ANALYZING HAY AND FEEDS
by Patti Kuvik
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. Many grass hays are more than adequate
in calcium and protein despite the traditional thought that they require the
addition of calcium. 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
whats 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 ($14) and
M-329 Wet Chemistry Minerals ($10)
Test # 10 Basic ($28) plus
Sugar ($9) and Starch ($5).
These 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. Also contains dairy information
not needed for horses.
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 lots of information on the website, including a basic
version of the NRC tables. Their Starter Packages include a discounted hay probe.
Other Forage Labs
Litchfield Analytical Services
Test 4T ($26) plus sugar ($17) and starch ($20)
Equus Plus ($49)
Test N7H ($16.50) plus M4 ($17)
Does not include starch, NSC
How to Send Samples
These websites all have sections on taking a good hay sample. A hay corer will
provide a more accurate, representative sample for analysis.
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 fine. Mark
the plastic bag containing the sample with a description of the sample (such
as Lakin Lite Pellets or Timothy 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 fast
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.
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 what your supplement needs are and assist with in depth interpretation of the results. These are based on guidelines developed by Eleanor Kellon, VMD, which expand on the basic recommendations in the NRC (National Research Council) Nutritional Requirements of Horses (Fifth Revised Edition 1989). Current research in equine nutrition supports many changes from the last published NRC recommendations, which, in general, are minimum requirements rather than optimal levels and balance. However, the 1989 NRC still provides the basic guidelines for protein, energy (Mcal) and general safe or maximum tolerable levels for many minerals.
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 one-half
to two times the amount of phosphorus in a horses ration; but may not know that
calcium and magnesium should also be in a similar ratio. And fewer are aware
that high potassium in hay may affect a horses normal salt hunger
because of the sodium conserving mechanism of the body.
The general balancing ratios developed 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 less than 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 lessen 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.
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 apt to be current
in nutritional research. Many feed company representatives are nutritionists;
however some are merely sales reps; the same can be true of many supplement
Be cautious of any magic bullet feeds or supplements and of anyone whose advice is biased by the products they are trying to sell you. While many feeds, supplements and herbs are useful and helpful, you should understand what they are and how and why they work.
(Contact Patti directly at DesertEquineBalance@gmail.com, Patti's blog: desertequinebalance.blogspot.com)
National Research Council Nutritional Requirements for Horses
Fifth Revised Edition (1989)
The NRC Nutrient Requirement Tables are available on the Equi-Analytical website
http://www.equi-analytical.com/default.htm under the "Putting results to work" tab.
The entire NRC Nutritional Requirements for Horses book is available online
in PDF format at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309039894/html/.
You can also purchase a hardcopy at this site.
The "Daily Nutrient Requirements" for DE, protein, lysine and major minerals are in Tables 5-1A through 5-1G beginning on page 42. These are based on weight/use of the horse. Trace minerals are in Table 5-3 on page 48. These are based on their concentration in the amount of feed (% or ppm per kg of feed).
Equine Supplements & Nutraceuticals by Eleanor M. Kellon,
VMD, is available from Breakthrough Publications, www.booksonhorses.com
(and other sources such as Amazon).
For further assistance in feed analysis, interpretation of results and ration balancing, Patti Kuvik can be emailed at DesertEquineBalance@gmail.com, Patti's blog: desertequinebalance.blogspot.com
©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.
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