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The ‘token bucket’ is an interesting and common practice for many horse owners; it relates to offering a restricted amount of feed in a bucket. As an independent equine nutritionist, I often hear owners describe it as “just a sprinkling of a feed mix or cubes, a handful of chaff, a splash of a mash, and even just a bit of carrot or apple”. The ‘token bucket’ is especially common among those owners managing horses and ponies who seem able to thrive on the sparsest of fields or with minimal hay/haylage. These horses and ponies could be described as ‘Good-doers’, in that they can maintain sufficient body condition on apparently little feed. In many cases, this ‘good-doer’ nature can even result in horses and ponies becoming overweight or obese from the energy (calories) they consume from their forage (grass/hay/haylage), even without the provision of any bucket feeds. 
 
 
It is estimated that at least half of the horses and ponies in the UK are overweight or obese, which negatively affects their health, wellbeing, and ability to exercise, it also increases their risk of disease and injury. Any overweight horse, or even many that could be described as a ‘good-doer’ does not require extra food in the form of a bucket feed to provide more energy (calories). Despite this, providing a ‘token bucket feed’ is still commonplace for many such horses and ponies. During conversations with owners regarding the reason for their horse's token bucket feed I have frequently heard;
 
  • “It's just so that they think they are not getting left out”
  • “So they think they are getting the same as everyone else”
  • “It’s like a reward”
  • “It’s the yard's normal routine”
  • “They’ve always had a bucket feed and I’d feel mean stopping it”
  • “I like showing I love them with a feed”
 
Many of the reasons for providing a token bucket to a horse or pony relate to the horse-owner relationship. For many owners, the act of providing a bucket feed is an important part of competent and caring ownership, and it allows them to actively demonstrate how important their horse or pony is to them. Simply dismissing an owner's desire to provide a bucket feed could result in feelings of conflict and confusion as to how best to care for their horse or pony. Alternatively, with a few changes the bucket feed can provide an opportunity to improve a horse's overall diet, while still limiting the energy or calories provided. 
 
In fact, a diet of just forage will result in the intake of certain vitamins and minerals being below the levels required for overall health and a balanced ration. The challenge with a good-doer is ensuring a bucket feed provides the nutrients missing from the forage, without excessively topping up the energy consumed. A token bucket of a mix or cube, and even a fortified chaff or mash, will be insufficient at such a low feeding rate to achieve the required levels. However, increasing the amounts to the recommended feeding rates could likely result in excessive weight gain. Luckily, several alternative approaches can achieve the provision of vitamins and minerals, and energy restriction.
 
 

Alternatives to the ‘token bucket’ 

 
  1. Replace the ‘token’ feed with a vitamin and mineral supplement, which is ideal if no extra calories are required. These are often fed between 30-100g/day and can be found in powders and pellets. They can be mixed with a suitable low-energy chaff or mash. 
  2. Replace the ‘token’ feed with a balancer. This is more suitable if a little more energy or protein is required. These are often a pellet, fed at 100g/100kg body weight per day and again can be mixed with a suitable low-energy chaff or mash. 
  3. Replace the ‘token’ feed with a fortified chaff. These chaffs have been formulated to provide the required vitamins and minerals levels.  These tend to have higher feeding rates (up to 10kg/day) and are used as a full or partial forage replacer when grass/hay/haylage is restricted or removed entirely from the diet.
 
These 3 options provide sources of vitamins and minerals that would be missing from forage-only diets, and enable owners to continue to provide bucket feed. A bucket feed that has been designed to ensure their horse or pony's diet has all the vitamins and minerals required rather than being just a ‘token’. 
 
 
As always it is important to monitor for changes in body condition, behaviour or signs of ill health, and to contact your vet with any concerns. If you are in doubt as to the suitability of your horse's diet, you can again speak with your vet or seek help from a qualified equine nutritionist. To speak to me regarding your horse's health diet, please visit equinutrition.co.uk
 

Jennifer Little BSc Hons MSc RNutr PgCert - Equinutrition
Independent Equine Nutritionist
Published on 03-06-2024
Jennifer Little is a fully registered equine nutritionist, who has been working independently from feed companies since founding Equinutrition in 2021. Jennifer has worked in animal and equine nutrition in the UK and the USA for over 10 years. She is a member of the Association for Nutrition and the Society of Nutrition, also Equinutrition is an associate business with the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA). Alongside her work, Jennifer is currently completing a PhD investigating equine obesity and methods to support owners. She strives to use her training, qualifications and experience to provide evidence-based advice without agenda for horse owners at all levels and disciplines.