Fibre is an extremely important part of your horse’s diet. When you think about it, your horse’s natural eating habit of grazing freely ensures that he has access to forage ad-lib and as required. Domestication of horses has seen them stabled for long periods or kept in limited acreage where grazing is restricted so it’s important to make sure they get the fibre they need.
Stabled horses get bored easily and a continual supply of forage helps to combat this and prevents bad habits such as wood-chewing, weaving and windsucking that might otherwise develop. Horses have a preference for different types of forage and will make a choice if they can. This behaviour mimics what they would do when browsing in the field. Bearing this in mind, it’s worth including a different forage option in the stable alongside your horse’s usual haynet.
Salt is important in a horse’s diet and most forage diets are low in it. A horse with salt deficiency will not be able to perform to its optimum and this situation will only grow worse during hot weather and when the horse is in work. The problem may be subtle and present as a loss of energy or lack of enthusiasm for his work. Most compound horse feeds are specially balanced to contain the right mix of vitamins and minerals for a horse’s daily needs, but if you just feed forage you’ll need to add a small amount of salt. An average horse in light work requires 25 grams of salt per kilo of feed in a moderate climate.
Not enough fibre
Aside from water, fibre is the most important element of your horse’s diet. A lack of fibre can result in colic, dehydration and diarrhoea; and is potentially very serious. Make sure you feed your horse enough fibre to keep him healthier.
How much fibre?
As a bare minimum, you should offer your horse at least 1 per cent of his bodyweight in fibrous feeds. This equates to 1 kilo of fibre per 100 kilos of the horse’s bodyweight. An average horse weighing 500 kilos should therefore have at least 5 kilos of fibre every day as a minimum. Ideally, the horse should be offered twice this amount to give him plenty to browse on, to keep his gut full and to keep him happy and occupied.
Types of fibre
The most obvious source of fibre is grass. You can buy dried grass products which can be fed as a chop and added to feeds or just fed loose as an addition to hay. Grass pellets are also available. Stabled horses and those on poor grazing should be fed hay or haylage ad lib. Chops are available which contain appetisers such as honey, molasses and herbs and these make a great base for your horse’s daily hard feed ration. Another good source of fibre is sugar beet pulp, soaked for 24 hours and added to feed. There is also a good amount of fibre to be found in roots like carrots and turnips and your horse will certainly enjoy this healthy addition to his feed.
Just like us, horses need a good, balanced diet. Make sure your horse gets plenty of good quality fibre to keep him happy and healthy and if you’re in any doubt as to what you should feed him and how much, ask your vet or feed supplier for advice. There are also some great articles on feeding here on ofhorse.com.
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