While this winter has so far been quite mild here in Northeast Ohio, it is usually very common for some horses to drop weight during the winter months. Freezing temperatures can place quite a demand on the horse to burn calories simply to stay warm. Horses also lack the benefit of lush pastures, and have to obtain a majority of their calories through hay intake. One of the best ways to keep weight on a horse during the winter months is to increase hay intake. However, not all of us have a barn full of hay that will allow us to do this. If you have ever tried to purchase additional hay in January and February, you may have noticed it is a bit more expensive than in June and July. Additionally, boarding facilities typically run on a tight budget, and may not be able to increase hay rations to the levels needed to maintain horses in optimal condition. So, what can you do to supply your horse with the calories needed to stay warm and fit? I recommend looking at a fat supplement to supply the extra calories. Increasing the fat content of your horse’s diet can be beneficial not only for weight gain, but for skin and coat health, and a host of other reasons as well. For weight gain, fat contains a substantial amount of energy or calories. In fact, it contains more than twice the calorie content of carbohydrates or proteins! When looking to add weight to a horse, look no further than fat sources. Horses can absorb about 20% of their diet as fat, but most experts will recommend roughly 10-12% of the total diet be constituted from fat sources.
There are many ways to add fat to a horse’s diet, including top dressing with a vegetable or corn oil, using a fat supplement such as Gain Weight, Weight Builder, or Ultimate Finish 40 or 100. You can also use a fortified, extruded fat supplement such as Progressive Nutrition’s Envision, Buckeye Nutrition’s Ultimate Finish 25, Tribute’s K Finish, or Purina’s Amplify. You can opt for a stabilized rice bran supplement such as Equi-Jewel by Kentucky Performance Products. Supplementing the diet with a cup of corn oil may be the most economical, but there are other factors to consider, especially omega fatty acid levels. You hear quite a bit about omega fatty acid content in horse supplements, specifically, omega 3’s, omega 6’s. There are huge differences between how these fatty acids interact with a horse’s body. In order to give your horse the greatest benefit from a fat source, you must consider those effects when deciding which fat source is the best fit. Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory in nature. They help balance the immune system, protect joints and ligaments, reduce skin allergies, improve heart and vascular health, and have many other beneficial properties. Omega 6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory and tend to aid in blood clotting. It is important to note, both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids, meaning horses cannot produce them on their own. They must come from external sources, and horses need both of them. The important component to consider is the ratio of omega 3’s to omega 6’s. Vegetable oils, especially corn oil, tend to be high in omega 6, and low in omega 3 content. Adding corn oil will add calories to your horse’s diet and improve coat luster, but certainly will not benefit an older horse with creaky joints or a horse subject to seasonal skin allergies. To start, I look for a product that is higher in omega 3 content than omega 6, so that I can be sure my horses are getting the added benefits omega 3’s provide.
If you are feeding fat simply for the weight gain factor, I would recommend choosing a product such as Buckeye Nutrition’s Ultimate Finish 100 or Cool Calories 100. Both of these are 99% fat and are designed simply to add weight. They are not as engineered for Omega 3 and 6 ratios, but are excellent for bulking up that thin horse. Another option would be to go with an oil like Coca Soya, Rice Bran oil, or FSO (which is a flax seed and soy oil mix), or Equine Omega’s Mega Gain. Typically oils are in the 98-99% fat range and are great at adding weight. However, palatability can be an issue with an oil, especially if fed in large amounts. If you are looking for a product that will help with weight gain, but has been designed with Omega 3 and 6 ratios in mind, take a look at Buckeye Nutrition’s Ultimate Finish 40, Gain Weight, or Weight Builder. All of these products are roughly 40% fat, with 14% protein. They do a good job of putting weight on while providing the benefits of a higher Omega 3 to 6 ratio. Currently, I have one horse on a fat supplement, more for the anti-inflammatory and coat benefit than for a weight gain. I am using Equine Omega Complete, which is one of the best on the market. Hopefully, this has given you some good options to consider when choosing a fat supplement. Remember, to introduce fat slowly to the horse’s diet, and consult with your veterinarian if your horse has a history of liver issues before deciding on a fat supplement.