I am considering an equine ration balancer for an easy keeper, but it seems I would first want to analyze forage to see what needs to be balanced. Is this a normal approach? What options are there for analyzing forage in Prince George's County (labs, programs, etc.)? Do I need to analyze both hay and pasture grass? I have seen ads for labs that analyze hay, but not pasture grasses. Our horses are out 24 hr and this time a year ignore the hay. Thanks - John
If you want to take your nutritional program to the next level, then yes, testing your forage is a great way to know what nutrition your horse is getting in the bulk of its diet. The approach is normal for serious horse owners, veterinarians, and equine nutritionist, but not common among the everyday horse owner. There are many certified forage testing labs you can use. Here is a link to the 2015 National Forage Testing Association’s Certified Lab list: http://www.foragetesting.org/files/2015_Certified_Labs.pdf. The closest lab on the list to you is Cumberland Valley Analytical Services in Hagerstown, MD. Once on their website (http://www.foragelab.com/), you can order the sample collection kits, learn about their services for pasture and hay analysis, and ask them any questions. Equi-analytical (also known as Dairy One) has a great tutorial on how to take hay and pasture samples for analysis (http://equi-analytical.com/taking-a-sample/). The key is to getting a representative sample of your hay and/or pasture.
The difficulty with testing hay and pasture is that you need to figure out what all of the results mean. You can send your state specialist the results and ask for their help (Dr. Amy Burk, UMD email@example.com) or take it to the feed store and ask the equine nutrition representative to help you. There are also some local equine nutritionist that you could pay to help you as well. In addition, there are some online software programs like this one for instance, http://feedxl.com/, that you can use to select a forage balancer for your horse using the results from your analysis.
Having said all of that, most commercial forage balancers have been developed using years and years of forage data. What that means is that the companies know what protein, mineral, and vitamin levels are commonly found in hays and pasture for horse. Thus, a typical forage balancer will have more protein to account for lower protein in hays, more vitamins and minerals that are low in mature forages, and less non-structural carbohydrates (energy). The University of Maryland is in a similar situation to you in that we keep our broodmares out on a dense pasture and then are fed a small amount of forage balancer each day. They only change to a broodmare concentrate when they really need more energy (carbs and fats) to support late gestation and early lactation.
I commend you for utilizing pasture in your horse’s diet as you can nearly meet all of the nutritional needs with pasture and it’s a cheaper forage source than hay! Good luck.