Hay can be aggravating to find, especially if you only have a horse or two. Hay availability depends upon the year’s weather, as quality hay is scarce in wet or dry years. It can also be rare if you live in an area where farmers prefer to make labor-saving large round bales. Maybe your storage and/or budget force you to purchase a few bales at time, leaving you to hope the feed store isn’t sold out when you arrive.
No matter how you look at it, hay is a necessity, though. Its long fiber is crucial to your horse’s health. Most horses eat 15 to 25 lbs. of hay (or good pasture) a day — more when the weather’s really bad. Fibrous feeds, like hay, provide energy for the organisms in the large bowel and for the horse himself. They’re also important to mechanically stimulate the intestines. To do this, the fiber pieces must be a minimum length (long fiber), which is why hay can’t be beat.
Unless the horse is unable to chew them, you should always provide an adult horse with at least 5 lbs./day of a fiber source in pieces that are at least 1 inch long. This need can be met by the traditional hay, straw, chopped forages, or hay cubes.
Don’t be fooled by what you read on feedbags. Those so-called “complete” pellet or extruded feeds won’t do it. Even bags that claim to be a “hay pellet” won’t work. They’re too finely processed and, while they do contain fiber, they don’t contain that all-important long fiber.
There are good alternatives. Meeting the long-fiber requirement can be done with five pounds per day of baled hay, straw or bagged chopped forage. Here are some good options:
• Switch partially or entirely from hay to bagged hay cubes or chopped forage. Due to better preservation in cubes, you can often feed 10 to 20% less by weight and still maintain body condition. Costs run from $6 to $15/50 lbs. Prices depend largely upon where the product is produced, as they increase with shipping costs and the distributors they pass through.
Chopped forage is an excellent choice for horses who can’t chew well. Although it’s expensive, you can place five pounds in a bucket for long fiber and use a complete feed to make up overall fiber needs. Some chopped forages have added molasses, so check the ingredients if your horse is an easy keeper.
Hay cubes also work, since they’re made by compressing chopped hays. Note: Hay cubes are hard, and you may want to soak them before feeding them, especially to an older horse.
• Feed five pounds per day of long fiber source (regular hay, chopped forage or hay cubes) and the balance of the horse’s diet in hay pellets. Pellets have the same nutritional profile as cubes but are finely processed. A 20% reduction in amount fed by weight is expected, since the fine grinding makes pellets easily digested. Cost is $6 to $15/50 lbs.
• Replace up to 50% of your hay with beet pulp. Most horses like beet pulp, and it’s highly digestible. It’s digested by large-bowel fermentation, like hays, so preserves the health and function of the large intestine, like traditional long-fiber sources. It also soaks up to a generous volume, so the horse is busy longer and gets a satisfying fill. Adding 2 oz. of rice bran or 3 oz. of wheat bran per pound (dry weight) of the beet pulp balances the major-mineral profile. Because of the higher calorie density, 2.5 to 3 lbs. will substitute for 5 lbs. of hay.
• Feed 5 lbs./day of a long-fiber source and the balance of the horse’s diet as a complete feed. Complete feeds and senior feeds that are used as complete feeds have added fiber sources — usually alfalfa, beet pulp and soy hulls — and provide minimum fiber to support large intestinal function. They may also contain a significant amount of grain, however. If you’re going with a complete feed, stop feeding grain to avoid grain overload. And, since the switch to a complete feed will be a big change for your horse, be sure you make it over five to seven days.
• Consider using alfalfa. Grass hay can be scarce in an area where alfalfa is widely available. The major equine problems with alfalfa — high protein and high calcium — are often worst in cubes or pellets, which are usually made from early growth stages of alfalfa. Young alfalfa is also more calorie-dense than grass hays.
You can minimize these problems by feeding a 50:50 mix of wheat, oat or barley straw and alfalfa. Substitute the mix in the same amounts by weight you were feeding before. This will bring calories into the range of a good-quality grass hay, dietary crude protein 10 to 11%, and the calcium:phosphorus ratio improves from almost 7:1 down to about 3.5:1, which is within a tolerable range for an adult horse if the total amount of phosphorus in the diet is adequate.
Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Hay Alternatives.”
Click here to view ”Don’t Pour On The Grain.”
Click here to view ”Help With Traditional Hay.”
Click here to view ”Contacts For Hay Alternatives.”