Is a Salt Block Enough
 By Winniefield Park   •   13th Nov 2013   •   2,788 views   •   0 comments
Is a Salt Block EnoughIn most stalls and pastures, you'll probably find a salt block or a box or loose salt that horses can help themselves to. It's generally been thought that a horse will self-serve if they require more salt than their diet of hay, grass and possibly concentrates provides. But, in a recent study done by Purina, it was found that natural forages, hays and most concentrates did not actually supply the National Research Council recommended daily requirement, and some horses don't like salt blocks or loose salt. That means a lot of horses aren't getting the salt their bodies need.

In the human diet, salt gets bad press because those of us eating a standard North American diet are probably getting far too much of it. However, salt is very important to us, and to horses because its two components sodium and chloride, are essential for the body to function properly. Sodium is an important electrolyte that basically helps the body maintain proper fluid balances. Chloride has a somewhat similar role and is important for the body's production of digestive fluids. Iodine, which is often added is important for proper thyroid function. Horses may not be getting enough just from their pasture, even if they have access to a salt lick. Long term salt deficiency can mean the body will have trouble retaining water, causing weight loss.

The NRC recommends that “horse rations contain 1.6–1.8 g salt/kg feed dry matter.” So as a general rule, your horse should be getting about two teaspoons of salt a day. The actual amount of sodium and chloride in natural forages can vary greatly, depending upon the soil it grows in. And, the actual requirements of an individual horse varies. Horses that are working hard, or are sweating in hot weather will need more salt than pasture potatoes enjoying the shade.

Most of us have a salt block in our pasture or horse's stall But, that doesn't mean our horses are getting the right amount of salt. Some blocks are laced with molasses, so they taste good. Greedy eaters (I've seen rescue horses do this—whether from an imbalance or desire to eat anything edible) will devour these in no time. Too much salt can of course make the horse thirsty, leading to excessive urination and possibly diarrhea. Other horses dislike the bitter flavor of salt and will barely touch a block or a pail of loose salt. Some horses find licking salt irritating to their tongues. And, blocks made for cattle or sheep aren't suitable for horses at all.

So what's the best way to get salt to your horse in the proper amounts? If you put a block out, buy a plain white salt block, with no minerals or flavors. A five-pound block should be eaten up in about eight weeks. Don't let it get rained on, as this will wear it away faster. Keep the block clean and watch that your horse is actually using it. Add plain table salt to your horse's diet if the block isn't used. Coarse texture plain salt is fine, as you don't want more iodine in your horse's diet if it's already getting a commercial grain concentrate. Horses being lightly ridden will need about two teaspoons a day, while horses that are working hard may need up to double that amount. And, very importantly, keep clean fresh water available at all times.

Image Credit: © Aleksandr Frolov |
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