The Rules Of Feeding
As children, many horse owners attended Pony Club to grasp the basics of horse care and riding! Even if you didn't go to Pony Club, the 'golden rules of feeding' were drummed into us, preventing ill health. But did you know these 'golden rules' also optimised digestive health and the absorption of nutrients from autumn grazing?!
The 'golden rules' apply to everything your horse eats, not just their hard feed! Grass changes between cuts, from quality to the species of grass it contains, so it is just as important to apply the 'golden rules' to hay and haylage as it is to any concentrates or supplements you may be feeding.
If you can't remember the 'golden rules', here they are once again...
Provide clean, fresh water- Water plays an essential role in digestion and is involved in most of the reactions that break down food; without adequate water, food breakdown and nutrient digestion can be compromised. Compromised digestion could therefore lead to anything, from poor hoof health to life-threatening conditions. It also aids the smooth passage of food through the gastrointestinal tract, which can decrease the chances of developing colic.
Feed little and often– As the stomach is relatively small, horses can digest very little starch at any one time. Any excess starch that escapes digestion in the small intestine will overflow into the hindgut, affecting the microbial balance. Therefore, it is important not to overload the horse's system with high-sugar feeds, as this can impact negatively of fibre breakdown!
Feed according to work – Regardless of the workload of the horse, the diet must always start with fibre, even for competition horses that have a higher demand on their energy requirements. To include more fibre in a high energy diet, try a forage with more energy per kilogram, such as alfalfa. Alternatively, add a fat source, like oil which is high in calories by low on bulk, leaving more room for forage - it can also be used as a hoof conditioner!
Maintain a routine– Horses are creatures of habit and any change of routine can increase stress levels that can have a negative impact on the digestive system, causing it to become disrupted.
Feed sufficient fibre– Always make sure your horse is getting the fibre they need- DO NOT COMPROMISE THIS! Fibre should make up at least 60% of the horses total rations and if there is insufficient fibre reaching the hindgut, this delicate microbial ecosystem can easily become upset. Providing adlib access to forage or adequate grazing can also relieve boredom and satisfies their natural desire to chew. Fibre in the form of grass or hay is vital to a healthy, efficient digestive system.
Introduce new forage gradually– Introduce new forage gradually to the digestive system. When grass starts to become sparse, add small amounts of hay into your horse's paddock for them to nibble at, if you want to continue benefitting from turnout. If you are already utilising hay in your horse's diet, any new bale will also need introducing gradually. Cross over the bales, gradually adding more of the new supply. This give the digestive system the necessary time to adjust to a change in bacteria, nutritional content and grass species within the batch of forage. Gradual changes to forage lessen the risk of digestive upset or even colic.
Feed good quality forage- the quality of the forage you buy is vital to eliminate exposure to mycotoxins. Whilst we are all aware of the risks of feeding dusty hay on the respiratory system, certain mould growth in hay and haylage can also have a negative effect on the horse’s overall wellbeing. Mycotoxins are produced by certain moulds commonly found in forage and bedding.
Practice good hygiene- Mycotoxins, a toxic substance produced by fungus, love warm and damp conditions, so make sure forage is stored in a cool and dry area. Research suggested keeping bales off of the floor reduces growth of bacteria, fungus and spores. Additionally, wrapped bales should be checked for punctured packaging, as this can increase the likelihood of bacteria and mould formation.
For optimal forage hygiene, also consider products like Alltech's *new* Forage Guard®. Forage Guard® is a broad spectrum mycotoxin binder, designed to help lessen the damaging effects of mycotoxins on performance and health. It's great for when you are questioning the quality of your forage, or just as a precautionary measure to ensure you horses is receiving all the nutrients they need!
It works to bind the mycotoxins in the gut, therefore preventing their absorption from the gut into the horse, without removing key nutrients from the diet. Alternatives to Forage Guard® are clay binders, however these tend to absorb vital vitamin and minerals too!