Old Horses, Cold Weather, and Forage Intake: Fresh grasses provide old horses with much of the nutrition they require to maintain health. As pasture quality wanes in the autumn, owners of old horses often begin to worry about providing sufficient forage. This is true especially if dental problems make hay-chewing difficult. Horses with missing or diseased teeth frequently chew grass more easily than hay. Consider these three strategies to increase fiber intake as fresh pasture becomes scarce.
Use pelleted or cubed forages:
Horses that cannot get nutrients from hay because of poor dentition often do well on hay pellets or cubes. Alfalfa (lucerne) hay makes up these products. However, pellets and cubes made from grass hays, such as timothy, are available.
“Horses generally find hay pellets and cubes palatable,” noted Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor with Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Dampen these products. Soften them prior to feeding. “Pellets and cubes can be soaked using different amounts of water to suit an individual horse’s preference, as some horses can be finicky about the wetness of a feed.” Cubes might have to be broken apart and moistened thoroughly in order for horses to get the most out of them.
Consider the use of chopped forage:
Several companies offer alfalfa and timothy hay in chopped form, with individual pieces of forage only a few inches long. Chopped forage is easier for horses to chew and swallow. “These products are sometimes coated lightly with a vegetable oil. For example, canola oil. It reduces dust. The canola oil is an additional source of calories, for horses with weight-maintenance issues” explained Whitehouse.
Find a well-fortified complete feed:
A “complete” feed contains rich energy and fiber sources. These are designed to be fed either without hay or with very little hay (1-2 lb; 0.45-0.9 kg). Complete feeds are pelleted or textured. Fiber sources include beet pulp, alfalfa meal, and soy hulls. The hindgut readily ferments the,. Complete feeds, when offered without long-stem forage, are meant to be fed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, which will usually be 1-2% of the horse’s body weight, said Whitehouse.
Many horse owners are not familiar or comfortable with feeding this much bagged product. Owners may be hesitant. However, they should remember the deficit must be filled with another source of energy. For example, in this case the complete feed. Split complete feed into three or four meals per day.
Dental dysfunction in older horses is usually progressive, occurring slowly over time. In addition to annual or semi-annual dental examinations, paying careful attention to chewing habits and body condition will often provide clues as to when alternative forage sources are necessary. Quidding is a telltale sign of dental problems, and occurs when a horse takes a bite of forage, wets it with saliva, rolls it within the mouth, and then spits it back out.
When a horse begins to show signs of quidding, it is best to move on to chopped or cubed hay, both of which have intermediate fiber length. When chewing these becomes more difficult for the horse, pelleted forage, which has the shortest fiber length is the next choice.
Add vegetable oil to any or all of these forage sources. “Choose an oil with a favorable fatty acid profile such as canola or soybean oil. Alternatively, added stabilized rice bran to the ration,” suggested Whitehouse.
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Article brought to you by KER.