Being aware of the benefits and shortfalls of different forages will help you make an informed decision when it comes to selecting the right products for your horse. But you shouldn’t rule out forage replacements either...
1. Hay is harvested either from permanent pasture meadow grasses or specially sown seed leys. Once cut, it’s left to air-dry in the field. Hay tends to be harvested between the end of May and end of July.
2. Haylage is conserved cut grass, baled with a higher water content than hay, and then wrapped. Due to the higher water content, more haylage needs to be fed than hay (by weight) as the nutrient and fibre levels will effectively have been “diluted”. Haylage tends to be cut earlier in the season compared to hay (generally before mid-June). It tends to be higher in overall energy if it is cut earlier than hay and less dusty
3. Straw is particularly useful as a partial replacement (up to a maximum of 30% of the daily fibre intake) when feeding good-doers or overweight horses. Oat and barley straw are most common, though oat straw has a slightly softer texture and is less prickly for the horse to eat compared to barley straw. Hygienic quality is also important to consider. Always make sure that you are providing a clean, fresh supply of drinking water alongside.
4. Chopped dried grass is harvested earlier than hay and dried artificially. It’s often higher in protein and energy, making it a good option for poor-doers and veterans. Do remember though that these types of chaffs do retain much of the natural sugar content of fresh grass but without the water content to “dilute” it! Therefore, it may be preferable to avoid these types of chaffs for those horses prone to laminitis or requiring a low sugar diet. They should also not be used as a complete hay replacement.
5. Grass nuts are harvested in a similar way and have similar qualities to chopped dried grass, but are pelleted.
6. Sugar beet is a palatable way to add fibre to the diet, but again it can’t be used as a complete replacement. For those requiring a low starch/low sugar diet, look out for molasses-free beet pulps. Quick-soaking options are also available nowadays which can make for more convenient feeding.
7. Short-chopped fibres may contain chopped straw, grass and alfalfa, or a combination of the three, and sometimes vitamins and minerals. Short chopped fibres can either partially or totally replace forage ration.
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8. Soakable high fibre products are often high-fibre and low in sugar and starch, so can be used as a partial replacement and are ideal for horses with dental problems.
9. High-fibre cubes are a versatile and palatable way of adding fibre as a complete compound feed, partial replacer or treats in a snack ball. Remember though that these do usually contain added vitamins and minerals so should be fed in accordance with manufacturer recommendations.
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