Assigning beef cattle body condition scores has been a common practice among producers for years to evaluate nutritional needs, but not so much for horse owners.
In fact, such a system did not exist until a group of researchers with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M University department of animal science recently developed the framework.
“When I was doing my undergraduate work at Oklahoma State University, we had a program called the Cowculator and I thought ‘why don’t we have this for horses?’,” said Dr Clay Cavinder, associate professor of equine science at Texas A&M and AgriLife Research scientist, who has spent the last few years researching such a system.
Cavinder, along with Dr Dennis Sigler and Dr Luis Tedeschi, both Texas A&M faculty members, have teamed to create a modeling program to help horse owners get recommended diets for their horses.
“We took about 11 months of data that was collected using broodmare measurements during my doctoral studies,” Cavinder said. “Dr Tedeschi took that information and began creating a modeling program.”
The model then was tested in a feeding trial using 20 early gestating mares, which were split into groups, Cavinder said.
“During the evaluation, the 20 mares were fed to either lose or gain body condition scores as the model told us how to feed them in order to make these BCS changes,” he said. “This was in about a 30-day period where we evaluated weight, rump fat, thickness and desired body condition.”
Cavinder said the program will provide the horse owner the projected outcome with regards to recommended feeding rates to successfully and accurately alter body condition score. However, the modeling program still needs fine tuning that will involve the work of a doctoral student in the animal science department this summer.
“We still need to make this more user friendly, though in is current state it is functional,” Cavinder said. “Our goal this summer is to make it marketable to the public on the Web and broaden the base of the program for more horses, such as performance horses.”
Cavinder said it is difficult to correctly measure the amount of feed required to add or subtract to accurately alter body condition score in horses.
“It is difficult, as there are so many factors such as genetics, age, performance, etc.,” Cavinder said. “We are at least making an attempt here to develop something that will help horse owners make these important nutritional decisions.”
The continuation of this project is funded by the Link Endowed Research Fund.