There are so many different approaches to feeding minerals and what to feed that it pays to do your research, keep up to date with new information, find what works for your horses and how best to give them access to minerals.
Here are a few examples of how horse owners approach the mineral puzzle:
- ‘What minerals? My horses should get all they need from the pasture’ – what if the pasture is lacking?
- ‘I get whatever the local feed store recommends or has on special’ – How do you know it is the right one for your horse at their stage of life?
- ‘Isn’t that what a salt lick is for?’ – Yes, but horses will need more than salt especially if they are working, breeding or growing.
- I feed the same as my friends do’ – Is your horse and property exactly the same as your friend’s?
- ‘I only give them minerals if they have a problem or look deficient’ – It can take a while for problems to show up, and for them to be corrected.
- I read up on it and mix my own depending on what I can afford and what my horses need’ – That’s probably ok if you’ve done an equine nutrition course!
- ‘I get an equine nutritionist to formulate a diet for me and that includes minerals’ – Excellent!
- I feed a commercial horse mix and that has minerals added’ – That’s ok if you feed the recommended daily amount which is often too much for most horses, and if the feed mix is appropriate for the life stage or work your horse is doing.
As you can see there are many and varied approaches, some good and some not.
Minerals are manufactured in the soil so where your horse’s feed is grown will dictate the minerals it has. If your horse is mainly pastured it’s a good idea to have your soil tested and if it’s lacking, then address that by supplementing the pasture as well as the horse.
Be extremely cautious when supplementing minerals to your horse as one mineral may interfere with the absorption of others and imbalances and toxic levels may occur. It’s best to use a balanced mineral mix with feeds that aren’t pre-mixed (that include minerals).
Minerals can be organic or inorganic. Organic minerals are simply substances that are bonded to an organic material. In the old days, these types of minerals were referred to as chelates, but you may now also see names such as proteinate, or a description of the organic mineral such as polysaccharide mineral complex. Inorganic versions of these compounds are usually referred to as sulfates or oxides.
Organic minerals properly supplied with a balanced diet prevent muscle abnormalities, developmental orthopedic disease, and other health issues. Problems may arise when the minerals are not adequately metabolized by the horse. This is rarely the case with the organic minerals.
There are many natural sources of minerals and vitamins that we can supplement with little detrimental affect. These include kelp, rosehips, dolomite, apple cider vinegar and sea salt.
“So what is the best way to do that?” I hear you say.
It really depends on your situation, how you feed and what you supplement with.
If you are bucket feeding a performance horse or breeding stock, then adding supplements to their feed is easy – but be careful what you’re giving doesn’t conflict with any prepared feed mixes.
Be aware that almost all prepared feed and mineral mixes are designed for the ‘average’ type of horse on the ‘average’ type of soil. You need to know what your soil is lacking in, and supplement with that. Or in some cases your horse may show some reliable physical signs such as a faded, curly on the ends coat indicating a copper deficiency, or erratic behaviour in spring when the grass is at it’s richest indicating more magnesium needed.
But what if your horse lives in a herd and doesn’t need regular bucket feeds?
Then feeding minerals as often as you can is better than none at all, or offer them free choice.
There are a couple of ways to do this – take a selection of supplements like the natural ones suggested above, out to the horse each day in a small bucket and leave it with them while the weather is fine. These supplements are ususally too expensive to risk being ruined by rain.
This method will suit the ‘at home’ horse owner who can retrieve the buckets or just leave them with the horses to take what they need while they attend to grooming or paddock maintenence.
For those that don’t have the luxury of living with their horses it’s easier to have free choice minerals under cover either in a shelter shed or if you haven’t got one of those, make something up like the apple bin above converted to hold the minerals. Facing it away from the prevailing weather will protect the contents.
Whatever form of feeding minerals you adopt, remember that horses always need free choice salt so it is imperative to supply a block to lick or if you can keep it under cover, loose or rock salt.
Many mineral or salt licks can contain a high amount of molasses that encourages the horse to gorge and costs you a fortune, so look for blocks that contain 3% molasses or less.
Another highly reccomended site is www.balancedequine.com.au where you can get a feeding plan done to optimize the minerals needed to make up for those lacking in the feed.
Carol Layton of Balanced Equine offers independent nutritional advice and mineral balanced diets.
Also – Katy Watts from www.safergrass.org has a new CD on Minerals so go to her web site for lots of good info or to purchase a copy.
Understanding Beet Pulp as an Equine Feed – click the link to read this article which explains how beet pulp becomes an equine feed and why it is so useful.