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Horses eating hay

Using straw to achieve weight loss in horses

Weight loss in easy keepers can seem like an impossible task and is often the cause of frustration for owners. Despite a strict hay only diet, many easy keepers can still maintain their body condition. Owners are also faced with the dilemma of not restricting intake too much (to avoid colic) while trying not to add too much energy to the diet. A study published recently investigated the effectiveness of adding straw to ponies diets to assist with weight loss. The outcomes provide some hope of weight loss for those with easy keepers.

Does feeding horses straw help with weight loss?

This study looked at 40 native-type ponies at pasture in the UK over winter. The ponies were split into two groups; supplementary fed hay alone or a 50:50 ratio of hay and barley straw. The ponies were weighed regularly over a 4 month period. Over this period, all ponies in the straw fed group lost an average of 27kg. Only 3 of 15 ponies in the hay group lost weight, and overall the group gained weight (average +6kg).

Why add straw to your horse’s ration?

Straw is lower in energy as compared with most grass hays, therefore substituting up to 50% of grass hay in the ration with straw, creates a less energy dense ration whilst maintaining adequate forage intake. This means that intake does not need to be severely restricted to achieve weight loss. In addition, the time horses spend eating per day is extended, which keeps them satisfied and at less risk of gastric ulcers due to prolonged periods without food.

Considering the risk of colic when feeding straw

The addition of straw into diet can be problematic due to the risk of colic. However, in this study there were no reports of colic. Care needs to be taken when choosing the right type of straw, and introduction to the diet should be done gradually over 14-21 days until a 50:50 ratio is achieved with hay to straw.

What type of straw is best for horse feed?

Oaten or barley straw is generally softer (less indigestible fibre) than wheaten straw and is therefore more commonly used for feed. If you have a feed analysis performed, look for an NDF of less than 65. You can also scrunch the straw in your hand to check the coarseness (technical I know!) – you’re feeling that the straw scrunches easily (stems are soft) and the sharp ends don’t prick your palm ie. we want to avoid bedding type straw.

While most straw is low in sugar and starch, a feed analysis to confirm this is a good idea. If a feed analysis is not practical for you, visually inspect the straw to ensure it doesn’t contain intact heads of cereal grains which may make the straw high in starch. Straw will be lower in protein than grass or cereal hays. Therefore, attention should be paid to supplying a good quality protein source within the diet as well as meeting mineral and vitamin requirements.

The difference between straw and hay

Straw vs. hay – for cereal crops, hay is the name given to a crop that is cut for hay when the grain is still maturing. Straw is a by-product which is cut after the plant has matured and the grain has been harvested from the plant.

Reference

Dosi, MCM., Kirton, R., Hallsworth, S., Keen, JA., Morgan, RA. (2020) Inducing weight loss in native ponies: is straw a viable alternative to hay? Veterinary Record Published Online First: 03 May 2020. doi: 10.1136/vr.105793

 

Meet The Author: Samantha Potter, MSc


In 2009, Sam completed a Bachelor of Equine Studies and it was during this time she developed an interest in equine nutrition. Pursuing this passion, Sam went on to complete her Honours followed by her Masters degree in equine nutrition at The University of Melbourne. Since 2015, Sam has worked as an independent nutritionist and enjoys supporting horse owners manage their horse’s nutrition in her role with FeedXL. To learn more about Sam and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

 

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

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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!

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

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!

 

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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Horse feeding on the meadow

What to Do When a Hay Only Diet Is Not Enough for Your Horse

Forage based diets are THE best! There are so many reasons why, if you can, you should feed diets that are close to 100% forage. BUT, forage only is not enough. 95% + of the forages I see analysed don’t contain enough of one to several minerals to meet a horse’s requirement.

Plus for horses in heavy work, lactating mares and young, growing horses forages often do not contain enough calories or protein to properly meet requirements.

And this is exactly what is happening here. Watch as I run through an 18-month-old filly’s diet. Her owner plans to feed a variety of hays, which is PERFECT! But the hay alone is not able to support correct growth and development.

We use FeedXL to have a look at a couple of feed options that will fill in all the diet gaps left by the hay!

Simple, just one feed.

Cost-effective, it’s not multiple feeds and supplements.

Balanced, with the right nutrition the filly will grow and develop correctly, hopefully with bones and joints that remain sound for her lifetime!

 

 

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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What are you ACTUALLY feeding?

Looking from the outside, most of us as horse owners are pretty good at knowing how much feed our horse needs. We can see weight change which gives us a visual clue that the horse is not being fed enough (resulting in weight loss), or too much (resulting in weight gain).

What we can’t see are vitamin and mineral deficiencies. And the problem is, these often won’t show up as something we can see until they result in disaster… hooves falling apart, joints breaking down, an immune system so compromised that it can’t mount an effective immune response to a simple disease challenge.

Here is a classic example of a diet where the horse’s owner has done a truly great job in putting together a forage based diet with just enough of a single feed to maintain excellent condition! BUT the small amount of feed is not enough to meet the horse’s basic vitamin and mineral requirements.

Check the video out as I walk you through Lacey’s diet, which perfectly demonstrates what is happening in so many horse’s diets.

The good news is, with just a little bit of time spent in FeedXL and the addition of a single supplement, Lacey’s diet can be fully balanced to keep her healthy and happy in the long term!

 

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

How to Account for a Hay Slow Feeder in FeedXL

Hay slow feeders come in many sizes and designs. The principle behind them is to a) reduce waste, and b) slow intake of hay.

Our FeedXL members occasionally ask, “how do I take into account the use of a slow feeder?” The simple answer is you probably don’t need to. While slow feeders are a fantastic tool for slowing the intake of hay, they generally don’t limit your horse’s daily intake of hay i.e. it just takes them longer to eat the same amount of hay. This has several benefits including maximising the time your horse spends eating (mimicking grazing behaviour) to prevent boredom and reduce the risk of developing gastric ulcers.

To enter the amount of hay your horse is eating from a slow feeder each day into FeedXL, just weigh the hay you are putting in the slow feeder and enter this amount in FeedXL

If you’re wanting to reduce the intake of hay for weight control, you ideally need to feed a set (restricted) amount in your horse’s slow feeders per day (rather than free access to a round bale or similar). While a slow feeder will be beneficial in reducing the time taken to eat the restricted amount of hay, keep in mind that you may need to still divide the hay into more than 2 feedings per day.

To get a gauge on how regularly you need to top up your slow feeders, spend a day or two observing your horse’s hay intake (from the slow feeder) and take note of how long it takes them to finish the hay. Ideally, you don’t want your horses going longer than 4 to 5 hours without eating.

P.S. If you want to use a slow feeder but you can’t use anything with a net because your horse has shoes, check out The Savvy Feeder, we think they are brilliant!

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

Beautiful laminitis prone Horse wearing a grazing muzzle to control its intake of grass

How to Measure Pasture Intake When Your Horse Wears a Grazing Muzzle

Grazing muzzles are useful for reducing your horse’s pasture intake. They can be used for easy-keepers when you are trying to reduce energy levels within the diet. Or when your horse suffers from a health condition which requires a reduction of non-structural carbohydrates (starch + sugar) in their diet. Grazing muzzles have gained popularity with many horse owners as they allow their horse to socialise, exercise and be continually stimulated through grazing.

Studies have shown grazing muzzles can reduce forage intake by as much as 80%. There are many factors which affect intake including acclimatization to the muzzle, pasture height and type of muzzle used and your individual horse’s tenacity when it comes to getting grass to poke through the hole.

To enter pasture intake in FeedXL when your horse is wearing a grazing muzzle, subtract up to 80% from the time your horse spends grazing. For example, if your horse is allowed to graze muzzled for 15 hours and is dry-lotted the remainder of the time, you might enter ‘3 hours’ as the amount of time your horse ‘grazes’ into FeedXL (80% of 15 is 12 hours; 15 x 0.8 = 12 hours: 15 – 12 = 3 hours of ‘grazing time’.

Observe your horse grazing pasture while muzzled and watching his body condition over time. This will allow you to get a better estimate of actual intake by your horse. You may find that reducing the ‘time’ grazing in FeedXL by 80% is too much, so adjust it as you see fit.

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

Starch & Ulcers: What’s The Deal?

You may have heard it recommended that horses with ulcers should be fed a ‘grain-free’, low starch diet. It is believed that any starch may make ulcers worse. Or stop them from healing when the horse is being medicated to resolve ulcers. But is there any scientific basis for what has now become a popular recommendation? Let’s take a look!

Starch is fermented to volatile fatty acids (VFAs)

Like the rest of the horse’s gut, the stomach is full of bacteria. When grains AND forage enter the stomach, they are partially fermented. During fermentation, the bacteria produce volatile fatty acids. These VFAs are the same as what is produced in the hindgut during fermentation there. So they are not harmful to the horse. In fact they are beneficial.

Thing is though, in the stomach, they get mixed with the hydrochloric acid from the stomach and become ‘nonionized’. In this state, they can enter the epithelial cells of the upper part of the stomach, causing them to become inflamed, and swell, and ultimately make the stomach wall lining more prone to ulceration. This is what they understand to happen in pigs.

So everything you feed a horse will be partially fermented in the stomach. We do know however, that when we feed a grain based, high starch ingredients, higher levels of VFAs are produced. But does it increase the risk of gastric ulcers? Not necessarily.

Lucerne + grain = less ulcers than grass hay

In a study where horses were fed either lucerne + grain OR grass hay only, there was significantly higher levels of VFA in the stomach contents of horses fed lucerne + grain. BUT, the horses on this diet had less severe and fewer gastric ulcers than the horses fed the grass hay only diet. Despite the higher level of VFAs, horses on the lucerne + grain diet had a higher pH (less acidic) for 5 hours after feeding when compared to the grass hay only diet 1.

The researchers in this study suggest the high protein, high calcium characteristics of both the lucerne hay and the ‘grain’ (unfortunately, they do not specify what the grain was except to say it contained over 7 g/kg of calcium and was almost 15% protein, so it must have been a fortified commercial feed) created a buffering effect in the stomach and were able to keep the pH higher.

So here, the starch did increase VFA levels, but the diet containing the grain was also effective at keeping gastric pH higher. Combined, there was a protective effect against ulcers.

In a second study2, researchers found that of horses fed lucerne plus a commercial pelleted feed, 8% developed ulcers. Compared to 75% who developed ulcers when they were fed the same pellet, but with grass hay. In this same study, horses that started with existing ulcers all improved their ulcers scores by more than 2 when fed lucerne + pellet. But on the grass hay, only 2 out of 12 horses showed healing to the same degree. So it does appear lucerne is protective. And that feeding grain/starch doesn’t automatically mean a horse will be prone to ulcers.

What about high fibre versus low fibre?

We tend to think that a high fibre diet is always going to be better than a low fibre diet for minimising gastric ulcers. And there are varied reports in the literature. Research from the UK3 reported that a low fibre, high concentrate (32% starch pellet) diet had a lower number and severity of lesions versus a high fibre, low concentrate diet. Odd right!

The fibre fed during this study was ryegrass haylage. A trend is starting to appear with grass forage and a higher risk of ulcers! What we don’t know is why? Researchers in Denmark reported that horses with straw as their only source of forage had a higher risk of ulcers4 which may give some clues. Perhaps there are nutrients required for maintaining gut wall integrity that grass hays and straw are unable to provide.

The important point here is to realise that just feeding lots of forage is not enough to protect a horse from ulcers. And to recognise that adding grain to diets is not a risk factor in itself. It comes down to which forages are fed and how much grain/starch is fed AND how feeding is managed.

How much starch is OK?

The studies reported above show that grain can be fed without causing ulceration. So starch is not a simple ‘Cause & Effect’ with gastric ulcers. Or in other words, when it is fed in a certain way, it can be fed without causing ulcers. And can even be fed in a way to allow ulcers to heal. But is there a limit to how much starch you can feed?

The answer is YES! In a large study, 201 Danish horses from 23 different non-racing stables were scoped for ulcers. 53% of horses were reported as having an ulcer score of more than 2, with most of these occurring in the upper part of their stomach4.

Two risk factors related to the amount of starch fed were reported in this study;

  1. Feeding more than 2 grams of starch per kg of bodyweight per day (equivalent to 2 – 3 kg of a complete feed/day for a 500 kg horse, depending on the feeds starch content) doubled the risk of ulcers; and
  2. Feeding more than 1 gram of starch per kg of bodyweight per meal (roughly equivalent to 1 – 1.5 kg of a commercial complete feed per meal for a 500 kg horse, depending on the starch content of the feed) increased risk by more than three times.

So some starch it seems is perfectly OK. But there is a limit to how much should be fed ‘per day’ and ‘per meal’.

Feeding grain based feeds carefully is a huge consideration in managing the risk of ulcers. If your horse needs more energy than can be provided by the amounts of grain based feeds specified above, you should look at feeding oils or high energy fibres to meet the rest of your horse’s calorie requirements.

Does starch cause ulcers?

Too much starch increases the risk of ulcers. But when fed in a well put together diet, research has shown that diets containing grains resulted in less ulcers than grass hay only diets. So starch, itself, doesn’t appear to cause ulcers.

My horse is prone to ulcers. What should I do?

Good question! Here are my top tips on feeding a horse prone to ulcers:

  1. Feed lucerne hay – lucerne has been shown to buffer the stomach well and is protective against ulcers. It even seems to help them heal.
  2. Feed lucerne as chaff or haylage with your grain based feeds – this seems to help negate the possible negative effect of starch when it is fermented in the stomach.
  3. Feed lucerne hay before you ride – working horses on a full stomach is CRITICAL for preventing ulcers. The fibre stops the acid splashing around and the saliva created while chewing the hay helps to buffer the acid in the stomach. Using lucerne has the extra positive benefit with the buffering effect from the lucerne itself.
  4. Feed lots of forage – the more forage in the diet the better. It makes a horse chew longer, create more saliva and keeps the stomach full of fibre to help stop acid from the lower part of the stomach splashing up onto the top part and creating ulcers.
  5. Don’t allow more than 5 hours between meals – the longer the intervals between meals, the higher the risk of ulcers5. So make sure your horse is eating at least every 5 hours. For horses particularly prone to ulcers, keeping time without food as short as possible (no more than 2 hours) is advisable.
  6. If you feed grain based feeds, keep the amounts small – don’t exceed 1 gram of starch per kg of bodyweight per meal. The amount of pellet/sweetfeed/cube/grain you can feed per meal depends on the starch content of the feed. The table below shows you maximum amounts that can be fed per meal of a feed, based on its starch content, for a 500 kg horse. If you are unsure of your feeds starch content, don’t exceed 1.5 kg of feed/meal (for a 500 kg horse).

 

Starch Content (%) Maximum Amount/Meal for a 500kg Horse (kg)
20 2.5
30 1.7
40 1.25
50 1

 

  1. Make sure horses ALWAYS have access to water – water deprivation has long been known to increase risk of ulcers. So allowing constant access to water is important to reduce the risk of ulcers.

Should I go grain-free?

While the studies above show us that feeding grains, in diets that also contain lucerne can result in ulcers resolving, if you are more comfortable going grain-free then it is certainly an option. Using high quality, grain-free products that are high in protein and fortified with calcium are likely going to work well for a horse prone to ulcers. As far as I can see there are no studies to confirm this… something for future research to work on!

It is just important to remember that this is not essential. Grain based feeds can be used, as long as they are used carefully.

References

  1. Nadeau JA, Andrews FM, Mathew AG, et al. Evaluation of diet as a cause of gastric ulcers in horses. Am J Vet Res 2000;61:784-790.
  2. Lybbert T, Gibbs, P., Cohen, N., Scott, B., Sigler, D. Feeding Alfalfa Hay to Exercising Horses Reduces the Severity of Gastric Squamous Mucosal Ulceration. AAEP Proceedings 2007;53.
  3. Boswinkel M, Ellis A, Sloet van Oldruitenborgh-Oosterbaan Mm. The influence of low versus high fibre haylage diets in combination with training or pasture rest on equine gastric ulceration syndrome (EGUS). Pferdeheilkunde 2007;23.
  4. Luthersson N, Nielsen KH, Harris P, et al. Risk factors associated with equine gastric ulceration syndrome (EGUS) in 201 horses in Denmark. Equine Vet J 2009;41:625-630.
  5. Luthersson N, Nielsen KH, Harris P, et al. Risk factors associated with equine gastric ulceration syndrome (EGUS) in 201 horses in Denmark. Equine Veterinary Journal 2009;41:625-630.

 

Dr. Nerida Richards is FeedXL’s resident equine nutrition specialist. With a degree in Rural Science, a doctorate degree in equine nutrition and nearly 20 years of full time, on the ground experience in feeding all types of horses Nerida is able to help FeedXL members solve any problem they may come up against with feeding their horses. To learn more about Nerida and to ‘meet’ the rest of the FeedXL team, check out our About Us page here.

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

Hay and horse in the background

Why You Shouldn’t Feed Free Choice Hay to a Horse on Ulcer Treatment

Don’t give a horse on ulcer treatment free choice hay.

You’re probably thinking… What?!?! I know! I agree… this sounds CRAZY! And goes against everything you might think is going to help a horse with ulcers.

If you have had a horse you have treated, unsuccessfully, for ulcers, keep reading!

Because here is the thing… horses on ad libitum hay have poor absorption of omeprazole (the drug of choice in treating equine gastric ulcer syndrome; EGUS). And if they don’t absorb it, it simply will not do its job of suppressing acid production. And if it doesn’t suppress acid, ulcers won’t heal.

In a study by Sykes et al (2017) it was shown that 3 out of 6 horses on ad libitum hay diets had minimal if any acid suppression (i.e. medication was totally useless).

Sykes 2019 suggests instead that horses are medicated after an overnight fast. THEN, withhold feed for 60 to 90 minutes after administration. Then feed a large feed of forage, which will stimulate gastrin which then makes omeprazole more effective. After the horse has eaten the hay it can be fed any concentrate it may require in its diet.

So overnight fast, then dose, then wait an hour, then feed lots of hay or allow access to pasture.

To be honest this goes against instinct and messes with my head a bit. BUT the research into this seems conclusive so I am going to trust and go with it.

Once the horse has finished its course of omeprazole treatment you should immediately revert back to ad libitum access to hay and minimise and periods of time off feed.

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

How to Add ‘Free Choice Hay’ to FeedXL

If your horse has access to unlimited hay (from a roundbale, for example) you can enter it into FeedXL and the system will automatically estimate your horse’s daily intake for you.

We’ve put together a video to walk you through how to enter ‘free choice hay’ into FeedXL. (Scroll down and press play to watch!)

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

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