Equine Nutrition - Forages, Hay And Fiber

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No. Hay pellets are forages ground to a pellet form, and forages are used as a source of fiber. The data that I have on hay pellets shows that oat hay pellets are actually lower in calories than alfalfa-timothy hay (0.83 vs 0.89 Mcal DE/lb). This difference is small but to be expected since the oat hay pellet is higher in fiber (41.7 vs 37.4 %ADF). The oat hay pellet also contains less protein (9.1 vs 12.8 % crude protein). View my article Feeding Guidelines for Horses for detailed information on how much should be fed relative to long stem forage, bale hay, or pasture.

If it's alfalfa and yellow golden color on the outside of bale, then it’s not an issue. Bleaching on the outside is to be expected if the hay stack was exposed to the sun before shipment. Bleached stems are dryer and more brittle. The bales affected are those bales on the perimeter of the hay stack. In general, longer sun exposure causes an increase in vitamin D and decrease in vitamins E & A. For grass hay that has yellowing throughout the bale, then the hay was very mature at cutting and as a mature hay is nutritionally lower with major nutrient components.

Hay that is brown or black should not be fed. Mold and fermentation are caused by excessive moisture and were most likely rained-on during the bale process.

The fiber portion of West Coast oat hay, particularly irrigated oat hay, is thicker stem, dryer, tougher to chew, and thus not very appealing to horses. This type of thick-stemmed, dryer hay requires more chewing time to moisten and to prepare for swallowing.

The oat seeds in the hay, in contrast, are easy to access and ingest from the forage, require a lot less work to chew and to prepare for swallowing and the oats are more fulfilling energetically. The results are a lot of oat stems on the ground and it’s not unusual to be feeding more hay, thus a higher cost in feeding. A real concern is that the horse may not be consuming adequate fiber to support gut health.

Bran is not my choice for regularity, weight gain, or body warmth.

Internal body heat is generated through the digestive process and there are feeding practices that can influence the amount of heat produced. Feeding high fiber feeds, such as long-stem hay, will generate body heat. Feeding higher levels of soluble fiber feeds (beet pulp & soy hulls) will increase gut motility. Generating body heat is important for maintaining normal body temperature and for body warmth during the colder seasons.

The old school practice of feeding a warm bran mash was not based on a true understanding of the horse’s gut. The practice most likely evolved because of the known effects it had on humans, but horse and human guts are different!

Humans have a much shorter gut with one small compartment (stomach) compared to the horse whose gut is much longer and has two larger compartments (stomach & cecum). Bran has approximately 12% crude fiber which is similar fiber content as oats (11%). The practice of feeding a cup or two of bran per day does not add significant levels of fiber to the diet to cause the gut to contract differently.

Wheat bran is a useful ingredient in feed formulas and is one that I use in formulating Integrity products. However, there aren’t any real benefits to feeding bran as a “supplement” or add-in. It doesn’t add much fiber and contains a lot more phosphorus than calcium, potentially altering the nutrient profile of a balanced formula.

I do not recommend soaking hay because other nutrients may also be leeched during the process. A couple studies have suggested that soaking hay will reduce the non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), but in my opinion the results are inconsistent. Not only is the length of soaking time an issue, but there are other factors that influence the process as well, including: the maturity of the hay, the type of hay, the ratio of water to hay, and how the hay is distributed in the water while soaking. Tossing a flake of hay in a water container for 20 - 30 minutes, then allowing the water to drain from the hay are just not reasonable management practices.

I once had a show gelding that had the practice of dunking about 25% of its hay. We had hay that was dusty and drier than normal, but I am not saying that dunking his hay was his means of reducing the dust or softening the dry stems.

There was a report about steaming a hay blend of alfalfa and orchard grass that was classified as either having low or moderate mold levels. I have not seen the actual statistical variability in the numbers they reported, but they concluded the main benefit from steaming is that it may increase hay consumption. Steaming seems to be even more labor intense and costly, and therefore not a management practice I would embrace.

The temperature for pelleting a feed varies depending on the amount of moisture (steam) needed to form the pellet. The typical temperature threshold for pelleting is approximately 160° F so that organic nutrients—vitamins, protein, amino acids, etc., —are not denatured or broken down. Minerals are already in their simplest form and cannot be denatured.

High fiber feeds require steam (or pressure), which is why your Teff hay pellet has a shiny appearance and is a “harder” pellet. The hay pellets will break up when soaked in water, but it takes longer. No general rule for soaking time exists because the maturity of the hay that makes the pellet, the hay type, as well as the manufacture’s pelleting protocol, determine how much steam and pressure are used. 170° F is usually the threshold used as the maximum temperature, which minimizes any denaturing of nutrients during the pelleting process.

Fiber is not affected by the pelleting process. However, reducing fiber length does influence gut motility. Horses that consume long stem hay (bale hay) will consume more water than horses that consume the same amount of hay in a pellet form; which is why my feeding guidelines recommend that process hays, pellets or cubes, cannot be more than 50% of the total forage intake

NSC is nonstructural carbohydrates and there is much confusion in the horse industry on how to evaluate carbohydrate content in feeds. Percent NSC is often the request I receive but is not a value that I use for evaluation. % NSC was originally a calculated value that did not really reflect valuable information on carbohydrate content Now the value is used loosely, a catch-all expression. Depending on the source, it may represent just starch, or starch and WSC (water soluble carbohydrates), or WSC and ESC (ethanol soluble carbohydrates), or only fructans. This confusion not only exists with horse owners but also in the veterinarian community.

Below is a table of hay pellets sold by Star Milling that provides data on starch, sugar, and other nonstructural carbohydrate content. The laboratory analyses that provide useful information are % starch, % ethanol soluble carbohydrates (ESC) and % water soluble carbohydrates (WSC). These three analyses provide different information. Depending on the concern, such as insulin resistant, laminitis, PSSM, colic, etc., the analysis that is used is dictated by the issue/illness being addressed.

A simple overview of what each analysis provides:

  • % Starch • Starches, some are resistant to small intestine digestion
  • % ESC - ethanol soluble carbohydrates • Represents carbohydrates digested in the small intestine. They are the carbohydrates that produce a true glycemic (blood sugar) response
  • % WSC - water soluble carbohydrates • Includes simple sugars, oligosaccharides (several sugar molecules hooked together) and fructans

Hay Pellet Sugar, Starch, Nonstructural Carbohydrate Data*

Hay Pellet % WSC % ESC % Starch % Starch + % ESC
Hay & Grain 3/8 pellet 5.7 4.2 5.3 9.5
Alfalfa Bermuda 3/8 pellet 6.4 5.4 1.2 6.6
Oat hay ¼ pellet 6.3 5.3 0.7 6.0
Bermuda ¼pellet 7.7 6.0 3.3 9.3
Alfalfa ¼ pellet 7.8 8.1 6.4 14.5
Timothy ¼ pellet 14.5 9.3 1.3 10.6
Alfalfa 3/8 pellet 6.0 5.2 5.1 10.3
Alfalfa Oat 3/8 pellet 6.2 7.2 2.7 9.9
Alfalfa Timothy (50/50) ¼ pellet 7.6 6.0 1.4 7.4

*Values reported on as sampled or as fed basis.

  • WSC is water soluble carbohydrates
  • ESC is ethanol soluble carbohydrates
  • NSC is nonstructural carbohydrates and NSC = Starch + WSC
  • Fructan content of feeds will vary but a crude estimate can be calculated by subtracting ESC from WSC

All feeds contain water; the amount of water in a feed will vary. With some feeds there is not much variation in water content, while others have significant variation.

Dry matter is the portion of the feed that does not include water—it is the solid portion of the feed. The dry stuff or dry matter content of a feed includes nonstructural (sugars & starches) and structural (fiber) carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc. Most hays (including hay pellets & cubes) and commercial feeds contain around 10% water which means the dry matter is 90% (10% + 90% = 100%). Grass pastures contain about 80% water and 20% dry matter. There are forages sold for horses that contain 30 - 40% water and these forages are called high-moisture hay.

Another term that you will see is as-fed. This includes the water portion of the feed. So, dry matter references the feed makeup WITHOUT water and as-fed references the feed composition WITH water. Evaluating feeds or a horse’s nutrient requirements on a dry matter basis provides a system for equal comparison or perhaps better stated allows one to compare apples-to-apples.

Dry Matter Mathematical Example: If your horse is fed 20 pounds (as-fed) of timothy hay each day that is 90% dry matter then 18 lbs (20 lbs X 0.90) is dry matter and 2 lbs (20 – 2) is water. If timothy hay contains 10.0% crude protein and 26% crude fiber then of the 18 lbs of dry matter, 1.8 lbs (18 lbs X 0.10) is protein and 4.7 lbs (18 lbs X 0.26) is the fiber portion of the timothy hay.

I have concerns with soybean hay. Soy hay is fed okay for cattle, but the gut system of a cow very different from a horse’s. Do you know if the hay was treated with pesticides? There are regulations with crop use of pesticides/herbicides and a forage specialist in your state would be your best resource on those regulations. Soybean products require a longer drying time and too much moisture during the baling process can promote mold growth. Depending on the processing, bale size (large or small rounds), and storage of the bales there also could be a high loss so you would need to factor the potential weight/feeding loss into the price quoted.

Since you are from Arkansas, I explored the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension website. Their website and forage publications indicate that Dr. John Jennings is an Extension Forage Specialist in your state and is an expert in crop production in Arkansas, including soybean products.

Extension specialists at land-grant Universities are resources for the citizens of the respective states and I am confident that Dr. Jennings will be familiar with any issues that have circulated with soy hay and any concerns as a forage source for horses. Some of my concerns with processing were noted in this publication but the publication only addressed feeding value for cattle, not horses.

In the fact sheet Feeding Guidelines for Horses are guidelines that I established relative to feeding management. One of the guidelines is that 50% of the forage needs to be long-stem hay and thus not more than 50% of the hay should be processed (hay pellet or hay cube). This guideline is based on the importance of feeding adequate fiber via forage for gut integrity. Long stem hay (from the hay bale) requires more water for the digestive process than processed hay which is why the horse drinks more water with long-stem hay. Hay cubes would be a better selection than hay pellets, but since your horse has a history of digestive disturbances I would encourage you to feed long-stem hay sources. Water has many roles in the body and lubrication is just one of them. You may also want to review the Fact Sheet section for the article, Nutritional Management of Horses: Is Psyllium a Player?

The main reason is that I believe that 100% alfalfa hay does not provide adequate fiber in the horse’s diet. Fiber is critical for gut health. From my experiences, there is a critical threshold of fiber that I want to provide a horse that is not pastured. Average quality alfalfa hay fed at 1.5% of the horse’s body weight provides only 80+% of my “fiber-intake goal”. Of course if you are feeding commercial mixes that contain good sources of fiber, such as beet pulp and soy hulls, one needs to ‘add” that fiber to the daily allotment. Most horse owners do not want to calculate fiber intake because there are too many variables to consider. So an easy nutritional management approach is to be sure the forage portion of the horse’s diet provides adequate fiber intake. The benefit of Integrity products is that the high levels of beet pulp and/or soy hulls provides added value to fiber intake and are sources of fiber that promote gut integrity.

I do not recommend feeding 100% alfalfa as the forage portion of the horse’s diet. Granted there are issues that are and have been associated with alfalfa forage diets including intestinal stones, developmental orthopedic disease, blister beetle toxicity, photosensitization, high potassium levels, protein content that can be 75 – 125% more protein than the horse requires, and excess calcium concentration.

However my concerns are about fiber intake. If the forage portion of the diet is 100% alfalfa and there is not any other source of fiber being fed, then this alfalfa base diet is inadequate in fiber intake. Granted, there are not any studies that clearly identify the amount of fiber a horse requires to promote and maintain gut integrity. However, without boring you with calculations, if alfalfa is the only forage source fed then relative to my recommended dietary goals, it provides appropriately 15% less dietary fiber. Key point in feeding horses is to understand that the forage portion of the horse’s diet is fundamental to promoting and maintaining gut integrity.

My recommendations for feeding dry forages:

For most adult horses not grazing pasture, feed a minimum of 1.5% of body weight per day of forage (hay); for example, a 1000 lb. horse would be fed a minimum of 15.0 lb. of hay per day;

  • long-stem hay (from the bale) should be at least 50% of the total forage consumed per day; horses consume more water with long stem hay than they would with hay cubes or hay pellets
  • processed hay (pellets or cubes) should not exceed more than 50% of the total forage consumed per day;
  • alfalfa hay (bale & processed), a popular hay for west coast horse owners, should not exceed more than50% of the total forage consumed per day;
  • cereal grain hays (oat, barley, wheat) should not exceed more than 50% of the total forage consumed per day;

The choices of grass hay are limited on the West Coast. Your choices are Bermuda, Timothy, or orchard (fescue & Teff sometimes). Teff is a solid option but is not always available. If you go with orchard grass then I recommend about 20% of the total forage intake be alfalfa. Orchard grass has an inverted calcium – phosphorus ratio but that ratio will vary with forages grown in the western states. Feeding alfalfa at a rate of 20% of the total forage intake along with the orchard will supply adequate calcium to balance that ratio for orchard grass hay.

There are several factors that influence hair coat—nutrition is only one of the many options. The benefits of feeding a balanced concentrate are to provide nutrients and energy that will complement the forage portion of the horse’s diet. Feeding a balanced formula with the hay may improve the haircut and all of the Integrity products have added fat via oil and rice bran; dietary fat improves hair coat. However, one tool to increase the fat content of the diet and to improve hair coat is to feed 3/4 - 1/3 cup of oil per day; for the ponies you will feed less than half the amount that you feed your mare.

I do not recommend alfalfa as the only forage source; my recommendation is that alfalfa cannot be more than 50% of the forage fed. This recommendation is primarily based on supplying adequate fiber to the horse’s diet. Review the fact sheet section in Dr. Bray’s Corner for the title “Feeding Guidelines for Horses”. Alfalfa may provide up to 75 -125% more protein than the horse requires thus the excess nitrogen (component of protein) is eliminated via the urine thereby the horse consumes more water in order to eliminate the excess urinary nitrogen.

Also in Dr. Bray’s Corner, there is a fact sheet titled Does Bermuda Grass Hay Cause Colic? This fact sheet will summarize my thoughts on Bermuda and help you understand the myths that have evolved in the industry with feeding Bermuda. Nutritional management is the key to successful feeding and I do not subscribe to the concerns that Bermuda is not a safe forage to feed. If your horse and ponies are inactive then feed the Integrity Lite. If they are working several days a week then use the Integrity Senior/Adult. I would need to know more about your ponies’ work or activity level to be specific. In general, if they are inactive then feed 1/3 -1/2 lb. per day. If they are lightly worked then feed around 3/4 - 1 pound per day.

The general recommendation I provide for 2 – 3 year olds is 1.4 – 1.5% of their body weight in dry forage (hay) and approximately 0.4 – 0.6% of their body weight in a balanced feed mix. The feed mix needs to be formulated for growing horses that will compliment the forage portion of the diet. When feeding a balance formula I do not recommend any additional supplements.

Integrity Lite was formulated for adult or older, idle or less active horses. This formula also provides a rich source of soluble fiber for gut integrity. The Integrity Lite is not the correct Integrity formula for your late growing and early adult horses; the correct formula is Integrity Growth.

Let’s use for example a 2 year old that weighs approximately 920 lbs. and is expected to mature to 15.2 hands and 1100 lbs. The daily diet would consist of approximately 13 lbs. of grass hay and approximately 4 to 5 lbs. of the Integrity Growth formula. Please keep in mind there are many factors that influence the horse’s energy and nutrient requirements, which is why I encourage horse owners to become familiar with the body condition scoring system (this system is provided with photos at Dr. Bray’s Corner). The body condition scoring system allows one to manage feed amounts relative to body weight. Any adjustments in increasing or reducing feed amounts will be with the amounts of Integrity Growth. Forage is critical to maintaining gut integrity and the recommended amounts provided are for this age group.

Two years olds are still growing so they need a better quality energy source other than hay. The Integrity Growth contains soluble fiber sources (beet pulp and soybean hulls) but also includes rice bran, fat (canola oil) and oats as the primary fuel sources and soybean meal as the primary protein source. Three year olds usually have reached their mature height but their body composition remains somewhat dynamic. Muscle to body fat relationship is changing and although this lean-to-fat ratio is primarily influenced by genetics, exercise and diet are important factors in navigating the ship.

Yes. Teff grass hay has been around for quite awhile but the availability of the grass hay has been inconsistent for West Coast horse owners. However, the consistence in availability has changed with more being grown, hay producers recognizing the quality, and producers learning how to work through the growing nuisances of Teff. Also Teff is now available in a hay pellet in southern California. Horses sometimes need time to adjust to Teff hay from the bale because the texture is different than other grass hays.

Teff Hay

Analysis Percent (%)
Crude Protein 10.8%
Crude Fat 2.2%
Crude Fiber 26.8%
Ash 8.8%
Calcium 0.56%
Phosphorus 0.23%
Calcium-Phosphorus Ratio 2.4: 1
Potassium 1.26%
Starch (Ewers Method 1.6%

Teff is native to Ethiopia and is classified as a warm season annual grass. It’s not considered a very good pasture grass because the root system is shallow and the turf is easily damaged with grazing animals.

The composition of Teff hay is a good fit with the Integrity product line. As with any grass forage that is processed for hay, there are many factors that will influence the composition. Over the years, hay produced for horses on the West Coast usually is a more mature hay to increase the yield from the field and thus is often on the lower to average end on analysis. The Teff hay assessments that I have seen in the past year have been better than most grass hays usually fed on the West Coast. I have included a recent report analysis of Teff hay from a source in southern California.

The combination of orchard grass hay and alfalfa hay will work as long as you follow the forage feeding rules in the Fact Sheet section, Feeding Guidelines for Horses. One of my fundamental rules is that alfalfa hay can not be more than 50% of the total forage fed per day. This guideline is based on minimum fiber intake that I recommend. The amount of hay fed should approximate 1.5% of his body weight. So if your gelding weighs 1100 pounds then the combination of hays will be 16.5 pounds per day. The Integrity Lite will be a good choice for a horse with this work load. The amount fed can vary with his body weight, but for 1100 pound horse, I would suggest 2 pounds per day and on the days you ride him add an extra pound. That is, feed 3 pounds per day.rity Lite may be the balanced concentrate you will need to compliment the forage portion of her diet.

If you remove baled hay from your mare’s diet, she still needs an adequate source of dietary fiber. You did not mention the specific dental issues but I surmised there are issues with her molars (jaw teeth) which are needed to reduce the particle size of the food being consumed. So, your option is to select a forage source in which the particle size has already been reduced which is a hay pellet and you will need to soak the hay pellet in water to an oatmeal consistency; you also may want to consider feeding smaller amounts more frequently. For example if she was being fed hay two times per day then divide the hay pellet daily feed allotment into three feedings. Also you most likely will feed less total weight of hay pellet since there will not being any orts (feed loss) as compared to baled hay. I usually suggest feeding hay pellets approximately 10% less (weight) than baled hay; that is, if the mare was being fed 16 lbs. of long stem hay per day then feed approximately 14 1/2 lbs. of the hay pellet per day. You will need to monitor her body condition score for weigh changes.

Star Milling has several hay pellets including Timothy, teff, Bermuda & Bermuda/alfalfa. You will need to review the fact sheet on Feeding Guidelines for Horses relative to the rate of changing the diet. When the diet is switched from a long stem forage source to a hay pellet (smaller particle size), the horse will drink less water. In addition, the smaller particle size of the fiber source is associated with a reduction in passage rate; in other words the gut will contract with less vigor. One final point of interest is that when a diet is changed, the major goal is not to upset the microflora (bacteria) that are habitants of the gut. Gut integrity is the number one nutritional management goal. The current line of Integrity products was not formulated to be a total replacement for forages but the Integrity Lite may be the balanced concentrate you will need to compliment the forage portion of her diet.

The feeding guidelines that are provided on packaging address body weight, (and/or body condition score), and production/work levels only. This information is basic but there are a plethora of other factors that influence a horse’s diet besides body weight and production level, which is why I always use the phrase “Feeding Guidelines” for feeding recommendations. In the fact sheet section of Dr. Bray’s Corner, there is a fact sheet titled “What to Feed your Horse” This information provides a series of questions and subset list of questions that helps me provide recommendations. I wish I could print that fact sheet on the packaging but we do have Dr. Bray’s Corner which provides nutritional management recommendations. Feeding horses is much more than flakes of hay and scoops of grain. Star Milling’s Dr. Bray’s Corner emphasizes the importance developing nutritional management skills and the importance of using the body condition scoring system to guide the horse owner in feeding decisions.

Relative to your follow up question regarding orchard hay or another forage: all the grass hays are similar in nutrient/energy concentration because orchard grass on the West Coast is inconsistent with the calcium-phosphorus ratio I usually suggest a small amount (20%) of alfalfa hay be fed with the orchard as well.

The California study on feeding very low body condition score (BCS) horses concluded that recovery was better with feeding an alfalfa forage diet. The authors concluded that higher protein forage was a factor in the improved performance. I do not agree with the recommendations of the study.

As you will recall when evaluating a study, one must considered the experimental design relative to the outcome, and one must always consider that important question, “Does it make biological sense?” Horses that have low body condition scores 1 – 3 have usually been ignored in more than the lack of groceries. The primary goal is for the horse’s general health to be clinically evaluated and stabilized and introduced to grass forage. Keep in mind that the microbial population of the gut has been compromised and that microbial population must be populated and stabilized slowly. An alfalfa forage diet in the early stages introduces protein at a level that raises concerns with further compromising the microbial population by a rapid change in the type and number of microbes. I also do not recommend alfalfa as an only source of forage anyway (See the fact sheet, Feeding Guidelines for Horses, in Dr Bray’s Corner.)

I usually recommend feeding average quality grass hay in small amounts 6 times per day along with a daily probiotic supplement and a lot of observation. The microbes in the gut need time to acclimate to the energy and nutrients supplied by the forage, the gut needs time to acclimate to accommodating the volume of feed, and the horse needs time to acclimate to a feeding schedule and a routine that he will be fed. Intestinal microbes do need and depend on protein as a fuel and nutrient source but that protein source needs to be introduced gradually to allow the intestinal microbes to acclimate.

Horses that have been neglected will gain weight fairly quickly with a methodical feeding approach and that body condition score will elevate from a 1.5 to a 3 faster than you think. Once the horse reaches a 3 BSC then I would slowly reduce the feeding frequency to 3- 4 times per day, but not the amount of feed of course, then introduce a balanced formula that provides a protein source.

Some of the numbers do not add up, even if the horse is truly an “easy keeper” (although in all my years working with horses I can only truly identify a couple of horses that were truly “easy or hard keepers”) 7 pounds of total hay and ½ cup Integrity is a ration more suited for a 450 to 525 lb. pony. Have you used a weight tape to estimate the body weight? In Dr. Bray’s Corner there is a fact sheet on estimating body weight. Is the 800 lbs. body weight an “eye” estimate? 800 lbs. is a heavy body weight for a 13.2 hands pony even if he is obese. So, in order for me to provide you more useful guidance, we need to double check the body weight and hay weight. The hay amount being fed may be underestimated.

Dr. Bray’s Note: The emailer responded that she did the weight tape measurement on the mustang and weighed the hay and let me know graciously that the mustang’s weight tape measurement was 405 pounds and that a large kitchen scale suggested the hay was 25 pounds. Although there may be some error in these weights as well, the bottom line emphasizes the importance of the body condition scoring system and weighing the feed fed to your horse.

You did not indicate the amount of senior feed that is being fed or your horse’s body weight. If your Arabian is average height and weight, then 10 pounds of hay is inadequate. Visit the fact sheet section in Dr. Bray’s Corner on Feeding Guidelines. You should be feeding a minimum of 1.5% of his body weight in hay.

Also, feed alone does NOT put on muscle; a misconception that has existed in the horse industry since I can remember. Muscle build-up is influenced by genetic potential and of course an exercise program complemented by a balance diet that supplies the needed energy and nutrients for muscle improvement.

When there are difficulties with a horse gaining weight, there may be one or a combination of factors that contribute to the challenges. Looking at the type of feed or amounts fed is not always the first consideration. The horse’s complete nutritional management and health management needs to be considered. Some considerations will seem simple but as with any problem solving approach, exploring the options are needed to identify a solution. Some factors to consider:

  • What is the current body condition score? What changes in the body condition score have occurred over the past 30, 60, and 90 days?
  • How often is the horse dewormed? What deworming compounds were used? Is there a rotation in the deworming compounds active ingredients being used? Is a boticide being used? These considerations should be explored with your veterinarian.
  • When was the horse’s teeth checked and/or floated?
  • What is currently being fed and how often?
  • Is the horse fed with other horses or as an individual?
  • Have there been changes in last 30 days with types or amounts of feed being fed?
  • Who feeds the horse? What is the training facility? What is the boarding facility? If others are feeding, are you ensuring the correct amounts are being fed?
  • Have there been changes in the horse’s boarding conditions (i.e. changed in facility or stable mates)?
  • What is the current work/training routine (i.e. frequency, intensity, etc.)?
  • When did his work/training program begin?
  • Have there been any health issues?

Extruded feeds have been cooked at high steam-temperatures and pressure for a short period of time. This extrusion process also allows the cooked product to be pushed through a die which is what provides the uniform and different shapes. The cooking process will partially “break down” or prepare the starches and protein so that in general these components of the feed are better utilized. There are studies that support the better utilization of extruded feeds. The fundamental question is when will an extruded feed best serve the horse relative to the horse’s energy needs? Although extruded feeds are more expensive to make, thus more expensive to the consumer, I have always liked the extrusion process with feeds that contain high level of grains, such as corn, barley and oats. I will recommend extruded feeds that contain high levels of grains when the horse has high energy demands such as race horses, polo ponies, three-day event horses, some working horses (roping, cutting), early lactation, and sometimes selectively during early stages of growth.

If a horse needs to gain weight, the first approach is more calories. More calories can be accomplished by providing more feed or adding fat in the form of oil. Adding fat usually will not “insult” the nutrient – calorie ratio with most formulas and can provide the additional energy needed to gain weight. The amount of oil fed is depended on what is currently being fed, the horse’s body weight, and current work intensity. So I would need additional information to provide a specific amount of oil.

The Integrity Adult/Senior has properties that I like (and formulated) because it does have energy sources via rice bran, canola oil and oats but at the same time has ingredients (beet pulp & soy-hulls) that promote gut integrity. Integrity Adult/Senior is not an extruded feed and is not energy dense but is a low starch feed. Keep in mind that there is more nutritional management required when feeding an energy rich formula that is high in energy and starch. Star Milling’s Equine Age formula is a combination of extrusion and pellet forms and the first 3 ingredients on the label are alfalfa meal, wheat bran, and ground corn.

There is additional information that is needed in order to provide you more than a general response. The fact sheet What to Feed your Horse provides the series of questions for one to consider when determining what to feed. The orchard grass hay is essentially a maintenance diet. As you increase the frequency of work (riding), the intensity of work, and the length of each exercise bout, you will need to add a balanced formula that will provided an additional source of energy and nutrients. The frequency, intensity & length are factors that will determine the feed selection and amounts fed daily. However, since you are just getting started, the Integrity Adult/Senior is a balanced formula that will complement the forage portion, provide a source of energy in a balanced formula, but is still low starch because it does not contain corn or barley; Integrity Adult/Senior does contain fat (from rice bran & oil), contains soybean meal (protein source & 3rd ingredient) and does contain oats ( a higher fiber, low starch grain) but oats are not a major ingredient but enough to be one of the fuel sources for light to moderate working horses. Once I have a better understanding of your horse from the questions outlined in the Fact Sheet referenced above, I will be able to provide you some more specific guidelines.

The NSC is not a value that I use for evaluation. The laboratory analyses that I use to evaluate feeds are % starch, % ethanol soluble carbohydrates (ESC) and % water soluble carbohydrates (WSC). These three analyses provide different information. The forage pellet company that makes the teff pellet does not have information on % starch and % WSC. However, published data on teff hay reports % starch as less than 1.0%, % ethanol soluble carbohydrates approximately 4.3%, and % water soluble carbohydrates approximately 6.1%. Teff hay is a warm season grass and generally will have lower carbohydrate analyses than cool season grasses. I actually like teff hay but the west coast horse owners are not using it. The lower demand means less will be grown and perhaps teff hay will not be available in some regions in the near future. I hope not because horse owners are missing out on a good alternative to other west coast grass forages.

I am not an advocate of providing hay 24/7 to horses because one needs to control the caloric intake. I am an advocate of using nutritional management techniques that will help increase the time that a horse has to consume their forage. Before the new designs of hay nets evolved I used double and sometimes tripe hay nets to slow down a stalled horse’s hay consumption if they ate fast and then had long periods of time with no hay until next feeding. I like hay bags but they do require nutritional management considerations, including hanging the hay bags so the horse will not get a hoof or leg hung up in it, securing it so the horse cannot pull the hay bag to the ground and get it tangled in their hooves, etc.

You are right on target with your assessment in feeding alfalfa as the only forage and the volume of urine. Feeding only alfalfa as the hay (forage) can provide 60 to 125% more protein than the horse requires. Excess protein in the diet means excess nitrogen in the diet. Proteins consist of approximately 16% nitrogen. As the protein is broken down to amino acids, carbon fragments, etc., the excess nitrogen becomes a waste product that needs to be eliminated. Nitrogen is primarily eliminated by the body through the urine. Excess dietary nitrogen translates to the horse drinking more water, which is necessary to transport the urinary waste product, and drinking more water means more urination, larger volume of the “wet-spot” and more ammonia odor as well.

Any of the three grass hays will work and remember my guidelines on feeding forages. Those guidelines can be found in the Fact Sheet section of Dr. Bray’s corner in Feeding Guidelines for Horses. I am not a big fan of cereal grain hays because the amount of seed-head can vary a great deal. Often horses will pick through the hay, eating the seed heads first and thus not consuming adequate amounts of the hay’s fiber portion. As you know from attending my seminars, I place a lot of emphasis on fiber and gut integrity. Also remember that any changes in feed must be gradual. The rate of recommended changes with hay type and amounts can also be found in Feeding Guidelines for Horses. Protein “fuels” the microbe so when there is a feed change that includes a high protein feed or hay (such as alfalfa) and a much lower protein feed (such as grass hays) the change must be gradual to allow the microbes to adjust. The bacteria that live in the gut need to adjust whether you are removing or adding a protein source. You will hear in the horse circles different views of forage sources. The bottom line is that the nutritional management of the forage being fed is the key factor.

The choices of grass hay are limited on the West Coast. Your choices are Bermuda, Timothy, or orchard (fescue & Teff sometimes). Teff is a solid option but is not always available. If you go with orchard grass then I recommend about 20% of the total forage intake be alfalfa. Orchard grass has an inverted calcium – phosphorus ratio but that ratio will vary with forages grown in the western states. Feeding alfalfa at a rate of 20% of the total forage intake along with the orchard will supply adequate calcium to balance that ratio for orchard grass hay.

When a foal hits the ground (newborn) their foregut is ready to handle their only source of nourishment, the dam’s milk. From day one, the foregut of a foal is designed to digest (enzymatically and chemically) the energy and nutrients provided by the milk. However, the hindgut (colon and cecum) will not fully mature, capacity and microbially, until they are approaching 2 1/2 years of age. Hence, providing a growing horse a balance feed mix that supplies feed sources of energy and nutrients that can be processed in the foregut is important in their development. Star Milling’s Integrity Growth was formulated for growing horses from 8 months to 3 years of age. I always recommend creep feeding foals during the nursing phase. If you did and were using a Mare and Foal feed such as the Ace High or Kelly’s Mare and Foal then continue with feeding up to 8 months and gradually transition to Integrity Growth. If the foal has not been on any balance feed formula then introduce a 50/50 blend of the Integrity Growth and the Mare and Foal. Start the foal at 1/2 lb. per day (divide the 1/2 lb. into two feedings) and increase by 1/4 lb. per day every other day until you reach a daily ration of 1/2 to 1 lb. of the blend per hundred lbs. of body weight. If the foal weighs 500 lbs. then feed approximately 3 1/2 to 5 lbs. per day. My general recommendation for alfalfa feeding with foals is not more than 25% of the foal’s total forage feeding per day.

Note: if you are not sure about estimating body weight of your foal, I have added to the Fact Sheet section of Dr. Bray’s Corner, Estimating Body Weight of Growing Foals.

The NSC mathematical calculation is NOT a value that I use for evaluating starch content. The laboratory analyses that I use to evaluate feeds are % starch, % ethanol soluble carbohydrates (ESC) and % water soluble carbohydrates (WSC). These three analyses provide different information and any reference to NSC in my writing is equal to %ESC + % Starch.

The forage pellet company that makes the Teff pellet does not have information on % starch and % WSC. However, published data on Teff hay reports % starch as less than 1.0%, approximately 4.3% ethanol soluble carbohydrates, and approximately 6.1% water soluble carbohydrates. Teff hay is a warm season grass and generally will have lower carbohydrate analyses than cool season grasses.

I like Teff hay, although the West Coast horse owners are not using it. The lower demand means less will be grown and perhaps Teff hay will not be available in some regions in the near future. I hope not because horse owners are missing out on a good alternative to other grass forages.

The following table has the non-structural carbohydrate information relative to hay pellets sold by Star Milling, Inc. The sugar, starch, non-fiber carbohydrate, calcium and phosphorous (NFC) values are provided.

Hay Pellet % WSC % ESC % Starch % Starch + % ESC % NFC
Hay & Grain 3/8 pellet 5.7 4.2 5.3 9.5 28.8
Alfalfa Bermuda 3/8 pellet 6.4 5.4 1.2 6.6 20.3
Oat hay ¼ pellet 6.3 5.3 0.7 6.0 12.0
Bermuda ¼pellet 7.7 6.0 3.3 9.3 21.7
Alfalfa ¼ pellet 7.8 8.1 6.4 14.5 28.2
Timothy ¼ pellet 14.5 9.3 1.3 10.6 19.8
Alfalfa 3/8 pellet 6.0 5.2 5.1 10.3 23.8
Alfalfa Oat 3/8 pellet 6.2 7.2 2.7 9.9 23.2
Alfalfa Timothy (50/50)  ¼ pellet 7.6 6.0 1.4 7.4 19.3

Note: WSC is water soluble carbohydrates, ESC is ethanol soluble carbohydrates, NFC is non-fiber carbohydrates.

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