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Forage – the basis of the winter diet.

 

It’s imperative that the basis of any horse’s diet should be forage. Evolving as plains dwelling, grazing animals, the horse’s gut is designed to be almost constantly eating, rather than filling up on two or three large meals a day. Forage is essential to gut health, but also water uptake i.e. hydration, and mental health – providing plenty of fibre over winter not only keeps him full, but gives him something to do too. More recently we’ve come to fully understand the importance of fibre to preventing gastic upset, essentially acting as ‘mop’ within the gut. It is now recommended that horses receive a couple of handfuls of forage before riding to prevent splashing of acid within the stomach that may lead to stomach ulcers. Of particular importance to winter, digesting forage provides the horse with over twice as much ‘heat’ for keeping warm, and so maintaining condition, than the equivalent amount of cereals would. So we can see that the term ‘heating’ as often applied to cereals is actually quite misleading! With fewer farmers producing small hay bales, it’s likely that more of us than ever will be looking to haylage to supply the forage portion of our horse’s diet this winter. Good quality haylage can be a great product for horses, it’s very often more appetising to the animal and provides a good level of energy too. However, some horses and owners do find haylage can raise certain issues.

 

What are the likely issues with haylage?


The preservation process of ensiling (essentially pickling) makes a comparatively acid product. Also we must remember that, weight for weight, haylage is actually lower in fibre than the same amount of hay – due to it’s lower dry matter. Both of these issues can add up to result in a product that may cause digestive and/or behavioural upset in some horses. The other issue with haylage is that the vitamin and mineral content, like hay, will not match that of fresh pasture, and will also be lacking compared to concentrate feed where the essential micronutrients have been added. Having said all that, haylage can make an excellent basic feed for horses. A diet essentially based on haylage can meet the energy and protein requirements of most horses in light to medium work, without the need to top up with expensive bagged feed. By adding a suitable balancer, all the micronutrient requirements will also be met.

 

Pellets or Powder?

 

Feed balancers are now available in both pelleted form and a more concentrated powdered version. Pellets are designed to be fed alone, but for those mixing feeds, for example with some chaff, chop or mix then the more concentrated powdered balancers make better sense. Without the carriers and fillers necessary for pellet production, the powdered versions represent
the ‘green’ choice, as a small pot can be produced and transported using far less fuel than a 20kg bag. This environmental saving is also passed onto the horse owner as a financial saving. Compare the cost of a premium concentrated balancer of around 60p per day, with the average cost of around £1 per day for the pelleted alternative. That equals a saving of £12 a month – or at least part of your next lesson! A feed combining forage, high fibre chaff and a concentrated balancer to cover the micronutrient requirements of the diet is the ideal answer for most horses and ponies, but which one suits the horse with haylage issues? Ensure that the concentrated balancer chosen is designed for the particular requirements of the haylage diet. The product must include adequate gut support, including pre and probiotic yeasts to support the beneficial bacteria population in the hindgut that are responsible for healthy digestion. Including a good quality antacid and digestive clays, such as bentonite clay, will ensure gut excesses are mopped up, which can be seen as cleaner beds, less requirement for tail and leg washing (!), and a generally happier, more settled horse. Choosing  NAF Haylage Balancer provides all the essential gut support to the haylage fed horse, with a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals to maintain health and vitality right through to spring.

 

Conclusion

 

Basing your horse’s winter diet on fibre and forage to replicate their natural diet is recommended whatever stage of life or level of work he or she is at. By supporting that diet with a good concentrated balancer such as NAF Haylage Balancer, you optimise your horse’s gut to better cope with the challenges of the diet, so your horse will be able to get more from his forage ration. The balancer will also ensure that his basic vitamin and mineral requirements are met, hence we should be able to significantly reduce, or cut out, the bagged feed. By cutting down hard feed, significant winter budget savings can be made. No doubt your horse will still
appreciate a bucket of something yummy to come in to. Simply provide a concentrated  balancer  such as NAF Haylage Balancer in a few handfuls of chaff, which together with a big net (or feeder) of haylage will keep him happily chomping all night. Your horse will be happy as both his gut and mind will be settled, and you’ll be happy by saving a few pennies to boot!
Related NAF Products: NAF Haylage Balancer, NAF in the Pink Powder, NAF in the Pink Senior.
Acknowledgement :  Kate Hore BSc(Hons), nutritionist at Natural Animal Feeds. For further information call the NAF Freephone Advice Line on 0800 373106, or see the NAF web site at www.naf-uk.com

 

 

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