How can they be fed?
Balancers are suitable for all classes of horses and ponies and can be used in a number of ways including:
Fed alongside forage as a low-calorie source of protein, vitamin and minerals
Several of the modern horse breeds were developed to maintain weight on limited calories, even when they were asked to perform hard work. Many horses are easy keepers, meaning that they can survive on fewer calories. The main component of any horse’s diet should be forage such as grass, hay or haylage. Feeding at least 1.5% of the horse’s bodyweight per day as forage will help to maintain a healthy hindgut. Because of the concentrated nature and low feeding rate, a balancer can meet all the protein, vitamin, and mineral needs of the horse without adding excessive calories or starch to the diet. The carrier for a balancer pellet may have a few calories but is not calorie-dense like most other feeds formulated for a higher feeding rate – and designed to add calories to the diet.
Combined with straights to balance out deficiencies
Some people like to make up their own feed and incorporate straights such as oats, barley, maize, beet pulp, alfalfa chaff and oil. These are all great ingredients and will provide an excellent source of calories, but unfortunately, they are not nutritionally balanced by themselves. Balancers can be used to supplement this type of a feeding programme. Supplying essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals to fill in nutritional ‘gaps’.
Fed as a ‘top-dress’ for another concentrate feed to enhance the nutrient density of the overall diet.
In the case where a horse is already on a concentrate feed, the diet may benefit from additional high-quality protein and minerals and vitamins – top dressing the existing feed with a balancer will provide an elevated nutrient intake, ideal for horses in hard to intense work.
Horse feeds are formulated to be fed at a certain feeding rate. Some horses do not receive the recommended feeding rate because doing so would provide too many calories for the metabolism of that horse, and thus lead to excessive weight gain. However, if a horse is fed less than the recommended feeding rate, they will not receive the appropriate levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals. For example, if a feed has a recommended feeding rate of 2 kg per day, but the horse is only getting 1 kg per day and maintaining weight well, then adding half the recommended level of a balancer pellet to the diet will help to raise the daily intake of vitamins, minerals, and protein concentration to meet the horse’s requirements.
Balancers are also useful in situations where a horse is already on the recommended levels of a complete feed, but could benefit from additional high-quality protein, minerals and vitamins. (e.g. horses in hard to intense work to those recovering from illness or injury). In these cases, small amount of balancer can be ‘top-dressing’ onto existing feed to provide elevated nutrient intake.
For Laminitis prone horses and ponies
Balancers are an ideal option for horses and ponies prone to laminitis that needing a low calorie, nutrient- dense diet. As balancers are fed in such small quantities, they help to control calorie intake and limit excessive weight gain, whilst at the same time provide all the nutrients needed to support health and wellbeing. Many balancers are specifically formulated to be cereal grain free and ultra-low in starch and sugar. This makes ideal for ‘good- doers’ that are prone to or suffering from laminitis or Cushing’s (PPID) or Equine Metabolic Syndrome. For more information on feeding the ‘good – doer’ please see (insert link to ‘good-doer’ article).
For Laminitis prone horses and ponies
What are the feeding rates?
The recommended daily intake will depend on the concentration of the balancer, the weight of the horse, the workload and whether it is being fed as a sole feed, with straights or alongside a concentrate feed. Feed rates can range from as little as 250g per day to 2kg per day for a 500kg adult horse.
How does a feed balancer differ from a vitamin or mineral supplement?
A balancer is a lot like a vitamin/mineral supplement but differs in the amount of protein and macro minerals that it adds to your horse’s diet. The balancer pellet supplies essential amino acids and adequate amounts of the macro minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. Providing adequate amounts of these minerals is not possible when feeding a 50-100g of a vitamin and mineral supplement. These supplements generally supply micro minerals and vitamins but not protein or macro minerals.
Balancers are formulated with high levels of vitamins and minerals in comparison to concentrate feeds. A typical feed might have 40-60 mg/kg copper while a balancer pellet would have 160-200 mg/kg – approximately four times the amount. The same holds true for the other minerals and vitamins included.
Some balancers will contain one or more ‘beneficial ingredients’. Look for:
- Added yeast to aid fibre digestion and support hind-gut health
- Yeast and the prebiotics, MOS and FOS, to help support gastrointestinal function by promoting ‘good’ bacteria in the hindgut.
- A long lasting, natural gastric acid buffer to help maintain stomach health.
- A blend of dietary antioxidants, including vitamin E, selenium and vitamin C, to support the immune system
- Elevated levels of biotin, plus associated nutrients, to promote hoof growth and strength.
Protein levels in feed balancers?
Balancers are available with a range of protein levels. Deciding on which balancer to use depends on the quality, protein level in the forage and the requirements of the horse. Protein is an essential nutrient and horses need good quality protein for everything from muscle development, growth, milk production, hoof health, recovery and repair to name but a few! The protein levels in balancers may appear to be quite high 25% and 30% in some cases – but remember the quantities of balancer fed will be small in comparison to feeding other concentrate feeds.
For example: Feeding 250g of a balancer containing 30% protein provides 75g protein whereas 1kg of a feed containing 10% protein provides 100g protein. So, the ‘low protein feed’ actually provides more protein than the balancer.
Importance of a balanced diet
When a horse is receiving a fully balanced diet, all the nutrients needed for general health and wellbeing will be provided. A balanced diet will be reflected in your horse in many ways. A nutritionally balanced diet will contribute to a well-developed top line (in line with the appropriate exercise), healthy coat condition, strong healthy hooves, improved post exercise recovery time, improved fertility, milk production, a healthier gut and better feed utilisation and overall a much happier animal.