Horses have a very well
defined appetite for sodium chloride only surpassed by the need for water.
Because the majority of plants do not provide sufficient sodium for the
horses needs and may lack adequate chloride, salt supplementation is a
vital part of any animal’s nutritional requirement. Since
horses have a definite appetite for salt it is possible to use this as a
means of supplying other less palatable nutrients. This natural
appetite for salt means that other minerals can be introduced to the diet
in the form “self feeding” mineralised salt licks. The lick
sates the animals craving for salt and also provides them with the other
essential trace element that are required for survival.
Trace minerals are now
universally recognised as being essential in the horses diet. There
are seven trace elements that have shown to be needed to be supplemented.
These elements are, Copper, Cobalt, Zinc, Iodine, Iron, Manganese and
selenium. These additives are only required in very small amounts,
measured in parts per million, thus the name “trace minerals or trace
Deficiencies in trace
minerals do in fact occur more frequently than is usually recognised by
the majority of horse owners. This sub-clinical deficiency is far
more wide spread than acute deficiencies. Sub-clinical deficiency
can lead to under performance by the horse, for example, reduced growth
rates, loss of feed efficiency and a depressed immune system. This
can then result in inefficient performance. There is, therefore, an
important role for mineral and trace element supplementation to help to
maximise equine health.
Along with the hidden
performance losses discussed, animals short of salt and essential elements
can show ‘pica’ or depraved appetite symptoms. These deficiency
indicators can include licking wood and stones, eating soil or bark.
Horses constantly searching the hedge rows in good grass pasture can often
be telling the owners that there is a mineral deficiency in its diet.
There is increasing
evidence to show that many minerals and trace mineral nutrients are needed
at higher levels to improve the horse’s immune system to enable them to
cope with infections. Sodium, chloride, zinc, copper, selenium, and
magnesium have already been shown to be helpful in this regard.
Horse owners can obtain
animal feed grade salt with or without minerals and trace elements.
Salt can be provided for horses in various ways. It can be supplied
in a loose form or in the pressed salt block form. Loose salt form
is generally used for mixing directly into compound feeds.
Alternatively, mineralised salt licks enable the owner to supply salt
whilst horses are out at grass in a form that will weather. Equally,
they can be fed to stabled horses where they are a potential ‘toy’ as
well as a nutrient source.
Because salt is
self-limiting, it’s inclusion in compound feeds means that horses
already well supplemented will take less of the free choice salt, while
other horses on a more basic ration will take more salt and so receive the
essential minerals and trace elements for their daily needs.
Mineralised salt blocks
can be obtained from most agricultural merchants and saddleries and are a
valuable insurance against salt and trace mineral deficiencies. The
horse won’t take them if they do not need them, so you cannot overfeed.