Iron Levels in Vermont Hay

You've probably heard recent talk regarding iron overload and the effects on horses.  

But does this concern you and your horse?

I thought I would touch on how this affects us Vermonters.

Over the past 15 years I have sampled a lot of hay!  I compiled all these analysis to get an average of the mineral content in local hay.  Your average 1,000 lb horse at maintenance needs around 40ppm's of iron to meet their daily requirement.  Our hay provides 3x as much!

You can see exactly where VT stands for iron levels.

How do we compared to the rest of the United States?

Here is a close up of New England:

I thought it might be fun to look at a comparison.  We all know that VT is deficient in Selenium.  Lets see what New England Selenium levels look like:

So yes, we have plenty of iron!!  But what are the side effects of this? 

There are a multitude of side effects from iron overload.  From small subtle things like a fading coat in the summer, to a compromised immune system and insulin resistance. Here is a list of just some of its effects:

  • Competes with copper for absorption, leading to copper deficiency
  • Increased inflammation
  • Sun bleached coat
  • Red tips on mane and tails
  • Decreased immune response
  • Dull and itchy coat
  • Thrush / white line
  • Sensitive hooves
  • Scruffy / flakey skin
  • Increased allergies
  • Abscesses
  • Cracked hoof wall
  • Predisposition to infection and arthritis
  • Tendon / ligament problems
  • Alters glucose metabolism

Unlike other minerals, horses have no way to excrete excess, it is stored in their liver and spleen.

 A recently a study was conducted that linked iron overload and insulin resistance. A follow up study that stemmed from this, showed that for horses on a balanced diet, (proper amounts and ratios of iron, copper, zinc and manganese) iron had less effect on insulin levels. I'm sure in the near future more studies will be conducted on the link between iron and insulin resistance.

What can you do?

  1. Balance your horse's diet by increasing the trace minerals to be the proper ratio to your iron levels. If you have a steady supply of the same hay, have it tested and your horse's diet balanced to the iron levels.  If you get hay from a variety of sources, you can use the average levels for Vermont hay.
  2. Check ingredient lists.  Companies are not required to list iron amounts.  If you don't see it on the guaranteed analysis, that doesnt mean its not in the bag.  Check the ingredients for "Ferrous".
  3. Only use plain white salt blocks or loose white salt.  Avoid mineral blocks or loose minerals, they contain high levels of iron.  An easy way to tell if there is iron is to look at the color, if it is red or pink, there is iron.  Yes, this included Himalayan licks.