The subject of food and feeding of horses is necessarily one of great importance, from an economical and utilitarian point of view, and constantly presses itself upon the attention of the horse-owner and attendant, the rider or driver.
In a natural condition, the food of the horse is grass in a more or less ripe or growing state; and there can be no doubt that upon this diet the animal is maintained in the healthiest form, and is least liable to diseases - especially those of a feverish or inflammatory kind; while he can perform a certain amount of slow labour, the extent of this depending much upon the kind of grass, its stage of growth, the climate, and other circumstances.
But when stabled, treated artificially, required to undergo severe or long-continued exertion, and to exhibit qualities and resources which could not be developed in the horse roaming at large on the grassy plain, then food of a more concentrated and nutritious quality is demanded, and this has to be given in a regular and systematic manner, in quantity proportionate to the demands made upon the system, and to the requirements of health. In this state, also, regard must be paid to individual peculiarity, age, condition, season, and some other points. Some horses, like men, require more food to enable them to accomplish a certain amount of work than others; young growing animals must have materials for their developmerit, as well as to compensate for the waste of tissue caused by work; while more food is needed in cold weather, when the body is exposed to rapid abstraction of heat or vicissitudes of temperature, than in a warm, genial season.
A horse in poor condition will also demand a larger supply of food in order to perform a given amount of labour than one which is already in good training.
But there is a limit to the amount of food that can be profitably utilised in the body, and though the amount will correspond to the exertion that may be exacted, yet there is a limit also to this.
One horse will do more work than another; but when the work is excessive in either, the wear and tear cannot be fully compensated for by even the most nutritious food in excess. When food is allowed in quantity and quality beyond the requirements of health and labour, then it is not only wasted, but predisposes to inefficiency and disease.
The secret of feeding is, then, to feed on such food in such a manner, and in such quantity, as will maintain the horse in the most perfect health possible, having regard to the service required of it. A certain amount of nutriment must be given to keep the machine going satisfactorily under ordinary conditions; when the strain is greater, then the amount should be increased, else we shall have waste without replenishment, and premature wearing out.
Food should consist of the two principal constituents which are required to sustain the body; one of these is the albuminous or nitrogenous, needed for building up the muscular and other tissues and repairing the waste of these; the other is the starchy or fatty matter, which is chiefly burned up in the body to maintain the animal heat. A combination of these two principles is necessary in all foods, but their relative proportions vary considerably in different kinds of food, and even in different specimens of the same kind; in some the fleshproducing or nitrogenous predominate, and in others the fat or non-nitrogenous. In addition, in the various foods of the horse there are woody fibre and cellulose, and salts of several kinds, which play an important part in the body - such as common salt, phosphates and carbonates of lime, potash, iron, etc. Water is also a constituent which varies in quantity in a very wide degree.
The following table, drawn up by Hunting, shows the constituents and their proportions in some of the kinds of food usually given to horses. The last two columns are added by Reynolds, for the purpose of showing the market value of each article of food in such a city as Liverpool (though the price is always more or less fluctuating), and also the relative cost per unit of flesh-forming material contained in each article.
Articles of Food.
Woody Fibre and Cellulose.
Fat or Heat-Producing Matters: Starch, Gum, Sugar, and Fat.
Flesh-Forming or Nitrogenous Matter.
Ash or Salts.
Value per 100 lbs.
Approximate Cost of each Unit of Nitrogenous Material.
Beans, cleaned ...
Hay, good Clover
The nutritive value of a large number of articles of diet consumed by the horse is given in the following table, which is very useful in enabling a person to arrive at a conclusion with regard to different kinds of feeding, as well as the quantities of each article which should enter into the ration, according to the requirements of the animal.
In 100 Parts.
Articles of Diet.
Grass before blossom
Grass after blossom
Red Clover before blossom
Red Clover in full blossom
Lucern, very young......
Lucern, in blossom......
Meadow Hay, medium quality.........
Meadow Hay, best quality
Red Clover Hay, full blossom......... \
Lucern (young) Hay
Lucern (in blossom) Hay
Rye Straw ........
Barley Straw ........
Bean Straw ........
Peas, Indian ........
Millets, Indian, Madras ..
Millets, Indian, Bengal ..
Millets, Indian, Bombay..
Linseed Cake ........
Cotton, whole seed.....
The third column of the first table, and the third and fourth of the second, furnish a representation of the constituents which, when introduced into the system, are transformed by the process of mastication, digestion, and assimilation, into material for the maintenance of animal heat, and to repair waste caused by the unceasing functions of respiration and transpiration. A portion of any excess in this class of constituents taken with the food is stored up in the form of fat, to be re-absorbed and appropriated whenever there is a deficiency in the supply of non-nitrogenous matter to meet an existing demand for it. The fourth column in the first, and second column in the second, representing the relative proportions of muscle-forming material in feeding stuffs, possess especial interest to the horse-owner; for upon a due supply of nitrogenous matter in a form capable of being assimilated, the reparation of nervous and muscular waste, and the function of general nutrition, alone depend. Unless the food contains a sufficient proportion of these substances, the body must be inefficiently nourished, and physical strength diminished, even if all the other elements of food are abundantly supplied. Unlike the elaborations of starch and fatty matters, an excess of nitrogenous material cannot be stored to meet future demands, any superabundance being removed from the body by the various processes of excretion. Should an excess of this material be given for any length of time, and no requirement for it be created by corresponding increase of work, disease must result.