Balancers have been popular for a number of years. They are bagged feeds with a higher concentration of vitamins, minerals and sometimes protein than found in regular feeds. They are typically fed at a rate of 1 to 2 lbs/day versus 4 to 6 pounds of other feeds. This is great news for limiting calories but really doesn’t do any balancing.
“Balanced” can have different meanings. For us it means a diet with a wide variety of foods in the correct amount for each food group. This really does not apply to domesticated horses where achieving the variety as present in a feral horse’s diet is virtually impossible.
Balanced in animal diets means adequate levels of amino acids, vitamins and minerals present in the correct ratios. “Balanced” here refers to correct ratios. It’s not enough to guarantee the minimum requirement for individual nutrients because many also compete with each other for absorption. For example, calcium may be present in the correct amount but if phosphorus is excessive it will not be correctly absorbed. Many minerals interact in this way. So do amino acids.
The most accurate way to truly balance your horse’s diet is to make sure your grain is correctly balanced and get a hay or pasture analysis to identify issues there. You can then add only individual items you need or have a custom mix made for you. If you’re lucky, you may even find a commercial supplement that has specifically what you need.
The odds of a one size fits all balancer being able to do this are pretty slim. All have high levels of iron which is already present in high levels in hays. All add manganese at levels too high for most hays. The balancer therefore makes these problems worse. You can’t really be sure you are getting the correct level of other nutrients either because levels in hays, even the same type of hay, vary tremendously.
When hay analysis just isn’t possible because the hay changes too often, a reasonable second choice is to work from regional hay analysis figures. Either way, you will get a truly balanced picture and see superior results.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD