Horses are trickle grazers that have evolved to graze for 16-18 hours per day. As such, continual access to forage is optimal for equine dental and gastrointestinal health. There are many situations, however, where this is difficult to provide due to management factors such as improved pasture being too rich for native breeds or performance horses that frequently travel and compete and where forage cannot provide all the energy requirements. Reduced access to forage can lead to a multitude of health problems including dental overgrowths, colic, and equine gastric ulcer syndrome. So how do we optimise our management to maintain gut health when we cannot provide ad lib forage? Here are some tips to handle common, tricky situations.
The native pony
Native ponies or good-doers prone to obesity can easily gain too much condition from ad lib forage. Steps must be taken to reduce the calorie content of forage such that an adequate quantity can be provided.
- Minimal pasture turnout is recommended as it is impossible to quantify dietary intake at grass; a greedy pony can consume its entire daily calorie intake in two hours at grass. Turn out on a bare paddock and provide hay (soaked if necessary) as forage.
- Hanging nets at different locations around a turnout area increases movement.
- Select hay that is low in water-soluble carbohydrates (sugars); generally, this will be last season’s dry, stemmy hay.
- Soak hay to reduce water-soluble carbohydrates further.
- Double or triple bag hay, in small hole nets, to slow intake.
- Straw is essentially indigestible to the equine gut and therefore straw can be mixed through the hay to increase feeding time and gut fill. Provide a maximum ratio of 25% straw:75% hay and introduce straw into the diet slowly to prevent impaction.
Performance horses typically cannot obtain all their energy requirements from forage and therefore concentrates are also fed.
- Forage should always provide at least 60% of the ration; ideally as close to 100% as possible.
- Provide good quality hay with good protein and carbohydrate levels.
- Always provide a hay net while travelling.
- Double or triple net hay to increase feeding time if the horse gets through the hay net quickly.
- Hanging multiple nets at different locations in the stable increases forage intake.
- Horses on ad lib forage choose to consume two-thirds of their diet in the day (9am – 9pm) and therefore if not providing ad lib forage, apportioning forage in this manner seems sensible.
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Laminitis Article: Click here