Hay and horse in the background

Q&A: Grass and Legume Hays

Question: Can you touch base about grass and legume type hays, what each grass/legume benefits the horse’s overall health. Is a certain mixture better (or preferred) for certain horses; pasture pet, light work, moderate-heavy work, hard keeper, easy keeper, etc.

Example: benefits of having mixtures – pros to having certain types within the mix such as Birdsfoot Tree foil, orchard grass, climax timothy, Kentucky blue grass, spring green felstulolium, brome.

Watch the video below with FeedXL founder Dr Nerida Richards and SmartPak’s Dr Lydia Gray for the answer!

 

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Hay for horses on a wagon in a field

Q&A: Alfalfa and the Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio

Question: When feeding a lot of alfalfa, what is the best way to keep a horse’s Calcium to Phosphorus ratio where it should be?

Watch the video below with FeedXL founder Dr Nerida Richards and SmartPak’s Dr Lydia Gray for the answer!

 

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Is Forage All a Horse Needs?

Pasture or hay is all a horse needs! Or is it?

This is something I often hear… and 99% of the time it is WRONG!

Forages are (almost) always too low in trace minerals to meet a horse’s requirements and leaving them unsupplemented on forage only diets usually results in problems with their hooves, joints, immune system, muscles … everything really!

They may look OK, but there is usually a bunch of stuff going on inside that you can’t see until a deficiency is quite pronounced.

BUT, there are always exceptions to the rule and I have just seen one. As a consulting nutritionist I end up looking at lots (numbering now 1000+) of forage analyses and I have just looked at a pasture from New Zealand that is able to meet all trace mineral requirements without any additional supplementation.

Even for selenium, which is something we don’t expect in New Zealand!

Sodium is a bit low (nothing unusual there) and iodine was not tested, but the fact is it is actually a pasture that horses would do OK on without extra supplementation. Just need a bit of iodised salt!

The horses on this pasture were being fed a selenium-containing balancer pellet and recently tested with blood selenium levels just in the high range (nothing scary, just high). It had us a bit baffled but looking now at the pasture results it makes sense.

The lesson in this, forage analysis is a wonderful tool when assessing your horse’s diet and FeedXL makes it so super easy to really see what forage is providing and what you need to add, which in this case is very little.

If you’d like to have your forage tested, we love to recommend Equi-Analytical.

Not yet a FeedXL member? Click here to get started!

 

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Setaria Grass and Bighead: What You Need to Know

Setaria should really be classified as toxic for horses. It is a subtropical pasture with such high levels of oxalate that it makes it almost impossible to prevent Secondary Nutritional Hyperparathyroidism (Bighead disease) in horses grazing this grass.

Grasses like kikuyu and buffel grass readily cause bighead disease with an oxalate content of around 15 g/kg. Setaria contains anywhere between 30 and 80 grams of oxalate per kg of (90% dry matter) pasture… which translates to HUGE amounts of calcium being needed to balance the calcium to oxalate ratio to prevent bighead.

I have seen horses go from normal to severely affected in a matter of months on setaria. So if you have setaria in your pasture you need to be very aware of what you are feeding and how well this is meeting calcium (as well as phosphorus and magnesium) requirements.

FeedXL will help you in calculating the calcium to oxalate, calcium to phosphorus and calcium to magnesium ratios to keep your horse healthy. BUT, the first step is identifying that you have this grass in the first place so you know you need to be on your game with managing nutrition!

I took the following photos of setaria on the NSW mid-north coast… setaria was everywhere! Please take a look at the photos and then in your paddocks to see if you have setaria. And if you do, please do something sooner than later to prevent severe and often life-threatening calcium deficiency.

There is more information on Bighead here too if you need it at https://feedxl.com/25-bighead/

 

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Teff Hay vs Rhodes Grass Hay

Teff Hay seems to have suddenly appeared as a hay option for many horse owners and because it is sold as a low starch low sugar hay it is starting to be recommended in place of Rhodes Grass Hay.

BUT, if you are lucky enough to have access to Rhodes Grass Hay, I wouldn’t be eager to swap. Here is why:

1. Rhodes Grass Hay is low in oxalate, containing approximately 2.5 to 3 g/kg of oxalate.

Teff Hay is moderate to high in oxalate at 10 to 12 g/kg. This means Teff needs careful supplementation of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium to prevent it from causing Bighead Disease. With Rhodes being so low in oxalate Bighead is not an issue (though you do still need to make sure you correctly balance the diet for minerals and vitamins as forages rarely contain enough to meet a horse’s requirement).

2. Rhodes Grass Hay is more reliable and consistent when it comes to the low starch, low sugar characteristic.

From the analyses we have seen coming through here at FeedXL Teff can be high in starch, with one analysis sent through showing an as-fed starch content of 7.1% and total NSC of of 13.7% which for a laminitic horse is going to be too high. While soaking would more than likely bring this non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) level back down to safe levels it makes for much more time consuming feeding… so if you have access to Rhodes Grass it would be much easier to use this.

3. Teff Hay causes some odd behavioural issues in some horses and this is normally associated with an alkaline fecal pH.

We have no way of explaining this, and it doesn’t happen with all horses on Teff so I don’t know if all Teff Hay is the same or if there is a certain variety that causes this issue.

So while Teff gives people in cooler climates a low NSC option which is welcome, it is not yet well understood and not without its issues. If I had a choice between Teff and Rhodes I would go with Rhodes Hay every time.

 

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Do High Sugar Forages Make Horses Fatter?

This is a question we are often asked and my standard response has always been ‘well, it depends on the calorie content of the forage’, which has always then made me wonder about the relationship between forage NSC and digestible energy content.

In looking at 13 pasture samples from one farm it seems the higher the NSC content, the higher the digestible energy (calorie) content. The pastures shown here were all sampled between 11 am and 2 pm on the same day. They were all dried at the same time and all were analyzed by Equi-Analytical.

For interest I plotted the Digestible Energy (calorie) value against the pasture non-structural carbohydrate (NSC = starch + water soluble carbohydrates) content and while this certainly isn’t publishable data the trend is pretty clear for this particular set of pastures in that as NSC increases so does digestible energy… which makes very logical sense given the NSC is a source of calories so the more NSC, the more calories.

So perhaps my answer should be ‘yes, high NSC forages will make your horses fatter faster than low NSC forages!’. And therefore yes, it makes sense to feed a low NSC forage when you are trying to achieve weight loss or avoid weight gain in your easy keepers.

For some tips on feeding an easy keeper see https://feedxl.com/11-feeding-the-easy-keeper/

 

Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

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Hay for horses on a wagon in a field

Soft Manure in Horses on Fresh Lucerne/Alfalfa Hay? Try This!

Lucerne/Alfalfa… if it is really fresh and green it will often cause scouring/diarrhea. We don’t know (as far as I’m aware) what causes the scouring, BUT my observation over the years is that once it is stored for a few months the problem goes away (hence the old advice to always feed ‘shedded’ hay)… so whatever it is in lucerne/alfalfa that causes the issue seems to be volatile and disappears after a while.

The issue at the moment for many of us is hay is in such short supply that all we can get is very fresh lucerne! We don’t have the luxury of waiting a couple of months for it to lose whatever it is that makes our horses scour… here is what you can do!

Take your bales, open them up and spread the pieces (biscuits, flakes, leaves… we call them all sorts of funny things depending on where you are in the world!) apart and let them sit for about a week (longer if you have the luxury of time) to air out. You should find that your horse’s gut will be much happier with it once it has had this chance to air out. If your hay seems particularly rich and is making horses scour badly try also sitting it in the sun.

I have dealt with lucerne/alfalfa in a polo stable in Asia actually bursting horses’ stomachs! It was horrible!! But once we got them to start airing and sunning the hay like this (it was imported from the USA) the problem thankfully stopped. Its the only time I have heard of that with lucerne/alfalfa and hopefully the only time!

Anyway, if you are dealing with soft manure in horses on fresh lucerne/alfalfa give this a try. Would love to know what happens if you have time to leave a comment on Facebook.

 

Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

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Teff Hay for Horses

OK, the lowdown on Teff Hay for horses. First, the good!

There is a bit of research looking at the use of teff hay in diets where low sugar, low starch forages are required. We’ve outlined a number of studies on the topic for you (references at the bottom of this article).

Staniar et al 2010

These authors report non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) contents for teff of 5.4% in the ‘boot’ stage and 8.4% in the ‘late heading stage’ of plant maturity. Both really low NSC levels and well below the 10 – 12% threshold considered safe for laminitic/EMS/PPID/PSSM horses. Variation in NSC levels between samples was also minimal which is also our experience with other C4 Type grasses like Rhodes for example.

Horses in this study ate 1.5% to 1.8% of their bodyweight in teff hay, with the lower intakes being on the more mature hay. Again, this is a good thing as horses on restricted diets are unlikely to eat this hay as fast as more palatable hays like alfalfa, so they should eat for longer periods of time for lower calorie intake.

McCown et al 2012

Report that when fed to horses unaccustomed to teff and given a choice of either teff and alfalfa or teff and timothy, their intake of teff is lower than their intake of alfalfa (no surprises there) and timothy. BUT, when given access to only teff, intake was about the same as timothy hay. So they don’t relish teff hay, but truly, this is a good thing as they are less likely to overeat it!

Askins et al 2017

These authors report that horses given free access to teff hay consumed 1.5% of their bodyweight per day which equated to 86% of maintenance calorie requirements. So the finding of lower intake on teff continues … hooray for teff!

This study also reports that resting glucose and insulin levels did not change over 10 days while the horses were fed teff. To keep this in context however, ryegrass hay (which can be very high in NSC) was fed as the control hay in this study and glucose and insulin levels also remained the same on this hay. Unfortunately the NSC content of the hays was not reported (yet!).

DeBoer et al 2017

In another recent study, these authors report that cool season (C3) perennial grasses (in this case orchardgrass, also known as cocksfoot and Kentucky bluegrass) had a significantly higher NSC content than teff pasture in summer and fall/autumn, however actual NSC content was not reported (this is just an abstract, data will be fully published in paper discussed below).

This research also looked at differences in plasma glucose levels in horses grazing either alfalfa, cool season (C3) grasses or teff and found that differences were minimal. However, we know that insulin resistant horses can maintain normal glucose levels, they just need a lot more insulin to achieve this.

DeBoer et al 2018

This is the fully published journal paper of the research above. Authors report that horses grazing teff had significantly lower PEAK insulin levels when compared to horses grazing cool season (C3 Type) grasses in fall/autumn… despite NSC levels not being significantly different between the grasses (the cool season grasses had numerically higher NSC values but when variation was taken into account they were not significantly different). It is worth noting here however that teff was not recorded with an NSC above 10% at any time point where the cool season grasses did reach 12.6% NSC in summer.

All in all, from the research available, teff appears to be suitable for horses who need either a calorie restricted and/or NSC restricted diet. If you are going to feed teff hay though be sure to use FeedXL to balance the diet.

Because here is the not so good!

What you need to know about feeding teff hay to horses

Teff, being a subtropical/warm season/C4 type grass does contain oxalate which will reduce calcium absorption by your horse and may lead to calcium deficiency if you don’t correctly balance the diets calcium to oxalate ratio (FeedXL will make sure you do this!).

If the calcium deficiency is prolonged your horses will end up with a condition known as secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism, commonly called ‘Bighead Disease’. You are unlikely to see actual changes in a horses facial/head structure, but you will instead notice general soreness, possibly a shifting lameness, changes in behaviour (horses will often become unhappy and just generally grumpy with a bit of a please don’t touch me attitude) and an intolerance for work (because everything is sore).

To prevent this from occurring you must keep the overall diets calcium to oxalate ratio at or above 0.5 parts calcium to every 1 part oxalate. And with additional calcium being added you will also need to make sure the diets calcium to phosphorus and calcium to magnesium ratios remain balanced. It’s lots of math, but FeedXL does it all for you in the blink of an eye. 

Teff, like almost all forages will also be low in trace-minerals and doesn’t contain great quality protein… so you will have a few other nutrient gaps to fill. Of course testing your specific hay and uploading this to FeedXL will give you the best results in balancing your horse’s diet!

There has been a few reports of teff hay causing behavioural changes in horses and a very alkaline (8+) pH of manure. I have no explanation for this but the people who reported this to me said it occurred repeatedly in multiple horses and that once changed onto a diet of meadow hay, faecal pH and behaviour returned to normal. One of the horse owners reporting this is a knowledgeable and well respected equine nutritionist.

Finally, alfalfa/lucerne hay makes a great forage to feed alongside teff. Alfalfa is similarly low in NSC, but unlike teff is rich in quality protein and high in calcium to help offset the calcium binding tendency of the teff. They complement each other nicely.

If you are involved in racing or FEI disciplines you may also need to be careful to not feed too much (or any??) teff because of possible positive swabs for synephrine, which reportedly occurs naturally in teff hay.

If you want to feed teff, our most recent recommendation is to do it carefully, introducing it slowly, feeding it alongside alfalfa and being sure to balance the overall calcium to oxalate ratio of the diet (again, FeedXL will help you to do this).

If you get odd behavioural changes, check faecal pH using a soil pH test kit. If pH is alkaline you may need to reduce the amount of teff you are feeding until this goes back to ‘normal’ (closer to a pH of 7).

REFERENCES

Askins M.J., Palkovic A.G., Leppo K.A., Jones G.C. & Gill J.C. Effect of feeding teff hay on dry matter intake, digestible energy intake and resting insulin/glucose concentration in horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 52, 45.

DeBoer M.L., Hathaway M.R., Kuhle K.J., Weber P.S.D., Sheaffer C.C., Wells M.S., Mottet R.S. & Martinson K.L. Glucose response of horses grazing alfalfa, cool-season perennial grasses and teff across seasons. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 52, 79.

DeBoer ML, Hathaway MR, Kuhle KJ, et al. Glucose and Insulin Response of Horses Grazing Alfalfa, Perennial Cool-Season Grass, and Teff Across Seasons. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 2018;68:33-38.

McCown S., Brummer M., Hayes S., Olson G., Smith S.R., Jr. & Lawrence L. Acceptability of Teff Hay by Horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 32, 327-31.

Staniar W.B., Bussard J.R., Repard N.M., Hall M.H. & Burk A.O. (2010) Voluntary intake and digestibility of teff hay fed to horses1. J Anim Sci 88, 3296-303.

 

Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

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Horses eating hay

How Much Forage Your Horse Really Needs

“You eat like a horse”. There is a very good reason this saying exists; Horses. Eat. A. Lot!!! And a vast majority of horse owners know this, but every now and again I come across a horse owner who is concerned about weight loss in their horse and it is simply because they don’t realise just how much a horse actually needs to eat each day (except my horses, they seem to eat nothing and still get fat!).

So I thought it a timely reminder (with bare paddocks surrounding me in the very drought stricken area where I live) about how much forage a horse needs to eat each day. Traditional recommendations were that horses should receive a minimum of 1% of their bodyweight (1 kg/100 kg BW 0r 1 lb/100 lb BW) of forage per day. More recently however, Harris et al (2016) have increased the recommended minimum to 1.5% of bodyweight. Most good nutritionists will aim for 2% BW of forage in a diet where this is possible.

The amount of forage fed has an impact on the health, welfare, behaviour, gut health and performance of your horse as well as a horse’s risk of colic. Where I see it go horribly wrong is when an owner simply doesn’t realise just how much hay a horse actually needs to eat in a day. Underfeeding hay will often (in everyone else’s horses, mine are still excluded!) result in weight loss and can result in life-threatening colic. The good thing is it is very easily fixed, just feed more hay! 

 

Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

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Cold Weather? Hay is Like Your Horse’s Heater

Do you ever wonder what is best to feed in really cold weather to help your horse stay warm? Well, the answer is hay or any type of high fibre forage really.

The fibre in hay and other forages is digested in your horse’s hindgut via the process of bacterial fermentation. A by-product of this fermentation process is HEAT!

So by feeding extra forage you are giving your horse’s resident population of bacteria more fibre to ferment… which in-turn means they will generate more heat and help to keep your horse warm. Neat huh!

Just keep in mind though that you can overdo it. Feeding more than about 3% of your horse’s bodyweight in feed per day (or more than 3 lb/100 lb BW; 3 kg/100 kg BW) will have the effect of increasing passage rate through the gut.

So while there would be more fibre for the bacteria to ferment the fibre would spend less time in the hindgut, with less time for fermentation and heat production. Catch-22!

For more tips on feeding read our article Feeding Horses in Winter.

 

Do you have a question or comment? Do you need help with feeding?

We would love to welcome you to our FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group. Ask questions and have them answered by PhD and Masters qualified equine nutritionists and spend time with like-minded horse owners. It’s free!

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