Stephanie George BSc (Hons)
To maintain a healthy digestive system, it is essential to feed plenty of forage. During the winter months, this forage can also help to keep your horse warm and maintain correct body condition, as the fermentation of fibre in the hindgut produces heat.
Forage is essential to satisfy both the horse’s physical and psychological needs. The physical need for forage is to provide bulk, help with weight maintenance and to combat several issues such as preventing the intestines twisting and looping over each other (colic); aiding the passage of food through the gut to eliminate gas bubbles; to help maintain a stable pH in the hindgut of the horse and to meet a large proportion of the horse’s energy (calorie) intake. The psychological need is that the horse has a natural “drive” and need to chew and “trickle feed”. Restricting this requirement may lead to the development of behavioural issues, such as weaving and wood chewing, as well as physical issues, such as gastric ulcers.
How Much Fibre Should I Feed?
The general recommendation is that horses should receive a Minimum of 1.5kg forage per 100kg bodyweight (1.5% of BW), e.g. 500kg horse should receive a Minimum of 7.5kg forage daily. Bear in mind however that this is the minimum amount you should be feeding and ideally forage should be fed on an ad-lib basis. This means that if grazing is poor there is always access to hay or haylage in the field, and if the horse is stabled there is always some hay in the stable in the morning showing the horse has had enough to last him through the night. Having said this with ‘good-doers’ and particularly greedy horses, this is not always practical, so don’t hesitate to seek professional advice in these cases.
Understanding Gastric Ulcers
The incidence of gastric ulcers is thought to be as high as 60-70% in non-racing horses. The biggest cause of this is reduced forage intake and irregular feeding times. The horse has evolved to trickle feed and the constant chewing of fibre stimulates the production of saliva, which aids the passage of food through the digestive system and acts as a natural buffer against the stomach acid. Horses continuously produce stomach acid and therefore need to constantly be chewing to produce saliva to neutralise the stomach environment.
Fibre First Fact...
Feeding ½ - 1 Stubbs scoop of chaff before riding is recommended as it forms a mat on top of the stomach acid, which reduces the acid splashing onto the sensitive areas of the stomach lining. This picture demonstrates how the fibre floats on top of the stomach contents.
In addition, feeding chaff slows the rate of passage of the feed through the digestive system helping to ensure the horse can fully break down and utilise the feed in the correct areas of the gut. Make sure your horse is not left for long periods with nothing to eat especially when stabled overnight. Even if you are away at an event, make sure that you allow your horse regular access to a haynet or to nibble at some grass or a bucket of chaff.
Feeding Forage over the Winter
Grass is the most natural of all horse feeds. It provides energy through fermentation in the hindgut. When hay forms the basis of a horse’s diet there is a lower risk of metabolic disorders and gastric ulcers than when horses are fed large concentrate diets. Good grass hay should be soft, green and leafy, with a sweet smell. Hay that is mouldy or dusty will cause respiratory problems such as COPD.
Haylage is a popular alternative to grass hay in the U.K. Usually, haylage has a higher digestible energy level than hay, which means that less concentrate feed can be fed to meet energy requirements. However, haylage spoils quickly and must be fed soon after opening, usually within 3-4 days. Do not use haylage that smells rancid or has a wet or slimy mould on it (white mould is usually normal). Always avoid bags that have been punctured or split.
FIBRE FIRST FACT...
Horses with Poor Teeth
For horses with poor dentition, the winter can often mean a constant battle with weight loss with owners praying for the spring grass to come through again. In these situations, we would often recommend a forage replacer ration to help supplement the diet with an easier to eat forage source. Super Fibre Cubes can provide adequate fibre to horses, allowing the gastrointestinal tract to function uninhibitedly, but they should not form the sole component of the horse’s fibre portion of the diet. They must only be used as a Partial forage replacer. Minimal dust levels in Super Fibre cubes also make them ideal for horses with respiratory problems. If you have an older horse with poor dentition, please contact our nutrition team for advice.
Fibre First Fact ....
Cubes usually take less time to chew when compared to long stem forages and therefore saliva production is reduced, which can increase the risk of choke and digestive upset. Reduce this Risk by dampening high fibre cubes and mixing them with chaff, such as Saracen Super Fibre Mix. We always recommend speaking to our nutrition team if you would like to feed a forage replacer as they can advise on suitable products and the correct quantities to feed.
Super Fibre Cubes are a low in starch and sugar and are cereal free, making them suitable for good-doers and those prone to laminitis or digestive problems. The high fibre content makes them ideal as a partial hay replacer and they can also be easily soaked to form a mash for horses with poor dentition.
Fibre 22% Oil 3.5% Protein 10.0% DE 11.3MJ/kg Starch 10.5%
Super Fibre Mix is a versatile and palatable high fibre complete feed that can be used in many different situations, either as the sole complete ration or as a supplementary chaff or additional fibre feed. A range of herbs including mint and oregano help to maintain appetite in shy or fussy feeders.
Fibre 17.5% Oil 5.5% Protein 12.0% DE 11.3MJ/kg Starch 14.6%
For a personalised feeding plan for your horse, please visit www.saracenhorsefeeds.com and complete our simple and free feed advice form.
Alternatively, if you would prefer to speak to one of our qualified nutritionists for some immediate advice, please call our feed advice line on 01622 718 487