Feeding your horse during the winter can be a challenge, and no-one wants to over pay for their horse’s hay or haylage, so we asked the experts how to get the most out of your horse’s forage without compromising their health and performance.
Fibre is essential for hindgut function and the process of digestion helps to keep the horse warm. Fibre also supplies slow-release energy and reduces the risk of colic in horses, so what is the best way to ensure we are feeding enough fibre to our horses without any unnecessary expensive wastage?
1. Katie Williams, head of nutrition at Dengie Horse Feeds, says: “Research has shown that offering a variety of fibre types — hay, haylage, chopped fibre — keeps stabled horses happy and stimulated. Offering a bucket of chopped fibre, such as Hi-Fi Original, with carrots and apples is a great way of increasing fibre intake and encouraging them to forage.”
2. Lizzie Drury, senior nutritionist from Saracen Horse Feeds describes this as “cafeteria-style” feeding and goes further: “Try offering a net of hay, another of haylage, a bucket of chaff and sprinkle high-fibre cubes in a pile of hay on the floor.”
3. Used with caution, good-quality oat or barley straw accompanied by plenty of water — and a watchful eye to ensure droppings are regular — can be used to make hay or haylage go further, especially for good doers. But it is not recommended for a horse with a fragile digestive system and can cause impactions, so if you’re unsure then discuss this plan with your vet before introducing it.
4. Clare Barfoot of Spillers advises: “If you can’t find a reliable source of hay or haylage, hay replacers may be useful. These are chopped fibre-based products formulated to provide the same level of nutrition as hay or haylage and can be fed at up to 100% of the diet. Some contain vitamins and minerals, such as Spillers Happy Hoof, while others don’t, so it is worth checking with the manufacturer whether or not you need to add in a supplement.”
5. Don’t waste forage, either by overfeeding, not supplying in a varied enough form or by not presenting it to your horse properly. Hannah Briars of Winergy suggests: “Bring horses in from the field to eat or provide a field rack to prevent hay being wasted through trampling.”
6. Switching from traditional small bales, to larger bales of hay, could save you money in the long run. Unlike haylage, which will go off if not used quickly enough, big-bale hay will last and some merchants will wrap hay for clients if you need to store it outside.
7. If you do prefer to use haylage, clubbing together with other owners on your yard will help ensure you get through big-bale haylage fast enough to minimise wastage.
8. If you can buy your hay straight from the field, and collect it yourself, this is likely to be is cheaper. The farmer may well give you a discount if you’re willing to save him the job of transporting it home.
9. Hay and haylage don’t just differ in their moisture content; depending on the type and age of ley (mix of grass varieties) used, when it is cut (anything from May to late August) and the amount of time it “cures” before being baled, the nutritional value of your forage can vary, so it is worth getting it analysed so you know what you are feeding. Once you have this information, speak to a nutritionist about your horse and you may find you can save money by reducing your horse’s hard feed.
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