Equine behaviourist and therapist based in Co.Kerry Ireland | LIMA science based horsemanship

Management 101: The Importance of Continual Forage

As the dark nights draw in, the rain begins to fall and the grass stops growing many horse owners are looking to stable their horses over the winter. Stabling has advantages to the owner, but not many to the horse.

I would like to take this opportunity to post a short series of 101 blogs on the importance of yard/stable/pasture management over the Winter. To offer support and guidance to owners who are looking to enrich their horses surroundings and generally improve their quality of life while stabled.

This first post will cover the importance of continual forage and the role it plays both in your horse’s nutition, physical and psychological condition. I will also cover the different situations that horses are in and how this will benefit them and suggestions along the way.

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How Much?

The generally accepted amount to feed for a horse in moderate – light work is 1.5-2% of their body weight (1). If you don’t know your horse’s body weight, ask for a weight tape when you next visit the feed store or go by weight based on dosage of wormer your vet recommends. This is a minimum amount and where it may not sound a lot, it can be more than you think.

Calculating Forage

A bag of prepackaged haylage weights 20kg / A small bale of hay weights approx. 18kg

The average horse (14.2 medium build) weights 400kg (calculate your horse’s weight)

This means that the horse will require 6-8kg per day = 3-4 bags or bales per week

Use this online feed calculater for a more accurate reading

DIY or Home Yard

It is useful to weigh your nets to get an idea if you are feeding too little or too much. Use of travel scales is a cost saver.

Livery

If you are on full or part livery note that some yards may weigh or guesstimate from their experience, while others may give continuous hay. It’s a good idea to ask your yard about how much hay your horse has so you can know for calculating hard feeds and also to make sure they have the right amount.

If you don’t feel confident to do this I will share a few tips to look out for. As a rule of thumb, I like to see a little hay left in the stable in a morning. If not, then it could be that your horse didn’t have enough or ate too quickly. Another indicator is behaviour, if your horse seems overly pleased to see you or deperate to look out past the stable door towards the hay store, then it may be worth throwing in a little extra yourself to see if your horse was very hungry.

While most yards will do their upmost to give the right amount of hay, it doesn’t hurt to be vigilant and ask questions. A good yard owner should only be too pleased to talk to you about your horse’s nutition as they play the key role on a daily basis.

How Often?

A question that in my opinion doesn’t get asked enough, is how often does your horse receive hay? This will of course depend on the method of delivery  – be it nets or placed in to a rack.

Horses need a continous availability of forage for their mental and physical well being, especially if they are stables for long periods or with limited turnout. Hay in both the field and stable are important. While I understand it can be difficult in winter fields, a round feeder or several pallet crates will provide space for the horses to access forage while turned out.

While you don’t want to increase the hay to vast amounts, if you find your horse is still hungry do try a method of slowing down delivery a little such as a grazing bag. I do not recommend double netting due to the strain this puts on the horse’s teeth, jaw and neck. A few more suggestions at the end of this post.

Why Continuous Hay is Important

Horses who do not have access to continual forage are at a high risk of developing gastric ulcers (2) due to increased levels in stomach acids. Across the board ulcers are estimated to be present in 53-93% of horses. Stabled horses, particularly competition horses are at a greater risk of developing gastric ulcers. By having a continuous supply of hay delivered in such a way that they are not over or under eating, could mimic as closely as possible the forage they would receive if they were at pasture.

If you are concerned that your horse has ulcers here are a few things you can do:

 

Additionally to the physical importance, we also need to consider the horses need to eat for 20hrs a day; this is afterall what they are evolved to do. It is important to make sure the horse doesn’t go longer than four hours in a 24-hour period without eating. Not having access to hay/feed/feed toys can lead to sterotypies and heightened stress. Remember that stress adds to the cause of ulcers so it’s doubally important that this need is fulfilled.

What You Can Do

Field / Track

During the winter months, the grass’s nutitional value decreases and of course it’s less available; therefore it’s important to top up your horse’s forage with hay/haylage/herbs etc. Having a herb station handy with some over the door buckets is a great way for self selection. A round feeder or pallett crate (often given away at builder’s yards) will come in hands for social feeding.

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DIY or Home Yard

As above, plus if your horse is stabled, a hay bag is great to encourage both movement and slow down feeding.

Livery Yard

Being on livery you may be limited by the approach of the yard. If you can provide your own nets then of course you could opt for a haygrazer play bag. If hay is delivered in a rack or similar I would recommend adding in a wall lick (salt/other) and even investing in a hay saver (pictured) where there is no or little Winter turn out. One of my favourite alternatives is a rubber bucket to which I add something pleasent such as a smll drizzle of honey- tied up so they can play and lick. I have also herd of carrots being hidden in old large wellies, hung up.

Get creative mixing feed and play for your horse to keep them mentally and physically as balanced as possible. Read why, next.

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The Rewards

By enriching our horse’s lives, impacts greatly on their other needs and your horse is more likely to function better, create memories and learn at a steadier pace with greater recognition.

The rewards are for both you and your horse. So I challenge you to take 15mins when you are out at the yard next to see if you can change or add 1 thing to make your horse’s stable or field life that little bit more interesting and don’t forget to calculate their intake – and always look for that little bit left over 😉

Hope you found this interesting, please pass it along to another Equine Partnership.

References

(1) https://equimed.com/health-centers/equine-feed-calculator

(2) Gastric ulcers in horses (F. M. Andrews, B. R. Buchanan, S. B. Elliot, N. A. Clariday and L. H. Edwards), 2005 83:E18-E21

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