effectively balance your own horse's ration. Dr. Kellon can be contacted through her website at http://www.drkellon.com/.

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.

Some of Dr. Kellon's nutrition class graduates are available for assistance on the EC Horsekeeping group at http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/ECHorsekeeping/.

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.


RESOURCES

NRC
National Research Council Nutritional Requirements for Horses (NRC)
Sixth Revised Edition (2007) http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11653

NRC Online Program
This program will calculate the requirements for your horse based on age, weight, reproductive class and activity level. It is a little more precise than using the NRC tables.

The NRC Nutrient Requirement Tables are available on the Equi-Analytical website at
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,
http://horsebooksetc.com/products/Horse_Journal_Guide_to_Equine_Supplements_and_Nutraceuticals-879-0.html is an up to date comprehensive review of supplements and their uses.

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.

Dr. Kellon's Equine Nutrition Courses (basic through advanced) are available at http://www.drkellon.com/.

Equine Cushings Group – Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance discussion, research and support moderated by Dr. Eleanor Kellon with reams of nutritional information.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EquineCushings/

EC/IRHorse.com is a sister web site to the Equine Cushings group.

Susan Evans Garlinghouse, DVM's website contains "must read" articles on nutrition for endurance horses.
http://shady-acres.com/susan/index.shtml

Kentucky Equine Research is a forerunner in equine nutrition and has a wealth of information in the articles in the Library section at http://www.ker.com/index.html?region=na



Patti Woodbury Kuvik
Desert Equine Balance
Vail, AZ
DesertEquineBalance@gmail.com

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