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Nutritional & Non-nutritional Aspects of Forage

I was honoured to have been part of the team who put together the Veterinary Clinics | Equine Practice book of clinical review articles on Equine Nutrition.

Together with Dr Brian Nielsen (Professor, Michigan State University) and Dr Carrie Finno (Associate Professor, UC Davis) we wrote the chapter ‘Nutritional and Non-nutritional Aspects of Forage’.

Hopefully it will make a great resource for equine veterinarians around the world!

The biggest take-home message…

Forage alone is unlikely to meet all nutrient requirements and some form of supplementation, be it in the form of supplements, balancers or feeds, will almost always be necessary to create a balanced diet!

If anyone would like a copy we would be happy to email it to you.

You can find the abstract here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33820609/

Richards N, Nielsen BD, Finno CJ. Nutritional and Non-nutritional Aspects of Forage. Vet Clin North Am Equine Pract. 2021 Apr;37(1):43-61. doi: 10.1016/j.cveq.2020.12.002. PMID: 33820609.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION OR COMMENT? DO YOU NEED HELP WITH FEEDING?

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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?

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

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

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!

Click here to join the FeedXL Horse Nutrition Facebook Group

 

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

 

Why a Forage Only Diet Might Not Be Enough for Your Horse

If you can, you should just feed your horse forage. Pasture, hay, haylage, chaff, forage cubes.

Forage is the most natural source of calories and protein for your horse. And it does the best job of keeping your horse’s gut and its bacteria and fungi (the microbiome) functioning as it should.

We know, from mounting research, that keeping all the microbiome critters happy is a HUGE key to keeping our horses healthy.

Many horses (my own included) do really well on a forage only diet. Mine get their pasture, a small amount of alfalfa (lucerne hay) and some grass hay when the pasture is lush (to keep up their fibre intake). Even when they are working pretty hard this is enough to maintain their condition. They don’t need a feed.

BUT, just forage is not enough!

‘What!?’ you say? But you just said feed only forage?!

Yep, I did. But here’s the thing…

Forage only diets, in 95%+ cases, are not enough to meet a horse’s mineral requirements. And depending on the quality of your forage or the age of your hay, it probably won’t meet vitamin requirements either!

So my horses maintain their weight just on pasture and hay. BUT, they would be severely deficient in copper, zinc, manganese, selenium, iodine and sodium all year round. Then depending on the season (like the 3 years of drought we had between 2017 and 2020), they would also be low on vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin B1.

Horses that are low in these nutrients will eventually start to have issues with joint and hoof health, immune function, energy generation and muscle damage during exercise. And the problem is, you often won’t see a problem until something goes really wrong!

So you really must top these nutrients up using a supplement or balancer pellet.

Let me show you how this looks in FeedXL for my horses on our pasture:

 

 

So forage only diets are brilliant! But please, to keep your horse healthy and strong, be sure to top up the nutrients that are commonly missing from forage only diets!

And if you want a really easy way to check what your horse’s diet might be missing, let FeedXL show you. FeedXL is completely unbiased and won’t ever push you to buy a feed or supplement product. It simply works out what your horse needs. Adds up what is in the diet and then shows you if his nutrient requirements are met.

Then YOU can pick whatever product you like from any company you choose to fill the gaps! It is simple, accurate and great insurance for your horse’s long-term health!

 

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

 

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