What is considered limited turnout and how does it impact a horse’s feeding program?
Continuous grazing is defined as access to pasture 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, 365 days out of the year. Not many modern horses are housed in this manner. It is much more likely that your horse is managed with “limited turnout.”
Limited turnout can vary from as little as 30 minutes to up to 12 hours per day. The extent of your horse’s turnout time, the quality of the pasture he is turned out on, and your horse’s metabolic type will determine how much additional feed and supplements he or she will need to remain healthy.
Research has shown that horses require at least 8 to 10 hours of turnout per day, on good quality pasture, to achieve the minimum dry matter intake of 1% of their body weight. The recommended dry matter intake for an average horse is 1.25% to 2% of their body weight daily. As you can see, when it comes to the most basic recommendation for fiber intake, even half a day of turnout can come up short, particularly on overgrazed pastures. That means most modern horses need more nutrients than limited turnout can provide.
The nutritional needs of the easy keeper on limited turnout.
The term “easy keeper” is a bit of any oxymoron, as easy keepers can be anything but easy to manage! Easy keepers are horses that need fewer calories than the average horse to maintain a healthy weight. Put that easy keeper out on good quality pasture for 8 hours and you will have a butterball in no time!
Some easy keepers suffer from metabolic diseases that impact how carbohydrates are utilized, and others are just very efficient at utilizing energy and in some cases consuming food (meaning, the head goes down and never comes up!). Most easy keepers will benefit from wearing a muzzle during turnout time.
A muzzle reduces intake by about 30%. It allows the horse to be managed along with normal horses and gives them more exposure to the benefits of turnout: exercise and social time. When horses are fed hay in a group situation, a muzzle can also be used to reduce intake in your “portlier” individuals.
The easy keeper may need less time out on pasture or a muzzle to reduce intake, but they still need to consume the recommended amount of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. A mature grass hay is the best solution when it comes to meeting an easy keeper’s dry matter requirements.
Mature hays provide more dry matter (fiber) and fewer calories per pound than less mature hays. Your easy keeper can munch away and not get too fat. The key is to balance out turnout time and hay intake so that you are feeding at least 1.25% dry matter per total body weight per day without adding a ton of unneeded calories.
The easiest way to determine if you are achieving your goal is to monitor your horse’s body condition score. Aim to keep your horse between a 5 and 6.
When it comes to protein, a mature horse requires 10% protein in their diet. Most hays will provide this amount. If your hay tests low, you can choose a balancer pellet that contains a protein source plus vitamins and minerals. Be aware that balancer pellets add calories to the diet, and make the necessary adjustments.
A good solution for the easy keeper who is meeting both dry matter and protein requirements with hay and limited turnout is a low-calorie, balanced vitamin and mineral supplement that also contains a maintenance dose (500 IU to 1,000 IU) of natural vitamin E.
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient that is found in fresh green grass. Once grass is harvested for hay, the vitamin E levels fall quickly. Horses on limited turnout will need supplemental vitamin E. Horses that are ridden lightly require 1,000 IU to 2,000 IU of natural vitamin E per day. For horses that are training and competing regularly, we recommend 3,000 IU of natural vitamin E per day.
The nutritional needs of the average horse and hard keeper on limited turn-out.
Horses that need more energy than can be provided by limited turnout and hay are a little easier to deal with. Based on your horse’s desired body condition score, additional dry matter can be fed as hay or hay cubes, hay pellets or beat pulp.
The average horse can be maintained on good quality hay fed at a rate of 1.5% to 2% of their body weight per day. Good quality hay typically provides plenty of protein. If the horse is maintained on an all-forage diet, then a well-balanced vitamin and mineral pellet will fill in the nutritional gaps.
If the horse needs more energy than just forage and turnout can provide, then an appropriate fortified horse feed can be offered. If the recommended amount of feed is consumed, then the vitamin and mineral pellet is no longer needed. If less than the recommended amount is fed, then continue to feed a vitamin and mineral pellet to fill in the nutritional gaps.
As with the easy keeper, natural vitamin E is an essential nutrient for average horses. Horses on limited turnout will need supplemental vitamin E. The amount of supplementation will be based on the horse’s workload (see above). Other targeted supplements, such as joint, hoof, digestive, and omega-3, can be added on an as-needed basis.
Hard keepers and senior horses may need additional calories to maintain a healthy body condition score. These calories can be provided in the form of a fortified horse feed and/or a high-fat supplement.
The key with hard keepers is to keep the meal size under control. It is best not to feed any more than 4 lbs of fortified feed in one severing. Multiple meals per day are healthier and the feed is utilized in a more efficient manner.
Consider adding lunch or a late-night dinner to the hard keeper’s program. Forage can be fed continually. Additional natural vitamin E can be supplemented based on the horse’s requirements, and other targeted supplements added as needed.
For more tips on feeding the hard keeper, check out this article:
Learn more about feeding horses with metabolic syndrome:
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