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Horse Hay Alternatives

Clean, palatable straw can provide much-needed dietary fiber and keep your horse busy, but you'll want to balance his ration to ensure your horse is getting adequate nutrition, not just something to fill his belly.

Protein Boosters

When feeding straw or low protein, stockpiled hay, choose from the following to balance your horse's diet.
Soybean meal-2 oz. per pound of straw, 1.5 to 2 oz. per pound of low protein hay
Alfalfa hay, meal or cubes-6 oz. per pound of straw, 4 to 6 oz. per pound of low protein hay
Dried split peas*-4 oz. per pound of straw, 3 to 4 oz. per pound of low protein hay Ground stabilized flaxseed meal**-4 oz. per pound of straw, 3 to 4 oz. per pound of low protein hay
Providing protein from several different sources is a good way to make sure the horse receives a variety of essential amino acids.
* Dried split peas are the same as the ones you can buy in the market for making pea soup, but in some areas of the country they may be available in bulk. Check with local mills that mix their own feeds. They are used in feeds for other livestock, and are a favorite in horse feeds in many parts of the world. Horses love them and they are a good low sugar, high fiber (25%) and high protein (25%) food.
** Flaxseed is also rich in essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) and in proportions closest to those in fresh grass. You can find products at www.omegafields.com and www.horsetech.com and can special order in bulk from Uckele Animal Health, www.uckele.com.

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Unfavorable weather conditions can result in hay shortages, sending the cost of available hay through the roof. With gasoline prices so high, shipping in hay from areas of plenty may not be a viable option either. Shortages of good grass hay may be particularly severe since many grasses have a shorter growing season than, say, alfalfa. In some areas, grass meadows may yield only one cutting under the best of circumstances.

This calls for some creative changes in the way you feed. But before getting to some possibilities, there are two things that you should not do:

Do not simply replace hay with more grain. The horse's metabolism and intestinal tract are designed to run on fiber, not grain. Hay is more than just roughage. It is food both for the beneficial organisms in the intestinal tract and for the horse's own body, and a natural source of precursors for vitamin A, D and K.

Unless your fields are in good shape, do not allow for more pasture time to make up for less hay. If the fields are also in poor shape because of adverse weather, the horses will be driven to eat things they would normally avoid, including toxic plants.

Now, on to some alternatives:
Grass hay pellets or cubes are simply hay that has been carefully dried, then cut and compressed. It can be fed as an alternative to loose hay. And because the hay is high quality, you can often feed less than you do of regular hay (up to 25% less). The drawback is cost and horses consume them much quicker than loose hay so may develop vices like wood chewing because they have too much time with nothing to do. Bagged loose, chopped forage is also available in many areas, often with a light coating of oil or molasses. Mineral balancing/supplementation will be needed just like it is with baled hay, unless you use one of the newer complete balanced hay-based products such as Ontario Dehy's Balanced Timothy Pellet (www.ontariodehy.com-widely available in the U.S.), Sterett Bros. Low Carb Complete Pelleted Feed (www.sterettbroshayandfeed.com-Pacific Northwest and California) or Triple Crown's Safe Starch (www.triplecrownfeed.com).

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