Formulating Equine Rations.

Elim-a-Net in use high res

The other day I was asked about a basic ration for an average horse using average ingredients, a task not as simple as it would appear at first glance.

It’s not too difficult to formulate rations for swine or poultry. Their nutritional needs are relatively simple and there is little variation in their environment.  Then too, they have a relatively short lifespan.

Dairy cattle rations are a little more complex. There is a wide variation in forages used.  Dairy nutritionists are successful in wringing out exceedingly high milk production. The downside being that the average dairy cow lives less that 4 years and 50% of those calving do so with an infectious or metabolic disease.  

The horse, however, is a complex and often enigmatic creature with a markedly different set of parameters associated with balancing a ration.  Even so, it isn’t all that difficult to formulate a basic ration for an individual horse - on paper.  

Don’t overlook the fact that horses evolved in a desert environment and needs high density - low moisture forages for ultimate health.    Kept in a stall for 23 hours a day and fed a fancy high protein ration with alfalfa hay as the only forage and soy as the main protein supplement is not conducive to optimal health.

The following 3 links will take you to equine ration calculators. These programs will enable you to input pertinent information about the horse as well as nutritional data about the feedstuffs you plan to use.

You can use numbers from a laboratory feed analysis of your own feeds or input averages for many different feeds available on a chart from Feedstuffs Magazine (Go to, scroll down to and click on Feedstuffs Reference Issue 2015. Download the file “Feedstuffs_RIBG_Ingredient Analysis Table 2015.pdf”) .  Once you have entered the basics, you can fine-tune the ration by adding appropriate sources of minerals, protein or energy.

That’s the easy part.  Managing the day-to-day vagaries of your horses nutritional needs is an art more than a science and cannot be made by a computer.   It requires a personal touch or a personal involvement - sort of like described over 2000 years ago by Cato the Elder in his treatise entitled "De Re Agricola";  “The master’s eye doth fat the ox, his foot doth fat the ground”.   I interpret this to mean that in order to have healthy and productive animals or crops the master must be personally involved in caring for both.