Horse | Making Menu Changes Safely

By Christine Barakat

Most equine caretakers know that changing feeding regimens abruptly is an open invitation for colic. But just how gradual does the transition from one feedstuff to another need to be? That depends on how dramatic a dietary shift you'll be making and what kind of feed is involved.

When changing concentrates, compare the labels on your old feed and the new feed, and proceed as follows:

  • If the total levels of digestible energy (often abbreviated as "DE") and protein are similar, your horse's gut probably won't even recognize the change. Two to three days of feeding increasingly less of the old and more of the new should allow for a trouble-free adjustment.

  • If either energy or protein will increase by more than five percent, take a full week to switch over.

  • With big changes, such as going from low-fat to high-fat feed or taking a leap in both energy and protein, take two weeks to complete the transition, making regular daily increments in the percentage of new feed.

Other dietary changes require equally careful introduction. A switch in roughage from poor or moderate to "rich" (from depleted pasture, for instance, to alfalfa hay) should occur over two weeks. Take three weeks to introduce emaciated animals to a high-calorie, nutrient-rich diet.

With any feeding change, be alert for signs that the gut is not adapting–diarrhea and colicky episodes are the usual indications–and revert to the previous level of nutrition or the former feedstuff until the upset passes.

This article is from EQUUS Magazine, Issue 246 (April 1998), copyright 1998 by PRIMEDIA Enthusiast Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.