Message From The Veterinarian
“Too many people are feeding the wrong things to their horses. In my veterinary practice, I have seen horses that are too heavy, too thin, hyperactive or malnourished despite the best intentions of their owners. Frequently, the problem has been related to feeding too much grain and not enough forage. That’s why I decided to provide this Web site as an educational resource to horse owners and develop a horse feed that would provide a square meal – in other words, a Total Mixed Ration – for horses in one bag. I wanted to help horse owners do the right thing for their animals. And as an animal-lover, I want animals to feel healthy and satisfied.”
“In my veterinary practice, I saw many well-meaning horse owners who did not have access to information about the right way to feed a horse to keep it healthy. I hated seeing animals get sick unnecessarily. That lead me down the path to use my experience and education to develop Square Meal Horse Feed, a science-based, Total Mixed Ration solution where everything the horse owner needs to know is in the bag.”
I invite you to read more deeply about these issues on this site. We want to help you make better decisions for your horses.
Ask the Vet – (FAQ’s)
Questions for Dr. Harlan Anderson
Q: How do I feed SMF biscuits to my horse?
A: Make SMF biscuits available in a feed container, free choice, along with loose iodized salt and plenty of fresh water. Ideally the feed container would be situated so the feed will be at shoulder height to the horse, but the most important thing is that the biscuits aren’t stepped on or soiled. Make sure the feed container doesn’t run out.
Q: How do I start to transition my horse from my previous feeding program to SMF biscuits?
A: To transition we recommend making the biscuits available with loose iodized salt and plenty of fresh water, as well as the forage you’re currently feeding your horse. Any grains or other supplements being fed should be eliminated. The horse should transition to the biscuits over the course of about a week. As the transition occurs, the amount of your original forage being provided should be able to decrease over the course of the week. If you are feeding any medical supplements, the decision regarding their continued use is something that should be determined between you and your veterinarian.
Q: Won’t my horse overeat if I feed them free choice?
A: They may overeat for the first couple days. Meal fed horses, whose feed runs out between feedings, may overeat the first couple days until they develop trust that the feed isn’t going to run out. This is especially true if there is a group of horses that have usually been competing for the feed before it runs out. Once they know it will always be there, they will cut back to eating only what they need, just as they do in nature. The low sugar content and the energy level of SMF biscuits will cause the horse to “graze” on it throughout the day. With no grain and a complete balanced diet of forages, there is no fear of grain overload.
Q: How much will my horse eat per day?
A: A horse will typically eat about 2-2.5% of their body weight per day, or a little over half a bag per day for a 1000lb horse.
Q: Don’t I have to feed them ANYTHING else?
A: The only other things you need to feed with SMF biscuits are loose iodized salt and plenty of fresh water. By knowing the nutrient levels of our forages, we are able to balance the diet with the necessary minerals and vitamins.
Q: I gave my horse SMF biscuits, he nibbled on them for a few minutes, and then walked away for a while. Is that normal, or does that mean my horse doesn’t like it?
A: That’s exactly what we want to have happen. The horse should eat a little, then go away for a while, then come back and nibble some more, and repeat. If the horse wanted to eat a lot or without stopping, they would get fat and couldn’t be fed free choice, which would defeat part of what makes SMF biscuits so healthy for them.
Q: What is the Non-Structural Carbohydrate (NSC) content of SMF biscuits?
A: The NSC is typically less than 8%. The sugar content, specifically, is generally 5-6% or less.
Q: I work my horse really hard! Are you sure SMF biscuits have enough energy for my horse?
A: The great majority of today’s horses are not worked harder than what is supplied by the maintenance diet product, “Happy Horse”. Some horses that work a little harder will make up the extra nutrient needs by eating a little more product. For those that are working very hard, SMF has a product called Equine Winner which has ground oats to increase the energy level.
Q: Do horses ever choke on the biscuits?
A: When the biscuits are fed free choice they will not choke. Horses choke when they are starved for good nutrition and are then introduced to some very good feed. They want to eat very fast before it is gone and do not lubricate their feed enough to allow it to pass down the esophagus without getting stuck. Horses will choke on pellets, cubes, or regular good hay in this situation. It is extremely rare that properly fed horses will choke.
Q: Aren’t hay biscuits really hard, and won’t they hurt my horse’s teeth?
A: SMF biscuits are softer than traditional hay cubes. They can be broken apart with your thumb and fore finger. SMF biscuits will not hurt horse’s teeth.
Q: Can I soak the SMF biscuits in water?
A: Yes, you can soak SMF biscuits, but we do not recommend it. Dry cubes will cause a horse to generate more saliva which acts as a buffer to reduce the incidence of gastric ulcers. Research has proven, however, that making a slurry out of Happy Horse will increase water intake and will help horses that go to horse shows to keep their water intake up. To make the slurry, mix three quarts of water for every five pounds of SMF biscuits.
Q: Why do my SMF biscuits smell like vinegar when I soak them?
A: The vinegar smell is a result of Molasses and Propionic Acid in the biscuits. Molasses is added to reduce dust during production of the biscuits. Propionic Acid is added as a preservative. Propionic Acid is natural to the horse’s stomach.
Q: Can I feed SMF biscuits to my Insulin Resistant horse?
A: Absolutely! Providing a constant source of nutrition by feeding a low sugar forage and eliminating meal feeding of cereal grains to Insulin Resistant (IR) horses is a commonly recommended way to manage IR. Feel free to look at our Research page for more on our feeding trial at North Carolina State University.
Q: How can you say Square Meal Feeds is low sugar when the ingredients list Molasses?
A: Only 1% molasses is added to help reduce dust during production of the biscuits. Our biscuits are still low in sugar because we are using low sugar forages, raised specifically for horses, and adding only a small amount of Molasses.
Q: I’ve heard of a lot of problems with feeding alfalfa to horses. Isn’t the alfalfa in your biscuits going to be bad for my horse?
A: Nope! Horses have very sensitive digestive systems, and can succumb to many health issues if fed low quality hay, but can also have issues if fed “high quality” hay usually classified as “dairy quality” alfalfa hay. Horses fed low quality hay can suffer from many malnourishment problems. Among other things, the low quality hay is usually low in protein, which is needed for muscle maintenance and development. Low protein hay will cause a horse to draw down on the muscle structure, creating what is referred to as a hay belly. Dairy quality hay, often an alfalfa cut at an early bud stage, tries to maximize energy per pound of forage. This typically means it has higher sugar levels, and usually is at the expense of fiber. This is the opposite of what the horse needs, and can result in many of the health challenges people talk about when they say they had problems feeding alfalfa to their horse. This is especially true if the horse is quickly switched from low quality hay to dairy quality alfalfa hay. SMF uses only quality forges from the family farm, raised to be just right for horses. Our forages have lower levels of sugar and starch, while maintaining higher levels of fiber and protein, and are not subject to loss of very important high protein, high nutrient leaves as baled alfalfa and grass hay.
Q: How can you tell your horse is healthy and happy?
A: You can tell a lot by the way the horse looks and acts. An important way you can tell how your horse is doing with its feeding program is by evaluating its temperament. Horses express their dissatisfaction through several behaviors, such as boredom or frustration typified by wood chewing, weaving (standing in place and swaying), stall walking (the horse equivalent of human pacing), and cribbing (arching the neck and sucking air). If you see those symptoms, you need to change your horse’s feeding program.
Q: How could a horse have a balanced diet without grain?
A: I ask people to think about what a horse would eat in the wild, or a hundred years ago. They are made to eat forage, such as grasses. Grains actually disrupt a horse’s digestive process.
Q: How many times per day should a horse be fed?
A: Horses need to feed freely and frequently – their stomachs are small compared to body size and cannot hold large amounts of food. Therefore, it’s best to allow horses to choose when to eat by providing free-choice feed, giving them the option to eat small quantities when they’re ready, supplemented with plenty of fresh water (horses can drink five to 10 gallons per day) and free-choice loose iodized salt.