Why is forage important and how much should you feed?
Forage is the most important part of your horse’s diet, whether it is fresh (i.e. grass) or preserved (i.e. haylage or hay) it’s essential that your horse receives adequate levels in their diet. This not only provides them with an important source of nutrients, but it is also essential to keep their digestive system functioning effectively and promotes psychological well-being. Lack of forage in the diet can lead to multiple issues including gastric ulcers, colic, loose droppings and stereotypic behaviours. So, your choice of forage should be the most important feed purchase you make. Understanding the nutritional value and role of forage in the horse’s diet will help you make the best choice for your horse.
The horse is a hindgut fermenter; meaning that fibre is gradually fermented in the large intestine or hindgut. This results in the production of volatile fatty acids, which provides the horse with an important source of ‘slow release’ energy. Forage also contains protein, vitamins and minerals. It is also essential for the production of B-vitamins by microbes in the hindgut and plays an important role in hydration by acting as a fluid reservoir, holding water and electrolytes in the gut.
The level of nutrients provided can vary greatly and will depend on factors such as, whether it is fresh or conserved forage, the maturity and species of the grass it contains, pasture fertilization/ management, underlying geology of the soil and, in the case of conserved forage, the length of time it is stored. The only way to accurately determine the nutrient content in forage is to take samples and get them analysed by a forage testing laboratory. Our nutrition team do this on a regular basis and as a result, we know that even the best forage will not provide adequate levels of several essential minerals. In addition, when grass is cut and turned into hay or haylage the majority of vitamins are lost.
As forage cannot be relied upon to meet your horse’s micronutrient requirements, it is essential that your horse receives a fully fortified hard feed or multivitamin and mineral supplement, even if they are maintaining weight well on a forage only diet. Thankfully, Connolly’s RED MILLS and Foran Equine have a wide range of feeds and supplements, so whether you have a racehorse, a competition pony, a good-doer or a foal we can help you to ensure that they receive a fully balanced diet.
For more information on the Nutritional Value of Forage, read this.
Adequate forage is important for the health of the entire digestive system. If the horse does not receive an adequate supply of forage, it can have detrimental effects on their health and this can lead to the development of gastric ulcers, loose droppings or colic.
Starting in the mouth, the significant amount of chewing required when a horse consumes forage helps to ensure even wear on teeth. The greater amount of chewing needed to consume forage compared to concentrate also results in a larger amount of saliva production. This is important as saliva contains bicarbonate ions, which acts to neutralise the acidity of gastric juices, even as little as 3-4 hours without forage will result in a significant increase in stomach acid. Feeding plenty of forage is one of the most important things you can do to help protect the sensitive areas of the stomach from Developing Gastric Ulcers. In addition, forage in the stomach creates a matt on top of the stomach acid, forming a natural barrier between the acid and the sensitive squamous mucosa.
Finally, forage plays a major role in hindgut health. Adequate forage intake is essential for gut fill and to maintain the normal movement of the hindgut. This in turn prevents the intestines from twisting and looping over each other in a severe case of colic. In addition, a healthy microbial population in the hindgut dependents on having lots of fibre available for fermentation. When forage intake is limited, the pH of the hindgut is altered creating an acidic environment. Consequently, beneficial fermenting microflora die, nutrient absorption is reduced and there is an increased risk of digestive problems.