The foraging challenge increases as the hole size decreases; thus, starting horses with larger-holed slow feeding hay nets is encouraged. They use their lips, teeth, tongue, and intrinsic motivation to work hay through the holes.
On occasion, Raglan grabs the net with her teeth, shakes her head up and down as hay pieces fall to the ground. During that time, all horses travel throughout the available space, forage for food amongst hay feeders, trek to water, and rest periodically.
Have you ever been around a horse that licks poles, chews on stalls and trees, sucks-in wind, and cribs? Such behaviors can damage property, cause health risks for the horse, and indicate welfare concerns.
The stirring and whinnying mentioned before breakfast, may partly result from these domestic restrictions. Slow feeding hay nets, grain dispensers, challenge feeders, and grazing toys are available for purchase in some stores and online.
Boomer Ball is a company that sells behavioral enrichment tools for animals in zoos and offers different sizes, weights, designs, and colors for all their products. My Jungle Ball hay feeder has multiple three-inch diameter holes drilled into the thick outer wall.
The Jungle Ball used as a hay feeder works well in both small and large spaces. Buddy rotates his head, follows the contour of the orange Jungle Ball, and bites off any protruding hay pieces.
Once all available pieces of hay have been bitten off, he flexes and extends his neck sharply giving the ball a slight nudge with his nose. The Jungle Ball hay feeder stimulates foraging behaviors while engaging various muscle systems throughout Buddy’s body.
If the answers are “Yes,” then I can increase my horses fitness, suppleness, balance, coordination, and cognition. Encouraging foraging behaviors is a special gift I can offer Raglan and Buddy.
By encouraging species-specific behaviors like foraging in domestication, Raglan and Buddy’s primitive instincts are stimulated. For a short period of time, they, too, are foraging alongside their ancestors or other horses on the open range.
www.facebook.com/GrowingPEAs I have been active in promoting Environmental & Behavioral Enrichment for equines and exploring ways in which implementing these concepts transfers into experiential learning and personal wellness for humans. On a separate note, my next project (Aug. 2014 – Oct. 2015) involves working burros contributing to people, communities, and private entities.
I have my MA in Education: Equine Assisted Experiential Learning from Prescott College (Prescott, AZ) and my BS in Recreation Leadership & Management: Outdoor Adventure Education from Ferris State University (Big Rapids, MI). June 20, 2012December 31, 2017By Dr. Peter HuntingtonDuring times when pasture is not available, such as after a drought or wildfire, the selection and purchase of hay or other forage sources becomes a vital decision for horse owners.
Due to the horse’s unique and delicate digestive system, it needs to consume a minimum of 1% of its body weight daily (dry matter) as forage in the form of hay, chaff, and pasture together with some grain. Most horses are fed more than that amount, receiving 2% of their body weight per day in grass or hay alone.
For lactating mares or young growing horses, hay consumption is much higher and can be as much as 3% of body weight. When problems occur that may relate back to nutrition, people usually look at the grain ration.
The maturity of the plant at time of harvest determines the hay quality more than any other factor. The hay should have been allowed adequate curing time, and ideally was baled and stored without being rained on.
If hay gets wet after cutting, it can be dried to avoid mold, but often the stems are discolored and a lot of the sugar and energy are washed out of it. Every time a horse buries its nose in dusty hay or picks up a piece and shakes it, there is a cloud of dust.
Continuously breathing in dust at such close range will quickly lead to lung problems. Avoid hay that is excessively bleached or discolored, or that smells moldy, musty, dusty, or fermented.
If the leaves of Lucerne (alfalfa) or clover hay fall too easily off the stems, the horse won’t be able to eat them. Examine the leaves, stems, and flowers or seed pods to determine the level of maturity.
Select hay that has been baled when the plants are in early bloom (for legumes) or preferably before seed heads have fully formed in grasses. Avoid hay that contains significant amounts of weeds, dirt, trash, or debris.
Reject bales that seem excessively heavy for their size or feel warm to the touch. Store hay in a dry, sheltered area, or cover the stack to protect it from the elements.
Remember that hay can make up a large part of the horse’s diet when pasture is limited or nonexistent. Key visual and physical inspection factors include a fresh, clean smell and freedom from dust or mold.
Healthy pastures filled with dense, nutritive grasses can be excellent forage sources for horses. During the University of Maryland (UMD) Extension’s healthy horse-keeping webinar series, pasture and forage specialist Amanda Grew, MS, PhD, described different forage types and how to select the best ones for your horse’s pasture.
Grew described the broad forage characteristics property owners need to understand when selecting a species. Grew explained that cool-season forages grow mostly in the spring and fall and slack off in the summer.
Examples of cool-season forages include Kentucky bluegrass, timothy, orchard grass, and tall rescue. Looking at overall forage quality at similar stages of maturity, legumes are usually the highest and warm-season grasses the lowest, said Grew.
Perennial forages such as Kentucky bluegrass, orchard grass, timothy, and tall rescue grow back every year. “Annuals might be useful additions to some of our perennial forages for a variety of reasons,” said Grew.
“They can extend the grazing season earlier or later into the spring or fall. Annuals can also provide replacement pasture under emergency grazing situations (e.g., winter killed forage, flooding, drought).
In any of these scenarios, property owners can plant one or more cycles of annual forages to provide growth, control weeds, and help alleviate soil compaction while transitioning back to perennials, she said. Leafy forages in their vegetative state have higher energy and protein concentrations.
Bunch grasses, however, are typically higher yielding and grow taller and thicker. Grew described a variety of cool-season perennial forage options, which are the species most commonly found in temperate zone horse pastures, and their pros and cons.
Productive; Palatable; Has good regrowth with adequate fertility and moisture; Compatible with legumes and often grown in mixtures such as alfalfa/orchard grass; and Relatively easy and quick to establish. Sensitive to cutting height or overgrazing; because orchard grass stores much of its energy in the bottom few inches of stem, continually cutting or grazing at too low a height can deplete those energy reserves, Grew explained; Sensitive to soil fertility; Sensitive to certain diseases; and Requires good management and can’t be used and abused.
Deep-rooted and long-lived; Tolerant of traffic and close grazing (“It can handle a little more grazing pressure or hoof traffic than orchard grass,” said Grew); Adapted to a range of soil and climatic conditions; and High-yielding with good seasonal growth distribution. This tall rescue type contains an neophyte that produces toxic alkaloids than can impair mare reproductive performance, Grew explained.
Endophyte-free (which has no harmful effects on livestock but reduced plant vigor and longevity) and novel neophyte (researchers developed an neophyte that’s not toxic but still retains forage persistence and hardiness) types also exist. Little regrowth; Poor growth under hot or dry conditions; Being less competitive and shorter-lived than other species; Having a shallow root system; and Being easily weakened by frequent cutting or grazing.
On the other hand, it’s slow to establish, produces uneven yield distribution, and experiences poor growth during hot or dry conditions. Grew said it’s slower and more difficult to establish than other species, however, and can be steamy and less palatable when mature.
This legume is “usually perceived as being a step down from alfalfa but can be a great forage option,” said Grew. Easy to establish; Quality and yield are good; Very palatable; and More tolerant of acidic or poorly drained soils than alfalfa.
For this reason, Grew recommended planting Latino, which is a larger, taller-growing type of white clover. Not to be confused with the tough weed form of chicory, this for is good-quality and resembles spinach leaves, said Grew.
Prone to bolting, when tall stems grow up out of the base growth of forage; Better on well-drained soils; and Shorter-lived than other species. This species is very palatable, high-quality, easy to establish, has good seedling vigor, and grows rapidly.
It provides fall and early spring forage, Grew said, and can be interseeded if needed to fill in bare areas. Rye grass, however, can be overly competitive in mixtures and not very tolerant of drought or high temperatures, she added.
Cereals such as barley, rye, wheat, and critical have good quality and yield and are easy to establish. She cautioned that cereals vary greatly in their cold tolerance, quality, and rate of maturity.
On the other hand, it can grow quite tall, has a larger stem size, and is subject to nitrate accumulation. When grazing or mowing pearl millet, she said you must leave 6-10 inches of stubble for regrowth, which is more than most other species.
It’s good-quality, heat-and drought-tolerant, grows rapidly once established, and has no Prussia acid or nitrate toxicity concerns. It can be difficult to establish, however, due to its small seed size and low seedling vigor.
Jeff is also sensitive to cool soils or frost, as well as overgrazing and low cutting heights. Newer forage varieties of crabgrass are quite suitable for grazing, she explained.
Now that you’ve reviewed all your forage species options, how do you choose one or more to seed your field with? “Consider soil and land characteristics, management strategies and goals, and animal needs,” said Grew.
“Some do better in low-lying wetter areas, while others are more persistent on steeper slope areas,” she said; Intended use of that pasture (e.g., hay vs. pasture, permanent vs. temporary, time of year, length of grazing season, management system, etc. Your local extension office or AG agent can help you identify pasture forage species that are suitable for your region and property.
The unique structure and function of the horse’s digestive system is ideally suited for the utilization of forage. The horse’s hind gut is a large balloon-like area consisting of the cecum and colon.
Billions of bacteria and protozoa live in this portion of the digestive tract. These microorganisms work together to break down (ferment) plant fiber from forage.
Again, grasses typically contain less protein and more fiber compared to legume forages. The physical form of forages fed to horses is also quite variable.
Unfortunately when conditions become harsh such as during extreme heat or cold, pasture plants will quit growing and become dormant. At these times of the season, the horse must rely on physical forms of forage that have been stored.
To make hay, plants are grown to a certain height or maturity, cut, dried to low moisture content and packaged into a bale. Feeding moldy forage is never recommended with horses since it can result in digestive upset (colic) or even death.
Forage that has been stored initially as hay can then be further processed into other physical forms. The processing into pellets, cubes or chaff simply add convenience in handling or feeding.
Pellet and cubes can be soaked in water to form a mash or gruel that is well tolerated by these special needs horses. The cutting of hay is often delayed in many geographic areas of the country due to rain or poor weather.
The final determinant of forage quality is the physical location where the plant was grown. As mentioned previously, certain areas of the country have difficulty in growing quality forage because of poor climate conditions.
Forage grown in the Western United States is some of the highest quality in the world because of optimum growing and harvesting conditions. The leaf to stem ratio, the length of the seed head, color of the plant, presence of dust or mold.
Higher quality forages will have more leaves than stems, a short seed head, be green, and smell fresh with no dust or mold. A more accurate evaluation of forage quality can be acquired via a laboratory analysis.
The results will then provide accurate determination of energy, protein, vitamin and mineral content. Horses require an absolute minimum of 1% of their body weight in dry forage per day, for a 1000 lb horse this equates to just 10 lbs of forage per day.
A safer guideline is to provide horses with a minimum of 1.5% of their body weight in dry forage per day, which equates to 15 lbs of dry forage per day for a 1000 lb horse. Conservative estimates are for horses to consume a maximum of 3.5% of their body weight in dry forage per day.
This is a whopping 35 lbs of dry forage per day for a 1000 lb horse. Feeding large volumes of forage will maximize digestive health and minimize the amount of grain that will need to be provided to the horse.
Forage contains all the essential nutrients required by horses : water, energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, many horse owners only talk about, or judge forage based on protein content.
The mineral content of forage is dependent on soil conditions where the plants were grown. The majority of food digestion takes place by bacteria in the large intestine.
If the food intake is reduced then the bacteria levels become out of balance which could result in colic. Also, as there are different types of bacteria needed for processing different food substances so sudden changes in diet can cause gut disturbances and lead to colic.
The horse's body has evolved to work most efficiently when eating at ground height. This forward and backward motion helps to grind the teeth and keep them at the optimum length.
This does not occur when the horse is fed with its head off the ground from a hay net or rack. A high head position puts a bend in the airway which impedes inhaled air.
This means that any foreign particles that are inhaled, such as dust from hay, are more likely to hit the walls of the airway and embed in the mucous membranes. This in turn allows germs and viruses to enter the tissues and can lead to immune related illnesses such as heaves (COPD).
Because their bodies are not strained by the demands of servicing humans, wild horses typically do not need advanced nutrition beyond what Mother Nature provides. Unlike their wild relatives, domesticated horses frequently spend much of their time in a stall or paddock and have limited access to natural forage.
To compensate for this lifestyle, domestic horses are fed hay and grain meals at various times throughout the day, and their nutritional needs vary depending on their job in life. Caloric needs are met first and foremost, with concentrated, formulated grains, or simply oats or corn, combined with hay.
Fortunately, there are nutritional supplements that can stimulate hoof growth, keep coats shiny, and help keep a horse energetic in spite of lugging people around all day! Competition horses face problems with their joints, hooves, energy, muscle development, weight maintenance and digestive health.
Flax -seed based supplements offer the benefits of Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids, an extremely high-quality fat that can help horses with energy, soft tissue function and maintaining the gleaming coat of a true champion. Sometimes competition horses run a little “hot” and benefit from supplements high in B vitamins that can take the “edge” off, or help manage undesirable nervousness.
Browse Leaf and twig growth of shrubs, woody vines, trees, cacti, and other non-herbaceous vegetation available for animal consumption. Herbage The biomass of herbaceous plants, other than separated grain, generally above ground but including edible roots and tubers.
Grass-like Vegetation that is similar to grass in appearance and is usually a member of the plant family Asteraceae (edges) or Juncaceae (rushes). Mast Fruits and seeds of shrubs, woody vines, trees, cacti, and other non-herbaceous vegetation available for animal consumption.
Silage Forage preserved in a succulent condition by partial anaerobic, acid fermentation. Haulage Product resulting from enabling forage with around 45% moisture, in the absence of oxygen.
Fodder Coarse grasses such as corn and sorghum harvested with the seed and leaves green or alive, then cured and fed in their entirety as forage. Veterinarians and nutritionists agree: High-quality forage is the foundation of a healthy equine diet.
Like other cereal grasses, oat hay typically has a low protein and marginal calcium content. Red and white clover are legumes and provide acceptable protein and energy levels for horses.
But clover might be “too rich” for young horses during the early rapid growth phase. A compound called Laramie, produced by a fungus, can be found on clover in warm humid weather and cause horses to slobber, while a black blotch mold in clover can result in sunburn due to liver damage.
A cool-season grass, bluegrass is a nutritious option for horses and, when planted in pastures, helps stabilize sod from hoof and grazing damage. Timothy is a bunch of grass that is lower in protein than other forage options but high in fiber.
It’s a popular option for feeding horses but must be harvested in the PRE- or early-bloom stage to ensure high nutrient content. Alfalfa is a calcium- and protein-rich legume that veterinarians often recommend for horses suffering from equine gastric ulcer syndrome.
In a suitable, native environment, they are quite capable of taking care of themselves. Domestication involves removing them from their natural setting, but that doesn’t change who they are.
I have very deep convictions on allowing a horse’s instincts to take hold. When we see images of wild horses running free, we all experience the hush, the chill, and the awe of their power and majesty.
During a harsh winter, when the food supply is sparse, horses will hold on to body fat to help them survive. Hundreds of studies with humans confirm the connection between elevated insulin and obesity.
We have equine studies to show how insulin rises during stress. When you allow your horse to trust his instincts, he will eat only what his body needs to be healthy.
The conventional advice appears to work: Give the horse hay equal to 1.5 percent of his body weight, keep him in a stall much of the day, so he cannot graze, and he loses weight! A horse with less muscle mass, stressed to the max, with a sluggish metabolism, so he will never live a normal life of grazing on pasture again.
When you were a toddler, you ate what you needed, and when you were no longer hungry, you stopped eating. Now that you’re grown, those instincts to eat only what your body needs have long faded.
Instead, they eat quickly, ravenously, with barely a breath in between each bite, because they do not know when their next meal will be available. When it gets close to feeding time they pace, bob their heads, paw the ground, and make strange noises.
The biology that drives the horse’s digestion is indisputable: The horse’s stomach produces acid continuously, necessitating the action of chewing to release acid-neutralizing saliva. The digestive tract is made of muscles and needs to be exercised to prevent colic by having a steady flow of forage running through it.
And then, watch his instincts start to return… just like yours were when you were a small child… where he will eat only what his body needs to be healthy. The horse with Cushing’s disease can live a longer, healthier life.
And the owners can throw away all that worry, and experience the sheer joy that horse ownership can bring. I am encouraged by this change, not only because of its own value, but because it tells me that there is every likelihood that feeding forage free choice will also come to be accepted as mainstream.
I am doing everything I possibly can to help horse owners and professionals understand this basic, foundational concept. I work completely independently of feed, supplement, and pharmaceutical companies.
My approach is based on observation and years of excellent results. For the growing community of horse owners and managers who allow their horses free choice feeding, I have set up a special forum for you to share your experiences with each other and to let me and others know how you’re doing.
It is a place for support, celebrations, congratulations, and idea sharing: Getty.blogspot.com. Dr. Juliet Getty is an internationally respected equine nutritionist available for private consultations and speaking engagements.