I visited a client this past weekend who has a number of geriatric horses. Most of them were in their twenties, and a few led the pack in their thirties. All of the horses receive excellent care and are moving right along with a spring in their step! As each of them has aged, my client has developed customized care plans to accommodate each of their various ailments. Some need daily Previcox for arthritis, while others require pergolide to manage Cushing’s disease. While all of the horses have received excellent annual dental care, many of them are missing teeth or have dental issues such as hypercementosis. As a result, my client has made several diet changes to accommodate their needs. I was intrigued by one such modification: the use of a hay steamer.
There are several hay steamers on the market. Basically, they all function the same way: put the hay in, seal the top, turn on the steam, and then feed. The most common steamers can hold between ½ to one full bale of hay. They are pretty simple to use. Steaming takes between 30 and 60 minutes to get the hay steamed completely through- so it can add some time onto the feeding process. For some horse owners, it is worth it because it enables their horses to actually chew hay.
Diet is a key component to keeping these geriatric horses going. Many of my client’s horses must eat pelleted mash as their main source of nutrients because they cannot keep weight on simply by eating hay alone. But my client noted that even though they are just “going through the motions” with chewing hay, her horses seem to prefer it. Chewing hay passes the time, and can provide some long-stemmed forage in the GI tract, which is actually a good thing for horses. The problem comes when they cannot adequately chew the hay and thus they swallow it whole. This can lead to weight loss and increase the horse’s risk of impaction colic. My client frequently picks up quidded wads of “gummed hay” as she calls it- basically hay that her horse’s chew up but do not swallow. However, she also notes that the steamer softens and moistens the hay- which seems to make it easier to chew for the horses, resulting in less “quid wads” and wastage.
Alternatively, one can soak hay, but it can be hard on the back, messy, and take a lot of water (for those of us in California, water is in short supply!) Steaming is shown to be comparable to soaking, except that it cannot reduce water soluble carbohydrate content quite as much.
You can also read our field trial with hay steamers here. Let us know your experiences, too.