Spring is a tricky time to source low carb horse hay. If your horse has been newly diagnosed with disease or you miscalculated your need through the winter, then March through May can be an anxious time. For teff believers, this timeframe is even worse, because of its generally poor availability. So, what can a horse owner do to mitigate sugar-starch sensitivities or related diseases when you just CAN NOT find a good forage source or WILL NOT pay high prices for pelleted products?
A very common mistake in the management of insulin resistance is the overemphasis on carbohydrates and the lack emphasis on calories. Most horse owners can cite to me the NSC percentage of every product their horse consumes but nearly none of them can tell me what the caloric content is of any of these products. I get a lot of calls for teff this time of year, but unfortunately there isn’t much that I can do to help except to put carbohydrates and calories into perspective in the scope of managing carb sensitive issues like insulin resistance, EMS, equine obesity and laminitis.
Managing these special needs horses is a two sided endeavor; one one side is the carbohydrates and the other side is calories. In an ideal world, we could control both 365 days of the year, but at times throughout your horse’s life you may have to manage for calories more so than carbs. When low carb hay is not available, prioritize the calories per pound of the forage, but know that you should ALWAYS consider calories when making good forage decisions! This is why LCHH reports calories as well as carbs for you on a dry matter basis.
TWO MORE VERY COMMON MISTAKES: Many horse owners and hay growers alike assume that the growing or harvesting factors that influence calories are the same factors that influence non-structural carbohydrates in a grass plant. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!! It is just as likely to create high calorie/low carb hay as it is to create low calorie/high carb hay. Also, there is NO guarantee that your local teff supply is low carb. Teff is NOT always low carb.
Why is teff so hard to find? Teff is extremely sensitive to frost which means that growers have a very limited time to seed, grow and harvest teff hay. In addition, they must repeat the entire process every year. In most regions of the PNW where teff is grown, farmers will not seed teff until late May to early June. This means that the first cutting of teff won’t be available until mid to late July. Most PNW teff growers get two cuttings per year, but three is possible in areas with longer growing seasons.
An annual is a plant that completes it’s life cycle from seed to seed in one year. A summer annual germinates in the spring or early summer and dies in the fall.
Comparing your horse’s caloric intake to their caloric need:
Step #1: Determine your horse’s daily caloric need by referencing the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements for Horses 2007.
Step #2: Calculate the total daily caloric intake of your horse each day. *See example below.
Step #3: Compare the two. You may have to feed less hay, less concentrate, less of both, or more practically, source a forage that is lower in digestible energy.
EXAMPLE: 1,000lb horse with a dietary requirement of 16 Mcal/day for weight loss
15lbs per day of timothy hay at 0.95 Mcal/lb = 15 x 0.95 = 14.25 Mcal
1.0lbs of ration balancer at 1.6Mcal/day = 1.0 x 1.6 = 1.6 Mcal
Total daily intake of digestible energy (Mcal) = 15.85 Mcal/Day
This is extremely practical advice, because your horse’s body condition score (how much fat they carry in their structure) is related to their risk of laminitis. More often than not, we have more control over how many calories the horse consumes than how many simple carbohydrates. In the long term struggle to manage many carb sensitive problems, calories and carbs should have equal consideration and equal obsession.