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Formulating a Low Starch Diet with Baileys Horse Feeds

There are a number of reasons why a horse either requires, or is better off on, a low starch diet.  Those prone to gastric ulcers are the obvious ones but stressy or excitable horses are often better fed reduced amounts of, or no, cereals, while those needing support for muscle-related issues, or prone to laminitis, must also keep starch intake to a minimum.

Forage First

The provision of ad lib forage is critical for healthy gut function and to provide the natural physical fibre barrier for the stomach and the neutralising effects of saliva, which is only produced when the horse is chewing.

Concentrate Feeds

The BETA Feed Approval Mark for feeds suitable for horses prone to gastric ulcers helps identify those feeds which meet specific parameters, with regards to starch levels, when fed.  As a rough guide, when looking at labels or product information, a low starch feed is one with a level of up to 10 or 12% starch, and reduced starch, 12 – 22%, while traditional cereal-based competition feeds would contain around 30% starch. Daily feeding recommendations help determine actual starch intake per day.

Horses with Higher Calorie Requirements

Forage

  • Stressy horses can be poor forage eaters so, where possible, soft, leafy hay or haylage, which is likely to be more nutritious and more digestible, is preferable, to ensure they get the most from every mouthful.
  • Natural foraging behaviour and increased fibre intake should be encouraged, in the stable, by offering alternative fibre sources, like Alfalfa Blend, Alfalfa Plus Oil or soaked Speedi– or Fibre-Beet, in separate buckets from the compound feed.
  • Alfalfa has natural buffering properties, while beet pulp has a good acid-binding capacity and is high in pectins. These are beneficial in that their structure alters to one that is similar to mucus when in an acidic environment, consequently acting as further protection for the stomach.

Concentrates

  • Ease & Excel and Ease & Excel Cubes are high calorie, low starch feeds, when fed at recommended levels, alongside forage, will supply a fully balanced diet to promote and maintain condition and support performance to the highest levels.
  • Outshine high oil supplement can be added to an existing balanced diet to provide additional low starch calories in a safe and concentrated form.
  • Speaking to a qualified nutritionist is recommended, when compiling higher calorie diets for those prone to laminitis.

Horses with Lower Calorie Requirements

Forage

  • Good-doers must still be kept chewing even though forage intake may need controlling to avoid excessive weight gain. Choose coarser, stalkier hay or haylage which is more mature and should be less nutritious yet still provide plenty of fibre to chew.
  • Additional measures, including soaking hay, to reduce water soluble carbohydrate content, and controlling access to grazing, will be necessary for the laminitis-prone.
  • Use small-holed nets to make forage last for as long as possible.

Concentrates

  • The recommended amount of a balancer, like Lo-Cal or Performance Balancer, appropriate for the horse’s level of work, will provide essential vitamins, minerals and protein without unwanted calories and with minimal starch and sugar.
  • The balancer can be fed with a small amount of Alfalfa Blend or, for an even lower calorie option, Light Chaff is ideal.
  • Although soaked Speedi-Beet may be considered quite conditioning, when fed in smaller amounts it can be beneficial for good-doers or those who are less partial to chaffs. As a guideline, one mug of dry Speedi-Beet will soak to approximately a Stubbs scoop in wet volume. This makes it great as a low calorie and low starch fibrous ‘bulker’ and makes supplements easy to mix in.

Horse with Moderate Calorie Requirements

Concentrates

  • For those in between, Keep Calm Mash and Meadow Sweet with Turmeric have low to moderate calorie/DE levels (11 and 10 MJ/kg, respectively), and are also low in starch so, when fed at recommended levels, will help maintain condition, while encouraging a calm temperament.
  • Alternatively, dietary calorie levels can be altered by combining reduced amounts of Ease & Excel mix or Cubes, with Lo-Cal or Performance Balancer. This gives the owner the flexibility to change the amounts fed according to workload and condition, for example, as a horse has access to more grass, in the summer, it may need less Ease & Excel and slightly more balancer to maintain nutrient levels.

For advice on compiling any low starch diet, contact Baileys’ Nutrition Team or your local Baileys Representative.  The Feed Finder tool, on Baileys’ web site, is also useful for a quick recommendation, including feeding quantities.  www.baileyshorsefeeds.co.uk.

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