Alternatives to forage – what to do if your hay or haylage isn’t right for your horse *Promotion*

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    There are times when the forage you have doesn’t suit your horse. It could be that your horse is having trouble chewing it or maybe it’s not as good a quality as normal and your horse isn’t doing so well on it. In these situations a forage replacer can be a practical way to ensure your horse is able to consume sufficient fibre to maintain their digestive health.

    What is a forage replacer?

    Forage replacers are feeds that are high in fibre that can be used instead of hay or haylage. Some might be suitable as total forage replacers whereas others may only be suitable for partially replacing forage. This is usually because they have a high nutritional value and so would over-supply certain nutrients if fed in larger amounts.

    Why might my horse need a forage replacer?

    Poor dentition: Horses with poor teeth, including older horses, may no longer be able to manage long stemmed forages like hay or haylage. Issues such as diastemas (larger gaps between teeth where feed can become trapped) are increasingly being diagnosed and so young horses with these problems often need forage replacers too.

    Lack of forage: Over recent years, there have been frequent occasions when forage is in short supply. A forage replacer can help to make the usual hay ration last longer. Using a couple of kilograms of a chopped fibre feed every day in place of the same weight of forage means you don’t have to make a sudden or complete change to the diet if you run out completely.

    Forage that’s just too good: Sometimes the forage is just too good for your horse or pony. Using a low calorie chopped fibre feed in place of a couple of kilograms of hay or haylage can help to reduce the overall level of calories provided by the forage.

    Forage that’s just not good enough: At the other end of the spectrum, late cut forages are likely to be less nutritious, and for horses with increased nutritional requirements, it may not be enough. Using a higher calorie chopped fibre feed in addition to ad lib forage is a relatively safe way to provide extra calories without having to use more cereal-based feeds – this is particularly beneficial for those with health problems requiring a low starch diet.

    Variety is the spice of life: Offering a bucket or two of chopped fibre alongside the usual forage ration is a great way to keep your horse interested and encourage foraging behaviour, especially when stabled for longer periods.

    How do I know if my horse is struggling to chew forage?

    There are some very obvious signs that a horse may be struggling, such as quidding, where balled up pieces of food are dropped out of the horse’s mouth and tend to accumulate around the hay net or feeder. A reduced appetite may indicate that the horse is experiencing some discomfort when chewing, and loose droppings or Faecal Water Syndrome can also be a sign of dental problems. However, there are some earlier signs that may be more subtle. Studies have shown that pieces of fibre greater than 3.6mm in the horse’s droppings are an indicator of dental abnormalities. For donkeys, the threshold length is slightly shorter at 3.3mm, due to differences in their oral conformation.

    What happens if I don’t feed enough forage to my horse?

    • Weight loss is the most common problem if the horse simply can’t eat enough forage. Remember that forage should make up at least half and more likely three-quarters of a horse’s ration. Not consuming enough soon means they lose weight.
    • Forage is fermented in the gut which generates heat and so too little forage can mean the horse gets cold.
    • A lack of fibre to maintain normal gut motility can result in colic.
    • The horse may start to chew wood instead as they seek out fibre – in extreme cases, horses may eat their own faeces.
    • Fibre tends to give faeces structure and so if not enough is consumed it may result in loose droppings.
    • Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome is also associated with insufficient forage intake.

    Which Dengie feeds can I use as a forage replacer?

    Choosing the right forage replacer is largely determined by how well the horse holds their weight and condition. The following tables give some examples of the different options from the Dengie range but do contact the Dengie Feedline for personalised feeding advice.

    Feed Energy MJ/kg Sugar % Ideal For Feeding Rates Additional Info
    Meadow Lite with Herbs 5 3 Good doers, those prone to laminitis Up to ad lib quantities Includes postbiotics for digestive health
    Hi-Fi Lite 7.5 7 Good doers Up to ad lib quantities A light molasses coating aids palatability
    Hi-Fi Senior 8.5 10 Veterans, those with equine asthma Up to ad lib quantities Only contains precision dried ingredients and no straw so a very clean forage source
    Pure Grass 10 12 Almost any horse or pony – alfalfa-based feeds will be lower in sugar but Pure Grass is comparable to average hay Up to ad lib quantities No added coating or pellets
    Meadow Grass with Herbs & Oil 11.5 12 Poor doers, fussy horses Up to 1kg per 100kg of bodyweight Contains grass chop and pellets with a high oil content

    If the short chop format is still a challenge, then Dengie Alfa-Beet and Pure Grass Pellets can be soaked into a mash for a really easy-to-chew option.

    Feed Energy MJ/kg Sugar % Ideal For Feeding Rates Additional Info
    Pure Grass Pellets 10 12 Fussy horses and ponies, those who need a soaked fibre feed Up to ad lib quantities Feed soaked, highly palatable as naturally sweet. Can be used alongside chopped fibres
    Alfa-Beet 10.5 5 Poor doers, those who need a soaked fibre feed Up to 1kg per 100kg of bodyweight Must be fed soaked, can be fed alongside chopped fibres

    Dengie AlfaBeet

    How to feed a forage replacer

    • Replace forage on a weight-for-weight basis. All horses should have a minimum of 1.5% of their bodyweight on a dry matter basis of fibre-based feeds daily, e.g., 7.5kg for a 500kg horse.
    • If your horse is still eating some hay or haylage, weigh how much you give each day and then weigh what is left, so you can work out what has been eaten and how much they need of a forage replacer.
    • Divide forage replacers into smaller meals to increase eating time. As they are fibre-based, you can leave a larger amount to eat when it is not practical to split meals, e.g., overnight.
    • Feed forage replacers in a large trug or preferably several trugs around the stable to encourage foraging behaviour.
    • To slow the rate of eating for good doers, use a football or some very large smooth pebbles on top of the feed to help slow the rate of consumption.
    • Adjust the amount of forage replacer given according to the amount of grazing access and your horse’s bodyweight.
    • Any dietary changes should ideally be made gradually, increasing the quantity of any new feed over a period of a couple of weeks.

    For more information and for help with choosing a suitable forage replacer for your horse, contact Dengie on 01621 841188 or fill out a Feed Advice Form.

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