26 Jul The most common missing nutrient in your horse’s diet
We all want to do the best for our horses, and feeding is no exception.
We go to great lengths and expense to carefully construct our horse’s meal plan…striving to balance a diet that in reality, only the horse holds the key to.
The feeding and supplement industry is a multi-million dollar global industry, yet the health and well-being of our horses continues to spiral downwards, and we’re battling an epidemic of overfed-undernourished horses.
Despite all of our advances in feeding technology and nutrition research, we’re still overlooking the most fundamental ‘nutrient’ in our horses diet, and I’m going to share with you what I believe that is.
But first, let’s talk monkey business!
What the heck have primates got to do with feeding horses I hear you ask, well pull up a hay bale and indulge me for a few, all will become clear!
Some years ago, Dr Richard Patton, my favorite all-species nutritionist, was asked to help figure out an issue with the primates at a zoo in the US. Despite providing what they thought was adequate nutrition, the zookeepers were faced with an entire collection of primates, with poor quality hair coats. From a nutritional perspective, this is a pretty common problem and a relatively easy ‘fix’ so Dr Patton did his usual protocol, convinced this would take care of the problem. Except it didn’t, and despite a correctly formulated diet, hair coats were unaffected. They remained dry, brittle and thin. Dr Patton was puzzled as to why his ‘hair coat’ cure hadn’t worked!
One day, a zookeeper forgot to include the peanuts in the daily ration for all the primates. He decided to save time and just thrown them into each of the enclosures and what happened next, in each and every cage, revealed a very simple, yet profound insight and solution to the problem.
What the zookeeper noticed was that the primates went in search and found every one of the peanuts buried in the hay that lined their enclosure floors. Even after all the peanuts were found and eaten the monkeys continued on their foraging crusade, driven by a repressed urge to behave like a monkey! The zoo keepers were delighted by this show of ‘normal’ behavior and continued to scatter the peanuts in the enclosure. Within one week hair coats began to improve, and within two months they were restored to their full lustre.
So, happy ending to monkey story, but what the heck does that have to do nutrient-related problems in horses?
Well, the missing ‘nutrient’ for these monkeys was behavior…the way they were being managed and fed was not allowing them to perform essential monkey foraging behavior.
Hooves down, behavior is the most common missing ‘nutrient’ I see in horses.
As with all species, the horse has highly-motivated, hard wired behaviors that he must be allowed to perform, in order to be a horse. They are known as the 3 F’s, Forage, Friendship, Freedom, and they are the cornerstone of each and EVERY issue I am called in to help with:
1) Forage – your horse is a fiber processing machine that engineers could only ever dream of replicating! He needs lots of (preferably fresh) varied green stuff, available 24/7.
2) Friendship – your horse gets by with a little help from his friends. As a prey animal he relies on constant social contact with his buddies to keep him safe and to allow him to perform a variety of essential maintenance functions, such as sleeping soundly!
3) Freedom – as a nomadic animal, regularly covering 80km a day in search of food, water and lurve, he needs to be allowed to move freely. Also included in this is allowing him the ability to make choices in his own environment.
Nutrition problems are largely man-made problems, brought about by altering natural behavior.
If you are really seeking the very best for your horses, as I believe we all are, make it your mission to do everything in your power to ensure your horse has these 3 needs taken care of.
Ensuring the 3 F’s needs are met will give you the solid foundations for a happy-healthy herd that no amount of number crunching will ever offer you, and will keep a host of nutrition and management related problems at bay.
So, what measure have you taken or could you take to improve the provision of the 3 F’s for your horses? Do you have your own 3F transformation story you’d like to brag on?
Be sure to share them with us in the comments below, and sprinkle the 3F love far and wide!