Read These Tips to Providing the Nutrients Your Horse Needs!

This season has been especially difficult on horse owners all over the nation. Large scale rainfall in different areas of the country have caused hay production to pause or halt completely, leaving horse owners with little or no hay to provide to their horses! So when there is no hay readily available, what is a horse owner to do to ensure that your horse still receives the nutrients it needs? Below is an overview of hay alternatives that will provide nutrients for your horse throughout the season.

A horse was designed to be a grazing animal – an animal that spends its days grazing in green pastures, continuously nibbling on forages, filling its stomach. Because of its natural evolution, a horse needs to have access to forage continuously. A diet with little or no fiber sources can be detrimental to a horse. A constant supply of fiber is needed to maintain healthy bacteria in the hindgut. These bacteria help to break down fiber, providing energy to fuel the horse. Added bulk in a horse’s stomach is extremely vital to its wellbeing as it ensures the digestive system remains working properly. Without a fiber source, a horse will become sick or extremely irritable, developing habits such as stall weaving and wood chewing.

Feed the following hay alternatives as a part of a horse’s daily meal or in small amounts throughout the day. In general, feed a minimum of one pound of roughage per one hundred pounds of the horse’s body weight.

Hay cubes or pellets are probably the first item that comes to the minds of many when considering a hay alternative. These small cubes, similar in size to a concentrated feed cube/pellet, are formulated of alfalfa hay, timothy hay, alfalfa/grass hay, and oat hay. In short, hay cubes and pellets are the natural form of hay pressed into a cube. These can be fed soaked in water, allowing the cube/pellet to expand. These products provide owners with peace of mind in that there is little variation from one load of forage cubes to another. Most cubes are made to certain specifications and are available with a nutritional analysis, most commonly providing information on protein, fat, and fiber content.

Many owners prefer to feed alfalfa products since they provide a higher quantity of protein. When researching whether to feed your horse alfalfa pellets versus alfalfa cubes, keep in mind that the pelleted form does not provide as much fiber as the cube alternative. While it provides necessary bulk to a horse’s daily ration, a cube is a better option as they have more fiber, have longer hay strands, and provide bulk in the horse’s stomach.

Beet pulp has been proven as an excellent alternative to hay during a scarcity crisis. Beet pulp must be fed carefully, however, as when it absorbs water, it will expand three to four times the size of its original, dry amount. Beet pulp is extremely palatable, a great source of digestible energy, and provides the needed fiber and bulk. Soak a cup or two of beet pulp in water for eight to twelve hours prior to feeding (and make sure to drain the water!) Limit beet pulp portions to 25% of the horse’s total daily ration.

While these alternatives are great hay replacements, complete feeds fill the gap for hay as well. Made of pellets with ground hay, complete feeds increase fiber content but do not provide bulk. Excel Equine®® Feeds offers a variety of senior feeds with a high fiber content, including Seniority® Senior Plus®, and Senior HF®. With a fiber content as high as 20% and a low-sugar content in Senior Plus®, this feed is ideal for horses who do not consume enough forage or are insulin-resistant. Excel Equine® also offers Fiber First®, a feed high in fiber due to added beet pulp shreds. Seniority® has a 14.5% fiber content, while Senior HF® has 17% fiber and includes digestible beet pulp shreds. Additionally, a high fat content makes Fiber First® a safe source for additional calories and energy. This feed is highly recommended for horses who are not able to consume large quantities of hay.

While the hay shortage provides many difficulties for horse owners, feeding your horses should not be! With a variety of hay alternatives available, it is easier than ever to provide the necessary nutrients for a horse.

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