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Feed Advice

Written for Yeoman Haylage by TopSpec's Senior Nutritionist Louise Jones

Why does my horse need forage?

A horse’s diet should always be based on forage, whether fresh (i.e. grass) or preserved (i.e. haylage or hay). Your horse needs a high forage diet for a number of different reasons including:

The provision of nutrients

Many people think that feeding preserved forage is just a way of providing bulk when grass intake is limited. However, forage is actually a major source of nutrition for your horse; providing calories, fibre, protein and some vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Therefore it’’s important that you select your forage carefully; matching it to your horse’s requirements.

Occupational therapy

Horses often develop stereotypical behaviours such as cribbing when forage intake is limited. Horses are trickle-feeders and their brains are hard-wired to want to chew for 16-18hrs a day. If we feed too little forage then the horse will seek out something else to chew on, this  can be bedding or the top of their stable door!

Supporting production of B-vitamins

B-vitamins play a vital role in metabolism and appetite stimulation. Your horse, with help from beneficial bacteria in his hind-gut, can often synthesise his own B-vitamins. However, this home-made process relies on your horse receiving an adequate supply of forage.

Minimising the risk of gastric ulcers

Forage plays an essential role in maintaining the health of your horse’s stomach. Eating forage requires more chewing time and results in more saliva production compared to hard feed. This is important as saliva contains bicarbonate ions, which buffer stomach acid and help to reduce the risk of painful gastric ulcers.

Maintenance of a healthy hind-gut environment

The all-important micro-organisms (mainly bacteria) in the hind-gut ideally need a constant supply of fibre to digest, resulting in a consistent fermentation pattern. This consistency means that your horse is much less likely to suffer from the many problems that can result from an upset in the microbial balance e.g. colic.

How does the horse utilise forage?

Horses are herbivores and as such their digestive systems are designed to process forages and other feeds that contain fibre. The equine hind-gut is a huge fermentation vat that is populated by micro-organisms including beneficial bacteria, which digest fibre. The end-products of this process are absorbed into your horse’s bloodstream and taken to the cells where they constantly provide ‘Non-Heating’ energy.

The micro-organisms in your horse’s hind-gut are very sensitive. When horses are fed a low forage, high cereal diet undigested starch can end up in the hind-gut. This disrupts the delicate population of micro-organisms causing acidosis (the accumulation of lactate). As a result the gut becomes too acidic for the beneficial fibre-degrading bacteria to flourish and they die. This can lead to serious, sometimes life threatening, disorders such as colic and laminitis.

To make the most of the forage that your horse eats it is important that he digests it efficiently. Efficient digestion means that your horse utilises as many nutrients as possible from his forage, which reduces the amount of hard feed he will need. The first step to take when trying to improve a horse’s forage-to-concentrate ratio is to feed high quality forage (e.g. haylage) and a top-specification feed balancer e.g. TopSpec Comprehensive Feed Balancer.

How much forage does my horse need?

The amount of forage your horse needs depends on the nutritional value of the forage fed and his condition. However nutrition aside, forage can also provide occupational therapy for your horse, keeping him chewing and stopping him getting bored; therefore it is important to remember that forage has several roles in our horse’s life and ideally you should maximise the amount of fibre your horse eats daily.

Most horses will need at least 2% of bodyweight as forage per day this includes grass, haylage and chops such as TopChop Alfalfa. In certain circumstances forage intake may need to be restricted, for example a horse that needs to lose weight may receive as little as 1-1.5% of their bodyweight as forage daily. However, it is very important that you speak to your Vet and Nutritionist before restricting your horse’s forage intake. Severe forage restriction can result in hyperlipidemia, a condition in which the body goes into starvation mode rereleasing large quantities of stored lipids into the bloodstream. Hyperlipidemia is a serious condition that is often life-threatening.

Want individually tailored feeding advice for your horse?

For practical, friendly advice on how best to feed your horse call the TopSpec multiple award winning nutritional helpline on 01845 565030 (8.30am-5.30pm Mon-Fri) or e-mail: nutritionist@topspec.com

I have been using Yeoman Haylage for many years now and wouldn’t be without it. All the horses look and go brilliantly on it and it’s such a convenient size particularly when we are staying away at three days. It’s easy to stack in the lorry and is user friendly when moving it about.  The slices are very easy to separate so you can monitor what you are feeding easily plus it’s really time saving when filling haynets up and putting hay round. I feel very lucky to be feeding such great haylage to my team of horses.
Kitty King – Olympic Eventer

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