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The Basics, Part 3 – Forage

(Post by Jason) In my last post I wrote a little bit about forages with a focus on forages growing on pastures. Today my focus is forages with more of an emphasis on hay. For my first two posts on this series of the basics you can follow these links:

I have already mentioned more than once that I think it’s imperative for most horses in most situations to have ready access to forages, preferably 24/7. Horses spend hours and hours every day grazing so ideally these forages will be growing in big pastures. Horses in groups on pasture spend most of their time in low impact movement in search of the perfect bite. However most horses don’t spend their lives grazing in big pastures, and even those that do often can’t graze for a portion of the year. When horses can’t graze on pasture it’s up to us to provide forage of adequate quality, usually but not always hay, for them to graze on. I have a few thoughts on this topic too.

The type, amount and quality of hay you choose to feed should be determined by what sort of horse you’re feeding. The goal in all cases is to keep forage in front of your horse as close to 24/7 as possible so that it can eat a whole bunch of small forage meals at will much as it would do when grazing. Keeping the caecum and hindgut full of forage pays a lot of dividends but perhaps the biggest one is that forage helps regulate stomach acid production (preventing stomach ulcers) and all the potential malaise from hindgut acidosis that can come from over production of stomach acid. Hindgut acidosis CAN lead to laminitis, colonic ulcers, and colic. Another side note here is that stomach ulcers and hindgut ulcers require different treatment. Everyone thinks of omeprazole for ulcers (GastroGard, UlcerGard), but this only treats stomach ulcers, NOT hindgut ulcers. In fact some research is indicating that treating for stomach ulcers with omeprazole can exacerbate hindgut ulcers in some horses. Back to forage . . .

If we’re not going to regulate the quantity of forage in front of a horse then we’ll definitely need to regulate the quality of forage on offer. Generally speaking the highest quality hay needs to go to growing foals, nursing mares, and horses (particularly hard keepers) in intense work.  Conversely the lowest quality hay should be reserved for easy keepers who aren’t in work and who are mostly sedentary.  I will add here that most horse owners I have assisted on nutritional workups do not understand the definitions of mild, moderate, hard and intense work, and often overestimate their horse’s workload.

When I differentiate with regards to quality I am not referring to colour or dust levels or mold levels. ALL horse hay needs to be clean, bright and dry regardless of who is getting it. Rather, I am talking about energy levels (starches and sugars in most forages), fibre levels (this determines the rate and degree of nutrient digestibility), and to a lesser degree protein levels. In order to determine these levels with any degree of accuracy one needs to get in the habit of submitting hay tests. The goal when testing hay is to submit a snapshot of what your horse is eating right now and/or what he will be eating in the future. The best way to sample hay is to borrow a core sampler from your local feed store and drill into several bales that are currently (or will soon be) getting fed to your horse(s). I’ll talk more about how to core sample hay and pasture and how to interpret results in my next post.

Silver and Asterik

George and Lofty

Duesy and  Havana

Missy and Dawn

Flyer and Moses

Sam and Lighty

Sport and Bruno

Donneur and Lofty

Cocomo and Asterik

Gibson and Flyer

Sabrina and Sparky

Lighty and Johnny

Quigly and Sam

Baby and Trigger

Ricardo and Levendi

Convey and Chance

Cody and Art playing (Bruno watching)

Maggie and Penny

Charlotte and Dolly

Gus, Romeo and Lotus

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