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Keeping an Eye on Your Horses Weight

When it comes to humans many keep an account of their weight. Each morning humans step on the scale in the hopes that unwanted pounds have melted away while they were sleeping.

Everyone knows that health problems can result from carrying around too much weight. However, when it comes to a horse’s weight many don’t pay attention. Fat may even be considered a pretty color at horse sales. But why should you monitor your horse’s weight?

It is important that you know what your horse, grain and hay weight in order to be a good manager of your horse’s health. The animal’s weight is often important for worthwhile feeding and deworming directions.

A horse’s weight is often gauged by sight. While visual inspection is an important part of weight management, it is a good idea to sharpen your body condition scoring skills as a horse owner to make sure you keep your horse close to the moderate weight.

Horsemen and even some vets consider it a pride to have a good weight “guess-timation” since weight is so important. However, errors can result from guessing. Even experience equine veterinarians and horse owners have been known to under-guess the weight of an adult horse according to research by up to a hundred pounds or about a ten percent difference.

A slightly more accurate method is using a weight tape, but even these can fail just like expert guesses since there is no such thing as an average horse. A horse that is long-backed may have more weight than indicated. A horse that is short-coupled on the other hand may be overestimated in their weight. It is even more difficult to determine how much a foal weight, but knowing the weight of a foal is extremely important to good management. Until foals are at least three or four months old the standard weight tape won’t work.

Measuring the heart girth circumference with a cloth tape measure is one method of weighing foals that has been reported. The inches of measurement that you get is then divided by .07 to get the total pounds of foal. However, for foals from thirty to ninety days old this techniques still underestimates. To improve accuracy you should add ten percent for this age group.

Using scales is the best method. Cost and convenience limited this method in the past. However, portable scales today have made this option more affordable and user friendly. You can easily train a foal or adult horse to walk up on the platform scales to get their weight. Electronic sales for livestock can be found from professional farm suppliers.

For several reasons an overweight foal is a concern. The greatest of these problems is Developmental Orthopedic Disease or DOD. For any breeder this is a serious condition and the causes are both complex and not completely understood.

Foals are less prone to DOD as they grow slowly and consistently. Farm managers gain the necessary data to make appropriate feeding changes by routinely charting and monitoring the foal weights. The diet can be altered after young foals have been identified as gaining weight too quickly.

When compared to male herd mates, many fillies then to be over condition or too fat. It is more difficult to change skeletal growth with dietary changes. The more body fat that is carried by foals and yearlings then the more at risk they are of over stressing their joints.

It is important to feed all horses individually and useful management benchmarks can be gained from a scale and tracking weights. After a convalescent period many sick foals and yearlings will have a rapid compensatory growth. The fall of the weanling’s first year and the spring of the yearling year are the most important times for weight maintenance. Growth rates increase dramatically during these specific times as a result of the lush pastures.

At this time you may want to consider reducing grain concentrates and using a lower-caloric balance supplement. Reducing the amount of the grain ration too much is the most common mistake during this rapid growth phase from the lush pastures. Growth can be controlled and nutrient balance maintained as a result of adding a low-caloric supplement.

The routine use of scales can also benefit performance horses. All athletes perform their best when they are at their optimal weight. Optimal performance can be reduced with as little as thirty to forty pounds on either end of the scale.

Metabolic disorders, colic and founder can result from broodmares and stallions that are too fat. You should revisit the simple concept of using a weight tape if you aren’t already. Scales are also a good investment for either the competitor or the breeder.

Read the next horse nutrition article on Hyperactivity: Horse Feed Be the Cause?.
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