Forage based diets are key to maintaining optimal health within your horse’s digestive tract. Fibre found in forage such as grass, hay, haylage or chaff, is the largest energy supply to our horse, with some able to thrive and sustain only on forage-based diets. The fibre digestion process generates heat as a natural by product, so therefore feeding high fibre diets during winter can subsequently help to keep your horses warm. Fibre is a portion of the plant which can be divided into digestible sources; cellulous and hemicellulose which are easily digestible and lignin another form but not as easily digested.
Horses are known as hindgut fermenters; this process of fibre digestion is known as microbial fermentation and occurs is the hind gut of the horses, specifically the cecum, located in the large intestine. The cecum is approximately 3 to 4 feet long and can hold up to 15 gallons of fluid and ingesta. Microbial fermentation is a slow process and can take up to 36 to 48 hours for ingesta to leave the large intestine. For increased forage whilst providing adequate energy levels, we can provide “super fibres”, such as soya hulls or beet pulp. Soya hulls have 30% more digestible energy than hay. These super fibres can be found within some of the Bluegrass Horse Feed products. Other feeds such as the Prime and Condition Mix also contain alfalfa chaff to help promote and aid a healthy digestive tract.
Good bacteria, fungi and protozoa aid the fermentation process producing volatile fatty acids. These are absorbed by the blood stream and transported to sites for energy stores in the form of fat or glycogen. These energy store are utilised when required, i.e. during exercise and are known as slow release energy sources, unlike cereals that provide quick “buzzy” energy.
Horses can graze from up to 16 to 17 hours per day, however as we change our horse’s management systems, such as during winter when they are stabled, this grazing period is restricted.
The production of saliva creates a natural buffer to the acids which are harmful to the stomach lining, high acid levels are known to contribute to gastric ulcers. Providing ad lib forage or pasture access encourages saliva production and therefore reduces the risk of digestive health problems from occurring.Unfortunately, unlimited access to rich pastures can result in other health issues such as laminitis or colic and weight management subsequently becomes harder.
Providing the correct amount of forage allows us to build a balanced diet according to their work load, condition score and status. A recommended minimum required is 1.5 – 2% of their body weight in kg of forage per day (500kg horse). From there we can adjust the diet according to the horse’s needs, i.e. providing a balancer or fortified feed for extra energy.