Thursday, 14 October 2010

Mineral supplements

Jen asked me to do a post about minerals, giving a bit more detail about how we supplement, because correct nutrition is something that I always harp on about!  Sarah Braithwaite and I long ago reckoned that good nutrition, rather than a particular trim, is actually the foundation to healthy hooves and its so important that, without it, you'll struggle to achieve barefoot performance.

What we didn't realise until more recently is that we are very fortunate at Rockley to have a naturally occurring good balance of minerals in our forage.   This means that with the horses having ad lib haylage or grazing, we can very easily supply an optimal mineral balance simply by topping up the minerals which are slightly low.  Unlike many areas, we don't have significant imbalances and over the years this has been reflected not just in the hooves but in the overall health of our own horses.

Ghost was a good example, as he moved here with us from Hampshire aged 18, in reasonable health but lacking topline, condition and muscle  (he was also lame of course, but thats another story!).  Within a few months of being here, he looked better than ever and at 25 yrs old looked fantastic - certainly better than he had 10 yrs before and looking half his age.

Another piece of good fortune was that Rockley had in fact never been farmed other than organically, so the biodiversity of the fields hadn't been lost and we didn't have to correct the damage caused by large doses of nitrates, pollution or mining, all of which are common problems in some areas.

When we moved here, we had analyses done of our soil and forage and so we were already familiar with the minerals which were likely to be abundant or deficient. We'd done this because a knowledge of baseline mineral levels is essential if you are farming organically, as we do here.   Our soil is acidic, so liming to correct pH levels was also necessary, as it is in many areas of the UK.

Over the years our horses and the rehabs have done very well on a broad spectrum basic mineral supplement of seaweed, brewers yeast, linseed and magnesium oxide.  This is the bog-standard mineral supplement we talk about in "Feet First" and it has the advantage of being very safe and very effective.

HOWEVER, while it works well at Rockley, where we have a good level of minerals in our forage, it may NOT be adequate in areas where there are serious deficiencies or excesses.

This is something that Sarah found out, as her land is very high in iron and manganese, and it led to her horses being deficient in copper and zinc as a result - a good "basic" mineral supplement simply wasn't enough to correct the mineral imbalance she had, so drastic measures were called for, including giving very high levels of the missing minerals.   The problem is that although you can safely feed the basic supplement set out above pretty much to any horse anywhere, what you can't do is additionally supplement copper, zinc and other trace elements which are commonly lacking, such as selenium, without knowing whether you have a deficiency because an excess can be toxic.

So, the practical advice is to try feeding a basic supplement plus your forage, but if your horse's hooves aren't improving, then the next step is to have a full mineral analysis of your forage (which costs typically £40-50) and then feed additional minerals and trace elements to balance that.   Lots of feed and agricultural merchants will analyse your forage, and Sarah Braithwaite has a new service via for bespoke advice on mineral balances and supplementation.


jenj said...

Thank you for the mineral info, Nic!

You've got a special situation at Rockley, in which you know and can predict the minerals in your forage and supplement accordingly. I would imagine that most folks don't have that luxury - certainly here my hay comes from several sources, and it's fertilized, irrigated monoculture rather than a diverse mix of organic forage like you have. When you send horses home from rehab, do you recommend their owners take an average of several hay samples and figure out a mineral balance based on that? In other words, how do you determine supplements when you've a less-than-ideal situation like you seem to have at your place?

And, my boys would like to know if they can come live with you. I did explain about the cold weather, but they have decided that being served tea daily balances out. Especially if there's ginger cake involved. ;)

Cristina said...

I had our forage analysed and found it really useful and interesting.
There are 4 minerals I add now as opposed to about 12 in a premixed general supplement.

His feet are looking well on it.

I am lucky though in that the livery yard is also a farm and crops its own hay and haylage every year so within certain parameters there some consistency. The last one I was at got a different batch in every couple of months from various suppliers which makes it very difficult.

However I did end up stopping the seaweed as a result as it turned out we were high in Iodine and didn't want to double up.

Nic Barker said...

Jen - you haven't told your boys how high our annual rainfall is, have you...?! Tell them up to 100 inches and watch them snuggle back into their cosy Texan stables ;-)

Many people here buy hay from one source so for them its relatively easy to get an analysis done. If hay is less than ideal - the type you describe - its equally, maybe even more useful to have an analysis, because you are more likely to have imbalances that you need to address.

If you have several suppliers, its worth asking them if they already have a mineral analysis of their hay - small farmers don't always but bigger enterprises should do - and then use that to get an idea of overall balance. You also of course need to factor in whatever else you feed, either as hard feed or other supplements. It sounds terribly complicated, but its actually not too bad because you only need to get the analysis done once, so unless you are constantly getting hay from different suppliers, its quite practical.