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Compound feed for working horses – to feed or not to feed?

Does your working horse need compound feed? Feeding has changed over the decades with the availability of much more nutritious forages, and the understanding that working horses can be fed plenty of forage without it limiting their performance. 

What is compound feed?

Compound feed is – by legal definition – a feed made up of more than two ingredients, which may or may not contain additives like vitamins and minerals. Very few horse compound feeds can be fed complete (i.e. total diet, without forage) and so they are classed as complementary feeds, as are supplements.

Sometimes compounds are called ‘hard’, ‘short’ or ‘concentrate’ feed, but since not all compounds are high calorie feeds (concentrates), these aren’t correct terms nowadays. Compounds can include chaffs, coarse mixes, nuts (also called cubes and pellets), and balancers. Most compound feeds do contain vitamins and minerals, but not all, so you need to check when you buy. You also need to feed the full recommended amount of that feed if you are to give your horse enough vitamins and minerals (or top up with a vit/min supplement). 

Does my working horse need it or not?

Some horses can work relatively hard without any compound concentrate feed, if their forage is of good, nutritious quality and they are fed plenty of it, and their diet is balanced correctly. The old forage:concentrate ratios are outdated due to the quality of some forages available, and the understanding of owners that working horses don’t necessarily have to have their forage restricted. The exception would be an overweight or very greedy horse.

Your working horse does need concentrate feed if they fail to maintain condition on forage balanced with vitamins and minerals, or their energy during work is limited despite good fitness. Concentrates can be added either as a compound feed (there is a choice of hundreds) or straights e.g. oats, maize, sugar beet, bran (but these must be balanced correctly).

In summary

  • Choose appropriate forage – relatively high in energy and protein for hard working horses
  • If the horse cannot maintain condition or is struggling with energy in work despite good fitness on forage alone, feed a concentrate e.g. a compound feed
  • Choose the compound feed depending on the horse’s individual needs taking into account any health issues, and practical considerations e.g. gastric ulcers/tying up, palatability, cost, availability 
  • For horses who do not require the full recommended amount of compound concentrate feed, add a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement e.g ReadySupp Essential Vitamins and Minerals to top up micronutrient levels
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