My 35-year-old Arabian gelding weighs about 750 lb (340 kg) and is moderately thin, so he needs to gain some weight. He is fed free-choice grass hay, as well as one gallon twice per day of this mixture: one part soaked beet pulp, one part senior pellets, and one part alfalfa pellets. Can I add 2 cups of canola oil daily to this? Can I purchase it from the grocery store?
Adding vegetable oil, such as canola oil, is a useful way to boost the caloric density of your horse’s diet without significantly increasing his feed intake. Another fat source to consider is stabilized rice bran, a high-fat supplement that is often pelleted. Some horse owners find it easier (read: less messy) to provide a pelleted source of calories compared to top-dressing large amounts of oil. Stabilized rice bran or other similar high-fat ingredients like flax are advantageous as they provide other nutrients such as protein and digestible fiber in addition to fat that can help support your horse’s health and condition.
When adding a high-fat ingredient to your horse’s diet, it is important to gradually introduce it, slowly building up to 2 cups per day. This allows time for the digestive tract to adapt to the increase in dietary fat levels and reduces the risk of digestive upset. Another consideration for diets with added fat, like vegetable oil, is an increased need for vitamin E due to the potential upsurge in fatty acid oxidation. Commercially prepared high-fat feeds often take this into consideration and include greater amounts of antioxidants.
Generally, it is suggested that 1-1.5 IUs of vitamin E be added for every ml of fat. If feeding 2 cups of oil (480 ml) then 480 to 720 IUs of vitamin E should be added. Supplemental vitamin E is helpful for older horses, offering additional benefits for boosting immunity and overall health. Kentucky Equine Research (KER) offers two vitamin E products, Nano•E and Preserve PS (look for Preserve in Australia).
Make sure the amount of senior feed offered is in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure your gelding is receiving all of the vitamins and minerals required for optimal nutrition. From your question, it seems you’re feeding about two-thirds of a gallon of senior feed per day, which is likely less than the manufacturer suggests. If you’re not feeding the minimal amount, look into feeding a ration balancer or a vitamin and mineral supplement like Micro-Max (Gold Pellet in Australia).
Another way to encourage weight gain would be to offer a third meal containing the senior feed in addition to a high-fat supplement such as stabilized rice bran or vegetable oil, or a combination of both.
Finally, canola oil purchased at the grocery will work fine, though you might check with your local feed store to determine if you can order oil in bulk, thus making it potentially less expensive.
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