Forage is the Single. Most. Important component of your horse’s diet… for a whole bunch of reasons!
- It is your horse’s biggest source of calories, protein and some vitamins and minerals.
- It keeps your horse’s gut full and less prone to colic.
- It encourages saliva production during chewing and keeps the stomach full to dramatically reduce the risk of gastric ulcers.
- It feeds your horse’s good bacteria which then produce vitamins and hormones that keep your horse calm, healthy and happy plus they keep the immune system functioning properly!
- It holds onto water in the gut and provides a rich source of electrolytes to keep your horse properly hydrated.
- AND – perhaps one of the most important functions of forage – it keeps your horse chewing, head down and content!
So it’s REALLY important to have ENOUGH forage in your horse’s diet and it’s also a wonderful idea to have a VARIETY of forage in the diet.
In FeedXL, you will be warned if your horse’s diet does not contain enough forage!
Here’s what that will look like:
So be sure to meet the minimum daily forage requirement!
Then my very best advice is, don’t stop there!
Don’t JUST meet the minimum forage requirement!
The more forage you can get into your horse’s diet, the better!
So here is a tip… in FeedXL, enter all of your horse’s forages, pasture, hay, chaff, forage cubes or pellets, haylage… anything that is considered forage!
Then go to the results and look at your horse’s ‘Total Daily Feed Intake’ amounts. Is it at 100%? Or is it less than 100%?
If it is at 100% or above (extra stars for above!), look at your horse’s nutrient graph, looking specifically at the Digestible energy level. Is it between 90 and 100%?
If it is, and ALL you have in the diet is FORAGE this means forage can be used to meet 100% of your horse’s daily Digestible Energy (calorie) requirements and you are unlikely to need a feed!
(You will however still need to add a supplement to top up mineral and some vitamin levels and may need to add some high quality protein – more on this here.)
A High forage diet is best for gut and overall health
This high forage diet, especially if it contains a variety of forage, is the closest diet you can get to a horse’s natural diet and will be the best in terms of gut and overall health for them!
If your horse’s energy is too low (less than 90% OR your horse is currently losing weight on an all forage diet) then you will need to add some higher energy ingredients to the diet. But keep in mind that you still want to keep as much forage in the diet as you possibly can!
Some suggestions for higher energy ingredients include sugarbeet pulp, copra meal, lupins, lupin hulls, higher energy forages like alfalfa/lucerne, oils and if they are safe for your horse, oats or other cereals (like corn/maize or barley) AS LONG AS THE GRAINS ARE COOKED!
The trick is to add as little of these ingredients as possible in FeedXL to meet that digestible energy requirement so you keep as much of your forage in the diet as possible!
So keep adding small amounts of your chosen high energy ingredients and keep checking your results to see when you have added enough energy.
And here is a little heads up to save you getting confused…
If your horse is on free choice pasture or hay you will notice that as you add a new ingredient your horse’s pasture or free choice hay intake will go down as you ad other ingredients.
For example if your horse’s free choice forage intake is 10 kg/day…
And then you add 0.5 kg/day of oats, free choice forage will go down to 9.5 kg/day…
Because your horse only has so much room in its gut for feed each day. So as you increase in this example, oats in the diet, your free choice forage intake is reduced proportionally.
Really hope that all helps! If you remember lots of forage PLUS a variety of forage your horse is going to be so far ahead in term of health and nutrition!
If you have read this far, kudos to you!
Big thanks for being here and remember if you have questions, just ask!
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!