As we all know, the horse feed industry is packed with fix-all supplements and everything-you’ll-ever-need grains. Many of these are good for your horse, it’s true, but typically not at a level adequate for the many dollars you pay for it. What we all tend to forget while walking up and down the aisles of these many tempting products is that our horses eat hay. That is the key to success here; horses need a forage-based diet, because that is what they are physiologically set up to eat. In fact, all horses should have, at the very least, one percent of their body weight in forage every day. Being hindgut fermenters, all these fancy supplements and grains will not be effective without the effects of simple forage in the digestive system.
Another related point to consider with the winter months approaching for many of us, is that eating forages creates a lot of metabolic heat. What this means is, the fermentation process that goes on in the horses cecum and intestines creates a lot more body heat than that of fat or protein (grain). This is very good for horses in the winter, especially those surviving the blizzards of January outdoors. This is why it is often encouraged to increase the hay for the horses living outdoors, and if they are already a little pudgy and don't necessarily need any extra calories, low quality forages can be used to achieve the same goal. (Keep in mind "low quality" does not mean moldy or musty, just simply dryer, and perhaps less nutrient packed). As briefly mentioned too, fats have a very low heat of metabolism. This makes fat a useful piece of the diet in high stress situations, the heat of the summer, and for geriatric animals or horses with a high work load. Just something to keep in mind while feeding your horses this winter, and always!
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