After one of the longest coldest winters we have had in a while and the driest hottest summer since the 1960’s grass growth and the subsequent forage harvest has been challenging. In fact this summer has been great for BBQ’s and Pimms but not so great for those of us that own a horse!
Whilst it’s unclear as to the extent of any potential shortage 2nd and 3rd cuts of haylage in particular have been effected and winter supplies have been tucked into early due to the lack of summer grass growth. But before we panic there are hay and haylage alternatives that can replace or extend your forage supply by adding in all important fibre into your horse or pony’s diet.
In many European countries the straw horses are bedded on is expected to be eaten to make up some or all their fibre requirement. Good quality straw can be fed to horses to extend their hay or haylage ration and is particularly useful when feeding good doers and overweight horses to decrease the energy density of hay. The type of straw is less important than the hygienic quality, although oat and barley straw are used more commonly than wheat. Straw shouldn’t be used as the sole forage source as the protein content is very low and the fibre can be particularly indigestible and can contribute to impaction colic in susceptible horses. Up to 30% replacement is acceptable.
Chopped dried grass
There are several pure dried grass products on the market. Dried grass differs from hay because it is harvested earlier and is dried artificially rather than in the field. This means that it is often higher in protein and energy than hay and is much greener in colour. It’s ideal for poor doers and veterans but again shouldn’t be used to completely replace forage and should be avoided for laminitics and good doers.
Harvested and dried in a similar way to chopped dried grass but pelleted rather than chopped. The protein content is higher than hay and the fibre content is lower therefore they provide more energy per kilo again making them unsuitable to completely replace hay. They can however be used as a useful addition in the diet of poor doers and veterans. Be careful though feeding them to horses and ponies prone to laminitis as the water soluble carbohydrate levels can be very high.
Sugar beet is a highly fermentable fibre which can provide valuable additional fibre into your horse’s diet. There is also some evidence that feeding sugar beet can increase the digestibility of your horse’s hay so you get a double benefit! Look for quicker soaking alternatives or soaking time can be up to 12 hours. Although sugar beet is not ideal to completely replace hay because its 80% water once soaked and doesn’t require much chewing it is a valuable fibre provider.
Short chopped fibres
There are a number of short chopped fibre products available on the market; some contain vitamins and minerals in addition to chopped straw, grass and alfalfa. Look for products that state that they can completely replace hay due to their similar levels of protein, fibre and energy. Often these products are also suitable for laminitics and good doers as well. Ideal SPILLERS products include SPILLERS Happy Hoof and SPILLERS Happy Hoof Molasses Free, both of which can fully replace hay and come with the reassurance of being Laminitis Trust Approved.
Many soakable fibre products can partially replace hay due to their high fibre and low sugar and starch content. Look for products that have a similar protein level to hay 8-10%. SPILLERS Speedy-Mash Fibre is ideal to extend forage intake being low in sugar and starch and high in fibre. It’s delicious too and soaks in under 60 seconds so much more convenient than sugar beet. The mash texture makes it perfect for older horses and ponies that may have dental issues which means they can no longer manage hay or haylage.
High Fibre Cubes
High Fibre Cubes are ideal for providing additional fibre into your horse’s winter diet, why not try them in a snack ball to give your horse some entertainment whilst stabled? They can also be mixed with other fibre providers such as chops and sugar beet to extend eating time and provide additional vitamins and minerals. SPILLERS High Fibre Cubes are very versatile and can be used as the complete compound feed, as a partial forage replacer or as healthy fibrous treats in a snack ball. They contain live yeast and FOS so are great for gut health too!
So as you can see there are plenty of hay and haylage alternatives available over the coming months. If you would like some advice on which option is most suitable for your horse or pony call the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626.