Giving Weight to a Hard Keeper Horse Feed

Giving Weight to a Hard Keeper Horse Feed

Is your horse thinner than normal? If they’re struggling to gain or maintain weight, they could be what’s known in the equine world as a “hard keeper.” These horses have a “hard time” keeping on weight for a variety of reasons.

In this article, we explore reasons why certain horses may have difficulties and recommend a few steps you can take to help ensure your hard keeper is getting the most from their diet.

What’s your starting point? Set goals from there.

Horses can fall into the hard keeper category for many reasons. It could be anything from overall health to your horse’s environment. This includes their general living conditions, age, activity level, genetics and individual metabolism. In addition, a good review of your feed program, including hay, is important to make sure your horse is getting the best choice for them and getting enough feed.

To get a baseline understanding of your horse’s nutritional needs, you should first assess their body condition. You can do this with our equine body condition scorecard, based on the Henneke Scoring System. It ranks the neck, withers, shoulders, ribs, loins and tailhead with a one-to-nine score—one being very emaciated and nine being extremely obese.

To apply the scale, visually and physically examine the different points and assign a score based on muscle and fat composition. More fat means a higher score, while too little signals a lower score. Your goal should be in the healthy four-to-six range based on the breed, life stage and activity level of your horse.

Ensure your forage is as nutritious as you think it is.

To achieve a healthy body condition for any horse, and especially hard keepers, you need to know how much nutrition they’re getting from their diet, and that starts with forage.

There are many types of forage, and they have different nutritional values depending on the type, quality and time of harvest. Many people blame a drop in their horse's weight on the feed when it’s really the quality of forage or pasture that’s changed.

You can cut out a lot of guesswork by having it tested professionally and consider adding feed or supplements from there. To get your forage tested, contact your local feed store—they’ll often be able to hook you up with a field representative from a feed company like Kent Nutrition Group to take a sample.

Look for healthy weight gain in a high-fat horse feed.

Once you understand the nutritional value of your forage, you can start thinking about feeds and supplements.

In addition to quality forage, hard keepers may simply need more feed, or in some cases, specialized feed, to meet their needs. These typically are high-fat feed formulas or supplements.

Sentinel® Performance LS and Active Senior are two options that are formulated for hard keepers. These extruded formulas contain 12% fat to support and maintain weight gain, as well as high-fiber ingredients to support digestive health. Fat contains more than twice the calories of carbohydrates per pound, so in many cases you don’t have to feed as much grain to provide the same calories, reducing the risk of potential digestive upsets from high-carbohydrate meals.

Extrusion provides additional benefits for hard keepers, as ingredients are pressure-cooked, formed and rapidly cooled for a lighter, airier feed nugget. This allows feed to easily break down and more efficiently deliver usable nutrients to your horse as it passes through their digestive system.

The Sentinel XT feed line contains more high-fat formulas blended with super-fiber extruded nuggets to help support nutrient utilization. Sentinel XT Pro and XT Show are textured horse feed formulas that combine high levels of fat and fiber with lower levels of sugar and starch to deliver optimum nutrition without overfeeding.

Try a horse supplement for additional calories.

You may also consider putting your horse on a high-fat supplement to provide additional calories without adding too much starch and sugar. Sentinel Care Omegatin® could be a good fit, with high-fat ingredients and vitamins and minerals formulated to support body condition without risking digestive upset.

Feed frequently, feed consistently.

Feeding your hard keeper small, frequent meals throughout the day instead of large meals once or twice a day can help maintain body weight. You shouldn’t feed more than 5 pounds of grain in one feeding.

Whenever you’re making changes to your horse’s diet, you should do so slowly to avoid digestive upsets. The key is to make your horse’s feeding plan consistent—this will help keep your horse’s digestive system working efficiently and consistently.

In addition to keeping feeding times consistent, it’s also crucial to provide consistent amounts, especially with concentrated feeds and supplements. Remember, a scoop isn’t always a scoop, so our nutritionists recommend feeding by weight instead of volume. You may want to consider installing a scale in your stable to measure feed amounts more accurately.

Ask about supporting your hard keeper with the right horse feed.

If you’re unsure if your horse’s current diet is helping gain or maintain weight, ask your veterinarian, nutritionist or Kent Nutrition Group how a Sentinel formula can help support their nutritional needs. Their experience, along with our expert knowledge of our innovative feeds and supplements, may help you provide your hard keeper with optimum nutrition.

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