Earlier this year a review paper entitled ‘Feeding conserved forage to horses: recent advances and recommendations’ was published in collaboration with SPILLERS. This paper, which is the first of its kind, makes recommendations based on the most recent understanding of feeding forage to horses. It is hoped that it will help to improve the health, welfare and performance of horses worldwide so we wanted to share some of the key recommendations with you
How much forage should you feed?
Forage always should be fed ad lib wherever possible. However when appropriate, i.e. for overweight horses and ponies, minimum daily intake should be calculated on a grams per kilogram bodyweight dry matter basis.
Total daily forage intake should not be restricted to less than 15g per kilogram of bodyweight – this is equal to 1.5% of bodyweight (dry matter).
- Previous recommendations of reducing intake to 8-10g per kilogram bodyweight are no longer acceptable (except in extreme clinical situations and under strict veterinary supervision)
SPILLERS Tip: Putting the science into practise
For every kilo of hay/ haylage you feed, a certain amount is water and doesn’t count towards your horse’s forage intake. Although ‘dry matter’ recommendations may sound confusing, the difference between the amount of forage you feed and the amount your horse actually consumes when you minus the water (this is called dry matter) is important if you are restricting his intake. In order to provide 15g of forage per kilogram of bodyweight dry matter, you actually need to feed approximately (based on no grazing):
- 18g per kilogram bodyweight per day if feeding hay (1.8% bodyweight)
- 20-24g per kilogram of bodyweight per day if feeding haylage (2-2.4% bodyweight)
Changes in forage
Any changes in forage will cause changes in gut microflora which may lead to digestive upset.
- Changes in forage should be made over a minimum period of 2 weeks and ideally 3 weeks or more.
Performance horses may be fed limited amounts of forage, particularly in certain disciplines. However it is possible for forage alone to meet or even exceed the energy requirements of horses in heavy exercise. Several studies have investigated the possibility of training and competing/ racing horses on forage only diets and together, the results suggest feeding high energy forage as an alternative to high starch feeds may help to promote health and performance.
- Consider choosing less mature forage that is higher in energy and protein
Forage only diets help to support gut bacteria
The microbial population of the gut has been found to be more stable, more diverse and have a larger ‘core’ in horses on forage only diets, especially when compared to those on feeds high in starch and sugar. This is important as reduced microbial diversity and a smaller core may increase the risk of digestive upset, particularly in response to changes in diet.
The risk of non-glandular ulcers may be increased by:
- Leaving horses for more than 6 hours without forage (Luthersson et al 2009).
- Feeding straw as the main forage supply.
- Introduce any straw very gradually to allow your horse time to adapt its chewing behaviour and reduce the risk of impaction colic.
- The amount of straw that can be fed remains open to debate but some of the authors recommending a total intake of no more than 30% (dry matter) of total forage intake.
- Any straw fed should always be of good hygienic quality
Share this blog to help raise awareness of most recent advice on feeding forage to horses
- A. Harris, A.D. Ellis, M.J. Fradinho, A. Jansson, V. Julliand, N. Luthersson, A.S. Santos and I. Vervuert (2017) Review of feeding conserved forage to horses: recent advances and recommendations Animal 11:6 p 958-967