Effective Hay Rationing for Horses with Metabolic Issues

As a horse owner, one of the challenges you may face is ensuring that your horse's hay ration lasts 24 hours. The problem becomes more complex when your horse is an easy-keeper type, or one that has had a history of laminitis. The necessity to control their weight and prevent an obesity problem means you can't simply leave them with unregulated, free-choice hay. This article explores different tactics to help make your horse's hay last longer and maintain their health at the same time.

The Principle of 'Trickle Feeding'

This principle revolves around the natural feeding habit of horses. Horses are trickle feeders - in the wild, they graze for up to 18 hours per day. Their anatomy, particularly their digestion and chewing process, has evolved to accommodate this feeding behavior. Chewing stimulates salivation which helps in moistening the feed and acting as a gastric buffer, hence the importance of ensuring they get enough time to chew. The stomach of a horse also continuously produces gastric acid – even when the horse isn’t eating – creating a potential risk for developing gastric ulcers if no forage is present for extended time periods.

Hay Quantity and Quality are Key

The minimum hay intake you should provide to your horse is 1.5% of their body weight every day. For a 1,100-lb horse, for instance, this translates to a minimum of 16.5 lbs of hay per day. Use slow-feeding methods such as hay nets and multiple feedings in such a way that your horse is never without hay for longer than four hours. If you have an easy keeper and they run out of hay an hour or two before the next feeding, that might be okay, but any period over four hours without hay should be avoided.

The quality of hay is just as important. Being aware of the energy content of the hay you feed your horse is crucial. For an easy keeper, consider using Grade 3 or 4 “utility hay” which is lower in digestible energy. This ensures the horse can consume more without gaining excess weight, helping the hay ration to last longer.

Use of Straw as an Additive

Utilizing straw, the byproduct of cereal crops after the grain has been harvested, is another effective management strategy. Because straw holds little nutritional value and is low in energy, it’s perfect for easy keepers as it can extend chew time without significantly increasing caloric intake. However, this should be provided in a way that doesn’t exceed 25% of their forage intake due to its minimal nutritional worth. While adopting this strategy, ensure your horse is receiving adequate salt and has access to fresh and clean water.

Slow-Feeding Tactics and Increasing Horse Movement

The combination of reducing the energy content of the hay, incorporating straw, and using slow-feeding strategies will significantly control your horse’s weight while also keeping them adequately fed. If, for example, your horse still finishes hay too quickly from a hay net, you could reduce the hole size or double-net the hay. Also consider multiplying the number of feeding stations in the paddock to encourage natural movement and minimize the horse’s idle time.

In summary, managing the diet of easy-keeping horses requires a strategic balance between offering enough roughage for the horse’s wellbeing and controlling their weight. It’s okay for your ‘easy keeper’ to run out of hay now and then; however, it is critical that you minimize any prolonged periods without forage.

(Article based on data and information provided by: HorsesNetwork.com)