Mastering portion control – how to weigh horse feed

Article last updated: 6th July 2022

One of the traps that we tend to fall into with our own diets is that we eat far more than “one portion”. Controlling portion sizes can be tricky and a lot of diet plans suggest practices such as buying smaller plates as a way of helping to reduce our calorie intake. One of the reasons we tend to over-consume is that we don’t have time to weigh our food and often don’t appreciate how much different food types vary in weight. For example, how many grapes count as “one” of our five a day?

Can you overfeed a horse?

The same applies to feeding our horses and ponies. Very few people weigh feed or even check the bag to find out how much their horse or pony needs, but understanding how to weigh horse feed is important to ensure a balanced diet. The reason this is important is that, when a feed is formulated, a feeding rate has to be set so that the levels of vitamins and minerals are included correctly to provide a balanced diet.

What happens if you overfeed a horse?

Over-feeding cereal-based feeds in one meal can also cause digestive upsets, hence the rule of feeding little and often to horses. This is because cereal feeds contain a lot of starch and the horse has a relatively small capacity for absorbing it. If starch reaches the sensitive hind gut, problems such as laminitis and colic can occur.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are dangers associated with under-feeding horses, which can be just as bad as over-feeding.

Under-feeding means the horse or pony is missing out on essential nutrients. This is one of the reasons that balancers have been so successful for many horses and ponies – the balancer is correcting nutrient shortfalls brought about by under-feeding a balanced feed that is being fed incorrectly. If your horse or pony doesn’t need the full amount of feed, topping up with a balancer or supplement is fine because it provides the additional vitamins and minerals required for a balanced diet. However, if too much is fed of certain vitamins and minerals, they can cause toxicity problems – just because “some” is good, it doesn’t mean that “lots” is better!

There are also dangers associated with over-feeding too much of certain vitamins and minerals, as they can cause toxicity problems – just because “some” is good, it doesn’t mean that “lots” is better!

Why can fibre feeds be fed in larger amounts than cereal based feeds to horses?

In contrast to cereals, chopped fibre feeds such as Dengie Alfa-A or Hi-Fi ranges can be fed in larger amounts in one feed because they provide fibre and very little starch. You can think of them in the same way as hay rather than “bucket” feed in terms of meal size.

It is also important to consider that fibre is very lightweight. At Dengie, we commonly liken fibre feeds to a ton of feathers compared to a ton of coal, which represents cereal feeds. Although both are the same weight, the feathers or fibre take up a much larger space than the coal or cereals.

For example, a large Stubbs scoop of Alfa-A Original weighs 400g whereas the same scoop of Cool Mix would be about 1.25kg. This means that, to get the same weight of feed, three scoops of Alfa-A Original would need to be fed. Both feeds would provide the same amount of energy because both feeds contain 10MJ/kg DE, but horses and ponies will get a lot more chew time from the Alfa-A Original, which is ideal for keeping them occupied when stabled and their digestive system healthy.

Weigh your horse before you weigh your feed to ascertain his bodyweight

Finally, it is important to note that weighing your horse’s feed isn’t any use if you haven’t weighed your horse, too, because the feeding rates for most feeds are based on body weight.

There are various means of doing this, but weigh tapes are an easy option and one that every horse owner should invest in and use regularly to monitor changes.

Spotting gains or losses in weight early allows you to adjust your horse’s diet before the weight loss or gain is too significant ,allowing you to keep your horse or pony in perfect condition all year round.

If you would like our nutrition team to review your horse or pony’s current ration, to advise if you are underfeeding or overfeeding your horse, call our Feedline on 01621 841188 or click here to fill in our Feed Advice Form.