This is not too exciting today. It's my column from the paper.
Hay is For Horses
By Janet Huntington
The first barn I landed a training job with had a very unusual feeding program. They fed complete feed pellets and one small flake of alfalfa hay twice a day.The horses were fat and shiny and seemed healthy enough, but the concept puzzled me.
“I learned to feed this way from an Endurance Race competitor,” the barn ownersaid. “It’s plenty for them to eat and they don’t poop as much.” He also liked the ease of feeding and storage.
It seemed an odd way to feed tome, but they had been boarding horses for a long time, and I figured they knewwhat they were doing. As the years went by I noticed we had an awful lot of colic at the place. Thebroodmares seemed to have a rough time every year with much more than the usualbouts of colic. The boarded horses would have periodic episodes. There always seemed to be an explanation, but it still came down to an unusually high incidence of stressed digestion.
Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVB, a professor emeritus of CornellUniversity's College of Veterinary Medicine and Jaime Elia conducted a study of the dietary needs to keep horses physically and emotionally healthy. They point out the natural diet of horses is grass, which is typically high in fiber and low in calories.
The diet of most domestic horses is high in grain which is high in calories and much lower in fiber. An abstract of their study on www.PubMed.com explains the goal was to determinethe motivation of horses for hay when fed a low roughage diet. The horses were trained to push a panel to receive more feed. The results indicated a greater motivation for hay, the high fiber diet, when fed a low fiber diet. The horses fed the pellets spent much more time pushing the panel to get feed than horses being fed hay. They also spent more time searching the ground for food on the low fiber diet and almost twice as much time standing idle when fed pellets instead of hay. The authors concluded reducing forage will have a major impact on the mental and physical health of horses. Ulcers are a common medical condition in horses and foals. It is estimated thatalmost 50% of foals and 1/3 of adult horses confined in stalls may have mildulcers. Up to 60% of show horses and 90% of racehorses may develop moderate tosevere ulcers. Because they are so common, and can occur as a result of a number of factors, the condition is often called "equine gastric ulcer syndrome" (EGUS)or "equine gastric ulcer disease" (EGUD).
The website Drs. Foster and Smith(www.drsfostersmith.com) suggests low fiber diets are a leading cause of ulcers. “Horses evolved to graze, eating many small meals frequently,” the article stated. “This way the stomach is rarely empty and stomach acid has less of adamaging effect. If horses don’t eat frequently, the acid builds up and ulcersare likely to build up.”
The type and amount of roughage play a role in development. Roughage, because it requires more chewing, produces more saliva. The swallowed saliva helps to neutralize stomach acid. There is an increase in stomach acids when concentrates are fed. A book by Dr. Juliet Getty, Feed Your Horse Like A Horse, wants horse owners to understand their horses are trickle feeders, they need a continuous supply of asmall amount of forage. A horse’s digestive system needs to have food in it most of the time in order toavoid digestive problems. Getty writes, “Horses stomachs continually produce stomach acid, if a horse goes more than three hours without anything to graze on the excess acid can produce ulcers, diarrhea, behavioral problems and colic.”
A full horse is a happy horse. While many complete feeds have the necessary nutrition and calories, they don’t have the “munchability” of an armload of hay. There are hay bags available which will slow down how fast a horse can eat,drawing out the feeding process to last through the day.
Low sugar grass hay can be free fed, even to stall bound horses, and will make for a happier, healthier animal. Economically speaking, I found my horses stayed perfectly healthy on a diet ofalfalfa/grass mix and free choice salt and minerals. Even my show horses stayed strong and healthy on this diet. This approach to feeding saved me lots of money from my previous diets of hay, grain and supplements. I was able to feed quite afew critters on big squares and some well-placed mineral blocks. The barn owners with the weird feeding program lost three studs and a couple of broodmares to colic, on top of many vet calls for the horses who didn’t die but were still sick. I can’t help but wonder if more hay and less convenience might have made a difference in the health and well-being of their horses.