Limited turnout is very common for many horses during the winter months, with wet and miserable weather conditions meaning it is impractical for many horses to spend very long in the field. With a shortage of forage during the colder months, it can be difficult to know the best horse feed to supply your horse with the fibre they need. So, what are the ideal hay/forage replacers to feed your horse during the winter months?
Choosing A Hay/Forage Replacer
When choosing a hay/forage replacer, there are a number of factors to consider:
- To help extend eating time - choose short chopped fibres.
- For those with poor dentition - look for feeds that can be soaked into a mash.
- For those prone to laminitis - avoid grass-based products, which can contain high levels of water-soluble carbohydrates.
- Check if it is only suitable as a partial hay replacer - sugar beet makes a great contribution to fibre intake but would provide too much of nutrients such as calcium if fed in large quantities.
Feeding Forage Replacers
In order to be suitable as a replacement for forage, the product must be fibre-based and have a similar nutritional value: i.e. with low levels of starch like hay. The forage replacer should ideally help to encourage plenty of chewing in order to create enough saliva to aid swallowing and balance the acidity in the digestive tract. For horses with poor dentition, a soaked forage replacer might be most suitable as the mash consistency is much easier to chew.
If you know that your forage supply may be limited, then a useful way of managing costs and making a gradual transition would be to extend the forage ration. By feeding a chopped alfalfa feed you can reduce the amount of forage you are feeding which is particularly useful if the quality of the forage is poor. Alfalfa is more nutritious than grass forages and contains plenty of energy to reduce dependence on concentrate feeds.
When using a forage replacer, many horse owners are concerned about the meal size. Leaving large meals of fibre-based feeds for your horse is just the same as leaving a net of forage. Concentrates provide large amounts of starch from cereal grains, so they must be fed in restricted amounts but this is not the case for fibre feeds even if they are fed in the bucket. It’s important that you gradually introduce all-new forages and feeds into the ration over a couple of weeks.
To encourage foraging activity, forage replacers can be offered in multiple buckets in the stable or field. This will help to increase eating time and mirror natural trickle feeding.
How Much Forage Does A Horse Need?
Every day a horse should have a minimum of 1.5% of their bodyweight of forage. For horses on the reasonably good pasture, their grass intake will count as part of their daily intake. As we are unable to know exactly how much a horse consumes when they are out at grass, we have to use a rough estimate based on how much time they have been grazing. For horses that are not overweight and don’t put weight on easily, then forage replacers should be fed ad-lib.
Fibre is essential for the health of your horse’s gut which is why it’s important that your horse continues to get enough forage. Hopefully, this guide will help you to utilise hay/forage replacers over the winter months if you need them. If you require more information speak to an equine nutritionist who will advise you on the best replacer and the quantity you should feed your horse.