This time last year, many of us were enjoying a long hot summer, but the lack of rainfall, led to a lack of grazing. Jane Buchan from Baileys Horse Feeds compiled this guide to feeding without using up winter supplies. First published in Carriage Driving August 2018.
This current spell of hot weather has brought its own challenges, not least the rendering of the ground to concrete and our paddocks to desert. Many of us are supplementing bare grazing by feeding hay or haylage, some of it already this year’s crop. There are alternatives, however, which could help spare forage reserves for the winter, while helping maintain horses’ fibre intake, condition and well-being.
Any chaff or chopped forage represents an alternative fibre source to help replace hay or grass. Harder working horses and ponies would benefit from the additional quality protein supplied by alfalfa chaffs or pellets, as this will support muscle and top line alongside the extra digestible fibre. Dried grass products are also useful but care must be taken, when feeding to the laminitis-prone, as sugar content can be higher than is appropriate for these individuals.
High fibre cubes or nuggets are an option but check whether they also contain vitamins and minerals and take this into account when feeding alongside existing hard feed. Soaked fibre products, like beet pulp, bring the advantage of helping maintain hydration levels due to their added water content. Straight unmolassed beet products are more suited to good-doers and can provide extra chew time without too many unwanted calories, while soaked beet/alfalfa products are good for those with higher calorie requirements.
All these fibre sources can be fed to replace part of the forage ration, which will help eke out valuable winter forage stocks. They should be fed separately from the horse’s hard feed and, if a couple of different options are offered, like beet pulp and an alfalfa chaff, these can be given in separate buckets and will encourage natural browsing behaviour. An easy option for groups of horses in dry paddocks is a chunky high fibre nugget, which can easily be scattered on the ground.
Maintaining fibre intake, in hot weather, is important as it helps keep the horse hydrated by acting as a fluid reservoir in the hindgut. Since the fermentation of fibre, in the hindgut, creates heat, horses are often reluctant to eat too much hay when temperatures rise so offering soaked beet products is an ideal alternative. These also tend to contain higher levels of “superfibres”, which are more easily digested so create less heat.
Keeping horses hydrated goes hand-in-hand with fibre intake in helping to maintain gut health and reduce the risk of colic. Giving an electrolyte supplement, in drinking water or wet, sloppy feed, is especially important, each time a horse sweats, as it will help replace the body salts lost in the sweat, thus aiding recovery. Always make sure a horse has access to fresh clean drinking water, alongside an electrolyte solution or meal containing electrolytes, and be wary of giving electrolyte pastes without ensuring the horse drinks. Giving electrolytes with insufficient water can have the opposite of the desired effect.
For good-doers and those who are not in much work, it’s tempting not to bother with hard feed but Baileys’ own records of forage analyses show that modern pasture, hay and haylage are deficient in key nutrients, particularly minerals and protein. This makes some form of supplementary feeding essential and balancers are ideal for providing quality protein, vitamins and minerals without the calories associated with a mix or cube. They’re fed in small quantities and supply what’s lacking in forage and pasture to support muscle tone and build, tissue integrity, metabolism and performance.
Maintaining a balanced diet all year round is important to provide consistent nutritional support for health and well-being. Hooves, for example, take 6 to 12 months to grow down from the coronet band so what you are feeding today will be incorporated into the horse’s hoof capsule that you will be riding on during the winter months! If you find you feed less than the recommended quantity of a mix or cube, it’s worth topping up with a balancer too, to ensure the diet remains fully balanced, while moderating calorie intake when necessary.
First published in Carriage Driving August 2018