Does using several piles of hay work for the laminitic horse?

November 10, 2011

In 2008, a veterinarian recommended that I invite to my farm an academic scientist and horseman who had been advising people on their laminitic horses to see if he had any thoughts on why I had such a high incidence of founder.

The scientist suggested the horses were foundering from stress.

At the time, I had been trying to feed the horses as little as possible (and I now know they were still getting more calories than they should have), and the scientist said the stress might be coming from them having so little to eat.

He recommended instead that I give them all the hay that they wanted but that I spread it in the far reaches of the horses’ pastures and paddocks so they had to keep moving if they wanted to eat. I didn’t follow his recommendation to the letter because I knew my horses couldn’t consume large quantities of hay.

But for the last three years, on days when it hasn’t rained or snowed, I have taken one extra flake of hay at each meal and divided it into four tiny sections and placed it in four places in my pasture. And it has forced the horses to move around more than normal to go get that extra flake of hay.

In light of my newfound information on how many calories a flake of hay has — 2,640 at last count — I’m now interested in whether the amount of calories the horses expend to go get the hay is enough to offset the calories they get eating that extra flake. Admittedly, this is an imperfect way to figure this out.

Each horse would get an extra 1,320 calories per meal.

It takes my horses 80 seconds to walk around the back of my house and get to that pasture from their shed. They have to walk about 408 feet to do it.

The National Research Council estimate a horse burns 1,000 calories per hour walking. That would work out to 16.66 calories per minute. For my horses to walk 80 seconds is about 22 calories. They may walk out to that pasture six times in the evening to check if the flake of hay they ate has magically reappeared. So, six times out and back to their shed is 12 trips times 22 calories is 264 calories. Those 264 calories they expend can’t begin to balance the 1,320 calories each horse is taking in, so I’m going to conclude that it’s a failed strategy to try to put a little extra hay out to make the horses walk from a calorie burning standpoint.

Totaling up the caloric excess: Each horse is taking in 3,960 extra calories per day from the extra half flake per meal per horse. Each is expending 792 calories per day doing the extra walking. Maybe.

If I just take the two flakes of hay the horses get per meal and split those flakes between their pasture and shed, we’d be in better shape calorie-wise, but, as I’ve said, trying to split up two flakes into multiple piles is a bit daunting. In fact, I do split those two up already, but it makes four little piles that get scarfed down in maybe a half hour.

I feel like, if I really want to feed two overweight, insulin resistant, laminitic horses correctly, I should just walk along and sprinkle hay bits in a little trail around my farm, Hansel and Gretel-style, and make the horses walk around to get it, which would limit their eating to crumbs basically. If I lived in California, with its consistent weather, that might actually work. I don’t think it’s going to work in Missouri during the winter.

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