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Plan Well When Making Feed Changes


By Jeanne van der Veen, MAS, PAS


There are many reasons to consider making a change in an animals’ diet. Looking to attain improvements in performance, appearance, health, behavior and costs are certainly good reasons. Other reasons may be for experimental purposes or just for the sake of changing. In any event, a person always has good intentions for changing feeds. However, many times when making a feed change, they become terribly disappointed and move to return back to the original feed.

Making a feed change should not turn into a nightmare. Most problems occur because of poor planning. Following some basic guidelines and common sense will help prevent problems.

 Clearly Define the Expectations

What is expected from the change? This must be asked over and over. Are the expectations reasonable? Changing the concentrate given to a horse will not create the next winner at the Kentucky Derby. A change in dog foods alone will not produce a Westminster champion. Keep in mind that three things will happen after making a change. Either something positive will happen, something negative will happen or nothing will change. If you’re expecting a good thing to happen from the change, for example an improvement in hair coat appearance, then ‘no change’ is unacceptable, especially if the change increased feed costs. On the other hand, a person making a feed change in order to reduce cost would be thrilled to see no changes.

 Make the Change Gradually

Animals need time to adapt to new foods, both mentally and physically. For example, horses are creatures of habit and may not take to a feed change readily. It also takes time for the digestive system to adapt to changes in dietary ingredients. Many times a change in the food often ends up in a disaster due to changing the feed too quickly. The magnitude of difference between the two foods, individual digestive sensitivities and individual eating behaviors will all determine the time needed to make the change with no adverse effects. The enzyme profile within the gut of the horse may only need a minor adjustment by changing from a feed that is 12% protein to a similar one that is 14%. On the other hand, more time may be needed for adjusting from s coarse texture feed that is comprised of molasses and beet pulp to a pellet that is based in corn and soybean meal. Likewise, a dog consuming a food low in protein and fat and high in corn may need more time to adjust to a food that is high in protein and fat with no corn than one of similar composition. Animals with a history of digestive upsets will also require a more gradual time to make a feed change. On average, feed changes should be made over a minimum of 10 days. Be sure to have enough of the current feed on hand to be able to blend with the new feed for the entire time it takes to make the change over.

 Be Patient

Sometimes the expectations resulting from a change in foods occurs quickly. Changes in palatability and behavior are observed fairly quickly. However, it takes at least a month for the digestive system of a horse to adapt to an 8% fat diet from one that is 3%; and it may take 2-3 months before a performance improvement is observed from the higher fat diet. Hair coat and hoof condition takes even longer. Patience is a virtue, especially when dealing with animals.

 One Thing at a Time

Many times people will decide to change many things simultaneously. In addition to changing the food, changes may also be made in training, shelter, meal schedule and health program. It becomes difficult to properly assess a situation when many things get changed in addition to the food. Also, consider the weather or seasonal conditions. Changing weather conditions can affect food consumption that ultimately may bias an opinion if a change in food was made during this time.

 Don’t Rely on Advice from Unreliable Sources

Information about feeding animals is abundant. However, the reliability of all this information is questionable. Don’t rely solely on something read from the internet or a magazine. What may work for one person’s animals may not be proper for another situation. Even opinions and advice from nutritionists and veterinarians can have biases. Gather as much information as possible from different sources. Filter out the unreliable or questionable material and form an opinion with information from sources that has the reputation for being reliable.

 In summary:

·      Understand why you are changing the food.

·      Gradually allow the animal to adapt to the new food.

·      Be patient.

·      Do not change anything else in order to assess the effects of a food change.

·      Gather information only from reliable sources.

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