Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Forage Alternatives

KER.equinews.com - Full Article

By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 27, 2007

Hay is hard to find in some areas. Because of a scarcity of hay in many regions, can you just skip feeding hay this winter and make up the deficit by doubling your horse's grain ration? The answer is an emphatic NO.

Hay, or some other source of fiber, is absolutely necessary to the health and function of the horse's digestive tract. Overconsumption of grain is characteristically followed by colic, gastric ulcers, or laminitis, so this is not an option to consider. Aim for an average of 1.5% of the horse's weigh in hay or equivalent forage each day (approximately 15 pounds of hay for a 1000-pound horse, or 7 kg for a 450-kg horse), adjusting up or down depending on the horse's age, use, and metabolism.

Why is fiber so important in the equine diet?

Consumption of grass, hay, and other forage fulfills both physical and psychological needs. Horses have a strong desire to chew, and also to have the full-gut feeling that comes from eating a lot of fiber. Deprived of adequate forage, horses tend to chew on trees, fences, stalls, and anything else that is available. A steady supply of forage helps to maintain the optimum types and numbers of microorganisms in the hindgut. These bacteria and other organisms transform fiber into energy the horse can use for growth or performance. The proper balance of beneficial bacteria prevents an overgrowth of harmful organisms that may upset digestion. As well as aiding the passage of food through the digestive tract, adequate fiber provides bulk and weight in the intestines. This helps to keep them from twisting and looping around each other, possibly leading to tissue damage and colic.

Is there a particular need for forage during cold weather?

A near-constant supply of forage is an important factor in keeping horses warm in the winter. The vast fermentation vat of the horse's hindgut steadily produces heat that can't be supplied by an all-grain diet...

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