the past several months, we have concentrated on ways to stretch forage
or substitute ingredients for hay in cattle feeds. This was done due to
a lack of hay being available this feeding season. Horse owners are also
having a difficult time finding an adequate supply of hay for this
feeding season. While similar in ways, the digestive system of a cow and
a horse are also uniquely different. Before finding ways to stretch
forage in the diets of horses, it is important to understand the horse’s
horse is classified as a non-ruminant herbivore. This means that the
horse has a simple stomach that processes chewed foods consisting of
vegetation and grains. The digestive tract consists of the mouth,
tongue, esophagus, stomach, small intestines, cecum, and colon. Each
segment of the horse’s digestive track performs specific functions
that are important in the digestion and absorption of nutrients.
large intestine of horses and other hindgut fermenters is a fermentation
system analogous to the rumen. The process of fermentation that occurs
in the hindgut is essentially identical to that which occurs in the
forestomachs of ruminants. The fact that a horse is a hindgut fermenter
allows the horse owner to meet the forage requirements of the horse
through means other than long stem forages.
biggest advantage that forage offers a producer is the fact that it is
usually the most economical way for a horse to get some of its
nutrients. The negative side to this is that the horse’s ability to
digest these forages falls somewhere in between the cow’s rumen and
the pig’s simple stomach.
high quality hay is usually the most economical means of providing daily
nutrients to the horse, processed forage products, cubed forage products
or pelleted forage products can also help meet the fiber requirements of
the horse. While horses are grazers, and their digestive tracts are
designed to process forage almost continuously, this forage does not
have to be in the form of grass hay. Your local Quality Co-op can
provide you with some of the following products that will allow you to
meet the nutritional needs of your horse, without feeding large amounts
pelleted, or dehydrated alfalfa can be used in the diets of horses.
Horse owners turn to these products to supplement or extend the forage
in the horse’s diet. Although the cost of these products is greater,
there are some advantages such as higher nutritional quality, reduced
mold and dust spores as well as reduced hay waste from long stem hay
falling under feeders. The extent to which these products can be fed
depends on a number of factors. Also, the quantity needed will vary––you
will need anywhere from two pounds, when used as a supplement, up to 18
pounds, when used as a complete replacement for hay.
alternative is to purchase chopped or shredded products such as ground
hay or beet pulp shreds. Chopping or shredding the natural feedstuff
does not change the original nutrient composition, with the exception
that breaking the long stems into smaller sections often makes the fiber
more digestible. Molasses can be added to the forage to improve taste
and lessen dust. Beet pulp is a by-product of the sugar industry and is
relatively palatable to horses. This product along with molasses is
available through your local Co-op and can be fed either wet or dry.
line of products available to you will be pelleted forage products such
as alfalfa, hay, soyhulls, or cottonseed hulls. The biggest concern with
the use of these products is that the fiber length is considerable
shorter, which cuts chewing time and increases passage rate. When
feeding a pelleted forage product, I would recommend feeding no more
that .25 pounds per 100 pounds of body weight. Feed scales and weight
tapes can be purchased to assist you when determining the amount of feed
needed and the weight of your horse.
consideration when reducing the amount of forage needed in the horse’s
diet is to look at products that will provide lower amounts of corn and
higher amounts of fiber. Also consider feeds that will provide a lower
amount of fat. Fat will coat fiber and reduces digestibility of the
forage that you are providing.
suggestion would be to feed a product such as Stablyx. This low moisture
supplement tub will increase fiber utilization while providing needed
nutrients in the horse’s diet and is available at your local Co-op.
there are products with greater amounts of oats. These products will
provide some energy without causing a starch overload keeping your horse
calm, cool, and comfortable.
I would encourage you to look at any feeds that would be considered low
starch and high digestible fiber. These products will also help you to
stretch your forage. AFC horse feeds provided under these guidelines
would include Excel 10, Excel 12, Champions Choice 12, Horizon Senior,
and Tiz Wiz Senior.
remember, when making feeding changes, allow a 7 to 10 day transition
period to reduce incidence of digestive disorders.
hope that this information will help you in making decisions concerning
the feeding of your horses. If I can assist you in any manner, please
feel free to contact me at [email protected].
Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.