Ration balancers seem to be all the buzz on equine bulletin boards these days — almost everyone is feeding one or asking about feeding one. So what are they? A ration balancer is a lot like a multi-vitamin supplement for your horse that is fed to balance the nutritional content of your horse’s total ration (the hay, grain, pasture that your horse gets on a daily basis). It differs from a multi-vitamin in the amount of protein that it adds to your horse’s diet and the amount you feed: rather than giving your horse just a few ounces, you generally feed 1-2 pounds of a ration balancer.
Most “complete feeds” are fortified with all the vitamins and minerals that your horse needs, so if you are feeding at least the minimum recommended amount, your horse is covered. However, lots of people don’t feed that much fortified grain, often because it provides too many calories. I know lots of folks who feed a cup of this, or half a coffee can of that. It’s hard to say why they do this because there isn’t enough nutrition in a few ounces of complete feeds to come close to meeting their horse’s nutritional needs, especially as most of the hay that we get here in the Northeast is deficient in selenium.
I started feeding a ration balancer about four years ago after consulting with a nutritionist. My Trakehner is a very easy keeper — like me, he doesn’t have any problem keeping weight on, but was a bit lacking in the endurance department. I was feeding him the minimum daily requirement of Purina Strategy but felt that even with conditioning, he didn’t have the staying power during fox hunts. I added a pound/day of Purina’s Born to Win ration balancer (now called Enrich 32) and definitely noticed an improvement! After a couple of years I migrated him off the complete grain and added an additional half pound of the balancer.
Ration balancers are available with a range of protein levels. Which you feed depends on the quality and protein level in your forage. Don’t be scared off by the fact that the levels may look ridiculously high: remember that you are feeding only a small amount of a 32% protein ration balancer, whereas you typically must feed several pounds of a 12% or 14% pellet to deliver the same nutritional punch. For example, if you are feeding hay (or pellets) with a 10% protein content, you would need to feed 15 pounds for your horse to get 1.5 pounds of protein per day.
I feed the Enrich 32 because my hay is not always that nutritious; I tried feeding Enrich 12 (which used to be called Mare ‘n Maintenance) but found that my horse’s hoof growth and quality suffered. A 50 pound bag of Enrich 32 costs $25, which is pretty economical.
Does feeding a ration balancer completely eliminate the need for other vitamin/mineral supplements? It depends on the quality of your hay or whether you are still feeding some fortified feed. The best way to build a completely balanced diet for your horse is to start by analyzing your hay, supplement to correct vitamin and mineral deficiencies, ensure that your horse has an overall protein intake of about 10% -12% and then add calories to maintain weight if necessary. For those of us who have limited storage capacity and a changing supply of hay, that’s impractical. Part of what I learned from my horse’s hoof problems is that he still needs some vitamin/mineral supplementation, about half of the recommended dose. Your mileage may vary depending on what else you feed.
Ration balancers are available from most of the major feed manufacturers. I found a handy chart on the Internet that compares many of them by ingredient. Keep in mind that this chart is not all inclusive, and that the Purina product is now called Enrich 32.