Ration Balancers - What are they and how do I use them?

Ration Balancers - What are they and how do I use them?

You may have heard the term “ration balancer” before, but do you know what it means and how to use it in a feeding program? Even though I’d been around horses most of my life, I had never heard the term until I was in graduate school. Ration balancers are a relatively new concept in feeding horses, and they are some of my favorite products in the Purina line because of their versatility of use. A ration balancer is a concentrated feed (usually in pelleted form) designed to be fed at a low feeding rate (~1 – 2 lbs/day) that supplies protein, vitamins, and minerals at the correct level to balance either a grass or legume-based forage program. There are several scenarios when you may want to consider feeding a ration balancer, like Nature’s Essentials Enrich 32 (to be fed with primarily grass forages) or Enrich 12 (to be fed with primarily legume forages).

The Easy Keeper

Does your horse maintain bodyweight on plenty of good quality forage? Is he currently not in work or only ridden lightly? Then he is the perfect candidate for a ration balancer. Many people think that these types of horses do just fine on forage alone, but this is not the case. Yes, these horses do not need extra calories from a grain concentrate, but they still need essential amino acids like lysine, vitamins, and minerals like copper and zinc that are not present in adequate amounts in forage. Even though it may look like a horse is “fat and sassy” on forage alone, they could be suffering from a deficiency that would not show itself until the horse becomes stressed (i.e. exposed to a virus, hauled somewhere new, etc.). A ration balancer won’t contribute a significant amount of calories to the horse’s diet because of the low feeding rate, but it will provide the essential nutrients to “balance” a ration based on forage. You can almost think of a ration balancer as a horse’s daily multi-vitamin (+ protein). Many easy keepers are also suffering from metabolic syndrome, and Enrich 32 is low in soluble carbohydrates and appropriate for horses requiring a carbohydrate-restricted diet.

Feeding below the Recommended Feeding Rate

Did you know that feed manufactures have a minimum recommended feeding rate for their feeds? At Purina, we pay close attention to this. We formulate feeds to be fed at rates ranging from 0.3 lbs – 0.9 lbs/100 lbs bodyweight, depending on the specific formula. This information can usually be found as a sentence on the feed tag stating “do not feed less than 0.X lbs per 100 lbs bodyweight per day”. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize this and end up underfeeding their horses. For example, if you are feeding a 1000 lb horse 2 lbs per day of Strategy (this might equate to ~1/2 “scoop” per day, depending on the scoop size), you are most likely not meeting all nutrient requirements, since the recommended feeding rate is 0.3 lbs/100 lbs bodyweight. I see this even more commonly with complete feeds like Equine Senior or Omolene 400. The minimum feeding rates for complete feeds are a bit higher at 0.6 lbs per 100 lbs bodyweight. This means that a 1000 lb horse should be receiving 6 lbs per day. Many horses are fed well below this level. This is where a ration balancer comes in handy. Enrich 32 works really well to “fill in the nutritional gaps” of a diet where a horse is only being fed a small amount of concentrate.

I find that I use a combination of Enrich 32 and Ultium frequently for Warmblood horses in light to moderate work (i.e. low level dressage). Warmbloods tend to be easy keepers, but those that are working do benefit from some of the unique attributes of Ultium. However, if you fed the minimum recommended amount of this calorie-dense feed to an easy-keeper 1500 lb Hanoverian (6 lbs/day), that horse could quickly become obese! In order to be sure all nutrient requirements are met while avoiding unwanted weight gain, this horse could be fed 1 lb Enrich 32 and 2 – 4 lbs Ultium per day. This program can work quite well in many situations and is not just for Warmbloods or limited to Ultium, but for any easy keeper breed with any feed you prefer.

Feeding Straight Grains or other Unfortified Ingredients

Many people like to feed straight oats, barley, beet pulp, alfalfa pellets, etc. These are all great ingredients, but unfortunately they are not nutritionally balanced by themselves. Another great use for a ration balancer is to supplement this type of a feeding program. Basically, the plain ingredients are used as calorie and fiber sources, and the ration balancer is used to “fill in the nutritional gaps” of these ingredients, supplying essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

Feeding as a protein supplement

Sometimes, a horse may benefit from additional high-quality protein in the diet. Perhaps he is returning to work after a long lay-up and needs to rebuild muscle. Perhaps he has lost muscle due to an injury or illness, and needs some additional protein in his diet to help him recover. Enrich 32 can be used in this type of situation as well, simply by top-dressing ½ - 1 lb per day over the horse’s regular daily feed.

But isn’t 32% protein TOO MUCH???

This is something that horse owners usually are concerned with if they are not familiar with a ration balancer. To understand why 32% protein is most definitely not too much, you must consider two very important things: 1) the horse’s daily protein requirement, and 2) the recommended feeding rate.

To easily illustrate this, let’s take a hypothetical 1000 lb Quarter Horse in light work. See the table below to see where the dietary protein and lysine would come from:

So, as you can see, the amount of protein contained in the recommended amount of Enrich 32 is actually LESS than the amount of protein in the recommended level of Strategy for this particular horse. You can also see that the majority of protein would be provided by the forage, but to meet the lysine requirement, additional protein is necessary. Feeding either Enrich 32 or Strategy would meet the horse’s daily protein and lysine requirements, and the decision on which to feed should be based on his body condition and calorie requirements.

There are a variety of uses for a ration balancer, and many times it is the most appropriate choice for you horse. If I had one Purina feed product that I could not live without, it would definitely be Enrich 32!

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