Monday, October 3, 2016

The Hardkeeping Horse aka the most frustrating experience ever

Let me begin by saying that I have never owned a horse that was a hardkeeper.  My horses have always been vacuum cleaners, air ferns, roly poly things that barely needed any grain no matter their level of activity and would eat as much hay I could stuff into their faces.

When I first met Snappy in 2012, she was eating fourteen pounds of sweet feed a day and I was mortified.  But of course, I did not know her well at that point, she wasn't in my direct care, and while I would not have chosen a sweet feed, she was in heavy work (racing) and probably needed the high amount of calories.

A few months later when she suddenly became mine, I changed her feed to Triple Crown Complete.  When I treated her ulcers later that winter, I switched her to Triple Crown Senior and Nutrena Boost, which is a rice bran pellet.  I have always been happy with Triple Crown and while I cannot remember exactly how much grain she ate, I know it was MUCH less than fourteen pounds a day!  I noticed quickly that she did not eat much hay, even when I had her teeth done.  

The first year she maintained her weight fairly well, though she was always on the thin side to me. The second year she was out of work as I was pregnant, so she had no trouble maintaining her weight though she never got "fat" like Dreamy did.  This year I still feel as though she was on the thin side, but she basically refused to eat hay outside (where she is for 12 hours of her day).  Granted, she had plenty of grazing, but now the grazing is not great and she is picking at the hay I leave for her each morning.  I do feed her hay in a haynet in her stall overnight, which is not ideal to me but it does seem to help her eat more.  

So this morning I hung her outside hay in a haynet on the side of the barn.  We shall see if she eats more during turnout.  She is still on Triple Crown Senior and Nutrena Boost at the recommended level of feed, but I added in four pounds of beet pulp a day.  I fed out three 40 pound bags before I decided I did not think it was doing much for her.  And I am still not 100% sure I like the idea of feeding beet pulp anyway.   This weekend I added in alfalfa pellets in place of the beet pulp (along with her regular grain ration of TCS and Boost).  I think her weight is low not because she is not getting enough calories from her grain, but because she needs more fiber.  The first thing I have always been taught to get a horse to gain weight, you add hay before you add grain.  But man, this horse will barely eat more than three flakes (which is only 12 pounds give or take!!!) of hay a day!  She stresses me!  Of course, this was OK during the spring and summer because the grass was plentiful.  The fall grazing is not as good!  

Anyway, her teeth, her ulcers, everything is fine.  The vet is coming in a few weeks for fall teeth floating anyway, so I will check with him then as well.  She is just not a big eater and never has been.  She just never has looked more than a 4.5 on the scale, which isn't bad necessarily but it also isn't great to me.  Yes, she is fit but she doesn't have the bloom I want to see.  Side note, I do have access to a livestock scale (the perks of being married to a cattle guy) so I know that she weighed 845 before I started the beet pulp in August and she gained about 2o pounds.  But I do wish she would gain about another fifty or so.  I just want her to be a strong 5 or even a 6.  I want her to be a plumpy mare.

Uggggg, hardkeepers stress me out.  Any ideas?  Thoughts?  I know different things work for different horses, but tell me what has worked for your picky eater to gain weight!  :-)

ETA: I feed a high quality, second crop timothy/orchard grass mix, which is pretty much like horse crack, so the mare SHOULD be hoovering her hay LOL!!  ;-)

11 comments:

Stephanie Hammer said...

What type of hay do you feed? My girls are picky and will turn their noses up at anything not super high quality ($$$) local or fine orchard grass. The vacuum up every last strand of the orchard grass. Other thought is a weight booster supplement... I do need to boost one of my mares weight, she is already losing a bit with the weather... 😕

Clover Ledge Farm said...

Oh, great question! I feed a high quality second crop timothy/orchard grass mix. It is super nice hay and literally cut from our neighbor's field (we built our farm next door to my hay guy haha)! I definitely have thought about a weight booster, but most are simply fat (which she is already getting the Boost which is 22% fat). Maybe I ought to try Fat Cat or Cool Calories.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

I have had very good results with Cocosoya oil top dressed on the morning bowl of Triple Crown Senior. Doesn't make my guy hot, is a good source of omegas, and once I got his weight stabilized, I'm only giving 2 oz daily.

KateRose said...

I have a super hard keeper and for him I notice that blanketing him makes a huge difference. I have never been a big fan of blanketing but Henry will become a skeleton in the colder months no matter how much I'm feeding him. Henry exists to prove me wrong on everything I thought I knew about horses haha. Not sure what your weather is like, maybe occasional blanketing would help too? Just a thought!

AareneX said...

beet pulp beet pulp beet pulp. It's my answer to a lot of things. Horses who don't like hay often like beet pulp, and nutritionally, they are about equal.

You've already checked for ulcers, so that's good. And you did teeth, so that's good.

Have you tried flax seed? The endurance-horse-nutrition-guru raves about flax seed. Good for the gut, good for weight gain, good for feet and coat (and it's CHEAP!). Start with a little bit, add a bit more per serving every day until you are feeding 1-2 cups daily.

I feed 1 cup flax daily in two half-cup servings mixed with beetpulp and a handful of Ultium (Fiddle isn't working very hard right now).

Grind the flax in a coffee grinder (I got one at Goodwill) for about 3-5 seconds to crack the hull. I grind a week's worth every Sunday--in my climate, that works. In warm/humid climates, the flax oils will go rancid if the seeds aren't fed in a few days after grinding.

Hope it helps!

OnTheBit said...

I wish I had good advice, Gen is not necessarily a hard keeper, but he is not a fan of hay and never has been. He is the only horse I know to leave flakes a high quality second or third cut in favor of dead grass in the winter. My only thought would be the grain fibergized (have you ever heard of it?). I found it very helpful when Gen was younger and in work. It has been years so I have no idea what is in it anymore, but I remember being okay with the ingredients and ratios when he was getting it.

AareneX said...

ohh Katerose, good catch. when Fiddle was losing weight, I blanketed her so I wouldn't have to feed so much.

(now I blanket so I don't have to deal with rain rot and a foot of mud in her coat--totally different!)

Laura said...

That sounds frustrating! Especially when you have covered all of the big stuff - teeth, ulcers, grain, high quality hay, etc. etc.

I don't have any suggestions...but I have heard good things about cool calories. And maybe the alfalfa pellets/cubes will work too?

My horse is a "normal" keeper - not too easy, not too hard - and luckily for me, that boy loves his hay. He won't eat more than 1lb of grain at a time (he will leave it in his dish), but I know I can stuff him with hay (or pasture in the summer) and he'll maintain his weight.

Jean Sharpe said...

Nutrena Pro Force Fuel works great on my hard keeper. Went from 14lbs of grain to 8lbs a day. He's 26, 16.3 Han/STB cross. He does eat all his hay and I do have to blanket him when it's cold. I've not had to add beet pulp or flax. Less is sometimes more.

Mel said...

Just went through this with my young horse. Made a lot of excuses (its left over from the internal pigeon fever, she's still recovery. She's young and going through a growth spurt. etc.) and then finally faced reality that a concentrated effort had to be made. I'm a vet so super easy for me to do blood work so I did that and made sure there wasn't osmething really obvious - the results were a little abnormal - but could be do to a lot of different stuff like malnutrition, malabosrobtion blah blah. Then I tried all the basic - I did a fenbendozole 2x dose 5 day deworming even though her fecal was normal. I did a gastrogard treatment even though everything pointed towards negative for ulcers, and I fed my hay a bale at a time in a fruit bin even though she didn't actually eat any more hay than when she was fed 2 giant meals. And I checked her teeth which were fine. Result was that 6 weeks later I could see definite improvement and 3 months later she looks damn good. She gets intermettant mashes with a glorified hay pellet and some vitamin E a couple times a week, but mostly just hay. I'm still not sure which of all the possibilities it was....but I don't care because she looks great. I've had one other horse like her in the past that was a hard keeper (a standardbred) and similar worked well with her too. Never had to repeat the wormer and the ulcer meds - but she did die of colic less than a year later so who knows (twisted small intestine). We will see how my current 4 year old goes as she gets older but the lesson I learned was take care of the basics before going too far down the rabbit hole of the complicated answer.

Olivia @ DIY Horse Ownership said...

I hate hard keepers. It's so stressful. I like beet pulp, rice bran, and oil for all of mine who actually work hard. Whenever I need to get extra weight on them (like with Eugene), I've had good success with Cool Calories and Super Weight Gain.