How to Recognize a Ration Balancer

I feed all my horses ration balancers, including the gelding below. However, talking to people who ask what I feed, I find the biggest problem in feeding one is learning how to recognize a ration balancer on a store shelf.

Gelding that eats ration balancer.

The main reason it is so difficult to recognize a ration balancer is because each company calls them something different. Common names you may find them under include:

  • Diet Balancer
  • Ration Balancer
  • Supplement

However, there are a few things you can look for to recognize a ration balancer, and I'll discuss them shortly.

After reading this page, you will be able to evaluate any feed on the feed store shelf and determine if it is a ration balancer or not.

1. "High" Protein Level

Ration balancers have "high" protein levels. The grass formulas will have somewhere around 30% protein, and the alfalfa formulas will have somewhere around 10-12%.

I should note though, that ration balancers are NOT a high-protein feed. Because you feed very little of them (usually around 1-2 pounds), they provide the same or less protein than most other feeds on the market.

However, them providing less protein is not an issue, because the protein they provide is very high quality with large amounts of amino acids.

2. Fed in Very Small Amounts

Ration Balancers are very nutrient dense. Therefore, they will always be fed in very small amounts. Over 95% of horses will need somewhere between 1-2 pounds.

The easiest way to quickly recognize a ration balancer is to look at the feeding recommendations...

...though there are other feeds that are fed in low amounts, so make sure the feed also meets the other criteria for a ration balancer.

The highest amount I have ever seen on a ration balancer feeding chart is 5 pounds per day...

...and that was for a 2-year-old horse in intense training that weighs 1900 pounds and is expected to mature to an adult weight of 2000 pounds!

I don't know about you, but I don't know many horses that fall into that category.

The table below shows the typical daily feeding rates for horses that will mature in the 600-1100 pound range.

The exact place they fall in the feeding range depends on a number of factors, including their exact age, their current weight, and the exact ration balancer you choose.

As always, make sure you read the label for the product you choose to get exact feeding directions.

Horse Age Work Level Feeding Level
4-6 months n/a 2.0-2.5
6-12 months n/a 2.5-3.0
12-18 months n/a 2.0-2.5
18-24 months Idle 1.5-2.0
2-3 years Idle 1.0-1.5
2 years Light Training 1.5-2.0
. Moderate Training 2.0-2.5
. Intense Training 2.5-3.0
Mature Idle 0.5-1.0
. Light Work 1.0-1.5
. Moderate Training 1.5-2.0
. Intense Training 2.0-2.5
. Breeding Stock 1.0-2.0
. Nursing Mares 2.5-4.0

Notice that horses that have high nutrient requirements (as opposed to high calorie requirements) are the horses that have the higher feeding levels. Ration balancers are not meant to provide large amounts of calories. Instead, they are meant to provide a high level of nutrition.

Therefore, horses that need large amounts of calories may need supplemental calories. My personal preferences are beet pulp, alfalfa (cubes, pellets, or hay), rice bran, or oats to supplement calories. I very rarely have to supplement calories though...

Many people find that once their "hard-keepers" have a high level of nutrition that they are no longer hard keepers and thrive on a much lower calorie level than they ever thought possible.

It is often lacking nutrition that causes a horse to be a hard keeper, and not lacking calories like many people assume.

3. Very Little or No Grain Content

Lack of grains is probably the second easiest way to recognize a ration balancer. Most ration balancers are going to contain very little grain, if any at all. There is one company I know of that does currently include corn in their ration balancers, though it appears they may be changing that.

Instead, the typical ingredients that are in a ration balancer are going to be:

  • Wheat Middlings
  • Soy Hulls
  • Dehydrated Alfalfa Meal
  • Rice Bran

Don't be fooled by things like distiller's dried grains -- these are grains that are used in the distilling industry. The distilling industry needs the sugar and starch from these grains, so they remove that.

What is left is all the nutrients and the fiber and protein...

...basically the "good" stuff for horse nutrition. So your horse gets all the "good" stuff, without the "bad" stuff, which is definitely a win-win situation.

4. Added Amino Acids

The last criteria to recognize a ration balancer is to look for added amino acids, as ration balancers have high levels of amino acids.

Since amino acids are fairly low in most feedstuffs, they usually have to be added synthetically. This is not a problem, as the synthetic version of the amino acids are used just as well by the body as the naturally-occurring versions.

What you want to look for in the ingredient list is lysine and methionine. These will sometimes be listed as something like L-lysine, which is the same thing for our purposes.

At the very minimum ration balancers have lysine included. They should also have methionine, and bonus points if it also has threonine included!

Even better than seeing these in the ingredient list is seeing them in the guaranteed analysis...that way you know they are going to be included at a pretty good level, and that every bag has at least the same minimum amount.

Learning how to recognize a ration balancer can be very tricky at first. However, once you learn what you are looking for, you'll be able to walk into any feed store and quickly glance at the ingredients, guaranteed analysis, and feeding directions and be able to recognize a ration balancer from a non-ration balancer product.

If the feed meets the following 4 criteria, there is a very good chance it is a ration balancer. There is one feed I've come across that meets these criteria but is not technically a ration balancer because it has whey in it. The whey makes it have a higher level of sugar and starch than most ration balancers, but the level would not be an issue for most horses.

The 4 criteria to look for are:

  1. "High" Protein Level
  2. Fed in Very Small Amounts
  3. Little or No Grain Content
  4. Added Amino Acids

Now that you know how to recognize a ration balancer, you'll be better able to find one at your feed store.

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