If you are new to ponies you may want to know how to feed them. Ask 10 different people how they feed their ponies and you will get 10 totally different answers.
Ponies are herbaceous foragers. They will stay fat and round on forage that will starve a full size horse. Many pony breeds developed in adverse, harsh conditions that their bodies adapted to and survived. They will stay happy on good quality pasture forage in most cases.
So, what does this mean to the current pony owner?
If your pony has no access to wild graze, he needs to be fed. It used to be that a pony was fed only two times a day – and it included hay (cured grasses) and concentrate – some form of cereal grains. If the pony was in heavy work or production (raising/nursing foals), they would get more grain plus supplements. The concentrates and any supplements would boost their performance. It is now known that ponies (all equine, really) need access to constant forage to buffer the acids their stomachs produce.
So feeding –
Water – access 24 hours
Often, ponies are offered both lush pasture and too much supplemental feeds and that is a problem. Over feeding or feeding lush grass/hay and concentrates can lead to being overweight or cause ulcers, colic, laminitis and/or founder.
The best way to start feeding your new pony is to find out from previous owner what they fed, when they fed it and how much they fed and start your pony on that same feeding program. A lot of sellers will give you enough hay/feed (or let you purchase it from them) to get you started and to allow you to switch your pony to your feed IF you are going to be doing something different.
If you know you will be feeding feed/supplements – go to your local feed store and see what feeds they have that are comparable to the one your pony is currently getting. Start by splitting the feed by ¼ (3/4 of the current feed to ¼ of the new feed) and feed that for a few days. Then increase new feed by another ¼ and reduce the old feed by ¼ (so ½ & ½). Then increase so that the new feed is 3/4 & old feed is 1/4. Finally, increase the new feed to the same amount of the old feed and totally stop feeding the old feed. I’ve found that it works best if you can take up to 2 weeks to do this change in feeds – especially since your new pony is getting used to your routine and his new home. If you find that your pony needs a change (less or more feed), you can adjust up and down from there.
You can also do this the same way with hay. For pasture – if your pasture is lush (especially in the spring or fall – both major weather changes and growing times) or the pony hasn’t been out on pasture recently, it is best to start with just minutes at a time and gradually build up until the pony is used to being out on grass. This can take anywhere from one week to 3 months – depending on the time of year and how your pony appears to adjust to the new pasture. You can stall or “dry lot” a pony in between grass turn out. You can also use a grazing muzzle – there are a variety made now for ponies.
Here at LP Painted Ponys, in 2017, we are starting our 3rd year on this property in Cameron, NC. We have a sand base. The grass is a low quality, scrub type grass and not a very dense/thick stand.
The low quality grass cover that was in the pasture, was pretty much wiped out between the ponies being allowed to heavily graze the area(s) and Hurricane Matthew (October 2016) doing quite a lot of erosion.
Right now, they get hay fed in round bales from a local supplier that delivers for us. The hay is a coastal bermuda that does not get treated with herbicide and can sometimes be weedy. The weed types may vary from area to area and field to field as well as the time of year it was cut/cured/baled. The hay bales are dropped in the pastures approximately every 3-4 weeks throughout the year and the ponies are allowed to eat as they see fit.
From 2010 through now, we’ve fed an extruded concentrate made by Nutrena called Safe Choice (original). It is pelleted. In the past, we fed it wet but currently we are feeding it dry. The amounts vary somewhat from pony to pony, though we find that we usually feed about 2 pounds/pony/day. The foals are currently fed almost free choice (an amount is put into various feeders around their pen – more is added at each feeding – if they finish it all, the amount is increased, if not, it’s decreased at the next feeding. These amounts can sometimes change every few days – depending on their growth rates.
We add alfalfa pellets to that – as I feel that some our ponies benefit from the alfalfa pellets. 3rd trimester pregnant mares are also given the supplement called Mare Plus through the birth of their foals up until the foal is weaned.
We are starting a group of ponies on straight field oats. Yes, there may be some waste in the paddock/pasture(s), but that’s ok. Where oat seeds fall, they may sprout! As I understand it, as the pony’s become acclimated to the oats, their bodies will pull out the nutrition they need from them and then pass the hull. As we change feeding practices, we will explore various vitamin/mineral supplements for their needs.
We are working on amending the sand with a variety of substances (but not sprayed on nitrogen) and rotation practices w/ the ponies, chickens & (in the future) goats & pigs. In the meantime, we will be fencing the ponies out of some areas and planting various spring and winter grasses that will come up (pearl millet, clover/coastal bermuda pasture mix, oats & winter rye). We will be planting other tuber type veggies that will feed equine (as well as the chickens) and trying them out – Jerusalem artichokes and Egyptian beets. It won’t be overnight – we can’t afford to do it all at once AND mother nature doesn’t do this overnight either. We’ll see how it goes.