Feed balancers are becoming increasingly common horse feeds. These products are simply a concentrated compound feed with all the vitamins and mineral required to balance forage packaged into a daily feed rate of around 500 g. Most are pelleted, but not all.
The term feed balancer is not a particularly useful definition because there are other types of product that balance the diet, most obviously, multi-vitamin and mineral supplements. Like multi-vitamin and mineral supplements, they are formulated as forage balancers, making up for the inevitable shortages of essential nutrients for horses in grass, hay, haylage and other forages.
Even the best-kept pasture grass is short of essential minerals for horses.
In addition to essential vitamins and minerals, balancers supply good quality protein and a variety of other ingredients from probiotics to herbs, to glucosamine for joints or biotin for hooves. Compounds like coarse mixes and nuts (cubes/pencils) tend to supply the same package of vitamins and minerals in around 3 kg, which can supply too much energy (calories) to many horses and ponies.
The main difference between a typical balancer and a typical vitamin and mineral supplement is the good quality protein in the balancer. If there is a question on the protein supply or quality in the diet, then a balancer is more useful than a vitamin and mineral supplement. For most adult horses and ponies (resting or in light to moderate work) fed moderate or good quality hay or pasture for at least a few hours daily, protein requirements will be satisfied and a vitamin and mineral supplement would be a better choice if they are maintaining weight and don’t need extra calories.
If your horse is being fed hay that is soaked for 10 hours or more, or straw as half or more of their forage ration, then a balancer is a better choice than a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement because their protein intake may be too low.
Calculate the extra ingredients in a balancer before being impressed by the label claim. Does it supply enough of an active addition such as biotin to be effective? You may have to calculate the amount supplied to your horse daily because it may be declared per kilo or product (not per daily serving).
Balancers can be palatable fed alone, whereas most vitamin and mineral products are powders that need to be mixed with a little feed to ensure palatability (although some are pelleted). Any palatable feed will do to mix a vitamin and mineral supplement into because only a handful needs to be fed. Chaff, sugar beet, coarse mix and straight grain are all useful to mix powdered supplements into.
All horses and ponies who do not require the full recommended amount of compound feed should be fed supplementary vitamins and minerals. Whether you choose a balancer or a vitamin and mineral supplement is up to you, but take into account the extra protein, calories and other ingredients the balancer supplies and the cost per day to help you make your choice.