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Feeding Your Horse Fibres

 feeding fibres in winter

Feeding Your Horse Fibres in Winter

The team at Spillers has put together some important considerations regarding feeding fibres in winter.

Second to water, fibre is the most important nutrient in the horse’s diet, it is after all what they evolved to eat! As winter approaches and grass quality begins to deteriorate, making up the shortfall with a suitable supply of hay, haylage or other forage replacer will be essential for the majority of horses and ponies. However feeding fibre extends much further than hay and haylage.
Digestive Health
The horse’s digestive system is both complex and delicate and has adapted to consume a forage, high fibre, low starch diet. Consequently, gut health and the absorption of nutrients relies on provision of a high fibre diet. Forage should therefore be the foundation of any horse’s diet, although increasing the use of chopped fibre feeds further helps to reduce reliance on cereal starch, providing a more sympathetic source of energy. In fact for many leisure horses, forage and chopped fibre feeds can easily meet energy requirements without the need for additional compound feed.

Feeding short chopped fibre either in replace of or alongside compound feed helps to extend eating time and consequently saliva production. Saliva is rich in bicarbonate which provides a natural buffer for stomach acid but unlike people, horses only produce saliva when they chew! However, having evolved to spend 16-18 hours per day eating, horses also have a psychological need to chew and therefore extending eating time with low calorie fibres may be particularly helpful for those on restricted forage diets.

Managing excitable temperaments
Behaviour is a concern for many owners in winter months, particularly as many of us will be facing reduced turnout and less time to ride. However, chopped fibres are an excellent source of ‘slow release energy’ that won’t increase the risk of excitability. For poor-doers, high oil varieties are an excellent alternative to higher starch, cereal based feeds that may prove to ‘heating’ for some horses and ponies

Choosing a Chopped Fibre
Given the importance of fibre, it’s no surprise that the variety of chopped fibre feeds has increased in recent years. Alfalfa is a highly digestible fibre containing relatively high levels of protein, vitamin and minerals (particularly calcium) compared to other fibres such as straw. However, feeds containing a blend of fibre sources such as grass nuts and straw can help to enhance palatability. Feeds containing higher proportion of straw are also a great option for horses and ponies with lower energy requirements. Regardless of the fibre source(s), you will need to add a balancer if the fibre you are using does not contain added vitamins and minerals or is fed at less than the recommended ration. 

Source Details

 The team at Spillers.

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