Understanding horse nutrition
Will moldy hay hurt my horse? How can I help my horse lose weight? Does my horse need a ration balancer? Find research-based information to provide your horse good nutrition.
- Learn the 10 important things to know in feeding your horse.
- There's a belief in the oat market that horses and their owners prefer white-hulled oats.
- Horse owners didn't show a preference for either color oats.
- Horses preferred yellow-hulled oats.
- Owner and horse preference for white-hulled oats weren't validated.
- The type and amount of carbohydrates horses receive can affect their health.
- Fat is dense in calories and provides a good source of energy for the horse.
- Always make sure your horse has free access to fresh, clean water.
- Horses that refuse to drink are at risk of poor performance, poor organ function and colic.
- Good quality hay provides ample nutrients to meet the needs of most horses.
- Regardless of the class of horse, forages should make up at least 50% of the daily ration.
- Optimizing forages in your horse's diet will result in a healthier horse and can help reduce costs.
How to take a hay sample
- A hay analysis helps you better understand what you’re feeding your horse.
- Always request a horse analysis when sending in hay samples.
- Moisture and bale wrapping affects mold and forage quality.
- Orchardgrass bales are prone to significant mold and poor forage quality at moistures slightly over 15 percent.
- Clover is a good feed source for horses.
- There are clover-causing health problems that horse owners should be aware of.
- Learn how to identify different clovers.
- Moldy hay presents risks to horse health.
- Mold spores can produce respiratory disease in horses.
- Steaming shouldn’t replace the main goal of feeding hay with low mold and dust content.
- In the absence of such hay, steaming is a good practice for reducing mold and dust content in moderately moldy hay.
- Rainfall on cut hay laying in the field causes yield and quality losses.
- Rained-on hay can be a suitable forage, especially for horses prone to laminitis.
- The best way to check the quality of rained on hay is to have it tested.
- Forage plays a key role in the horse’s diet.
- Cool-season grass and alfalfa are higher in amino acids than teff. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.
- While alfalfa and cool-season grasses were higher in protein and lower in fiber, horses grazing teff had a similar blood amino acid response.
- Teff has lower nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) and higher fiber values compared to cool-season grass and alfalfa.
- Blood insulin levels were lower for horses grazing teff compared to cool-season grasses in the fall and late fall.
- The lower NSC and higher fiber values of teff could help decrease the insulin response of horses grazing in the fall and late fall.
- Blister beetle-infested hay can cause health problems and death in horses and other livestock.
- When buying hay from outside of Minnesota, find out where and when hay was harvested.
- If you see black, elongated beetles in hay bales, do not feed to animals and throw it away carefully.
Horse hay suppliers in Minnesota
A list of hay auctions and private hay suppliers in Minnesota.
- Horse quality hay should be baled between 10 and 15 percent moisture.
- Store and protect hay from moisture to best prevent spoilage.
Ten ways to stretch your horse's hay supply
Strategies to optimize and stretch your hay supplies.
Certified hay requirements
The certified noxious weed seed-free forage program assures that certified forage meets the minimum standards to limit the spread of noxious weeds.
- In Minnesota it is voluntary to use certified hay when trail riding and camping in Minnesota public parks.
- If you plan a trail ride or camping trip with your horse on public lands in the western U.S., you must use certified hay.
- Contact the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association for a list of producers of certified noxious weed seed-free forage in Minnesota: 800-510-6242.
- Round-bale feeders can reduce hay waste.
- Feeder design doesn’t affect the amount horses eat.
- All feeders reduce hay waste compared to not using a feeder, but hay waste differs based on the feeder design.
- Horses would naturally graze for about 14.5 hours a day.
- But many horses spend a lot of time in stalls or dry lots with limited time to forage.
- Horse owners try to mimic a more natural feeding pattern by providing free access to hay, but this can cause horses to eat too much and become overweight.
- Hay nets can help slow a horse’s eating in these situations.
- Slow-feed hay nets and limit-feed diets can reduce weight in overweight adult horses.
- Using these feeding methods together can moderate blood and hormone patterns in overweight adult horses.
- We tested small square-bale feeders to evaluate hay waste, cost, hay intakes and herd bodyweight.
- Grazing muzzles are muzzles that restrict a horse's intake.
- They are effective in reducing a horse's pasture intake by about 30 percent.
- They help in body weight loss for overweight or obese horses.
- Overweight horses are prone to disease, overheating and poor performance.
- Learn how to determine if your horse is overweight.
- Restricting diets and easing into regular exercise can help horse’s reach a healthy body weight.
- Determine why the horse is thin by working with an equine veterinarian and nutritionist.
- Learn how to determine if your horse is underweight.
- Soaking hay can benefit horses with certain health issues by reducing water soluble carbohydrates, potassium and dust.
- Health issues soaking can help with include laminitis, polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM), hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Rely on forage tests before and after soaking to decide which type of hay is best for your horse.
- Laminitis, also known and founder, is inflammation of tissues inside the hoof.
- High amounts of sugars or fructans in grasses can bring about disease in susceptible horses.
- Many factors affect the amount of sugar in forages.
- Susceptible horses should have limited grazing or no grazing.
- Horses require carbohydrates in their diet.
- Some horses are sensitive to the carbohydrate content of hay and pasture forages. This could lead to health problems.
- You may consider alternative feedstuffs due to high hay costs or poor hay availability.
- When selecting an alternative feed, evaluate the pros and cons, and always work with your veterinarian or nutritionist.
10.) The effectiveness of hay soaking
Our research found that soaking Minnesota-grown cool-season grass hay for 15 to 30 minutes was long enough for the nonstructural carbohydrates to reach 12 percent or less, the current dietary guideline for horses diagnosed with obesity, laminitis, EMS and Cushings.
Alfalfa hay was already under the guideline (and did not require soaking) and there were minimal differences between soaking in warm or cold water. However, the cool-season grass hay should not be soaked for more than 60 minutes due to excessive losses in dry matter and other key nutrients like phosphorus. Find more information on hay soaking.
9.) Grazing alternative forages
Our research found that (in separate research trials), horses could successfully graze teff, annual ryegrass and alfalfa. These forage species were preferred by horses, yielded well, and met the nutritional needs of most classes of horses. Find information on cool-season annuals like annual ryegrass and warm-season annuals like teff.
8.) Differences between fly repellents
Our research found that leggings, leg bands and citronella spray helped reduce fly aversion behaviors in horses. Learn about fly repellents.
7.) Hay rakes impact ash content
Our research found that alfalfa hay raked with a wheel rake contained the most ash (or soil contamination), while hay raked with a merger and sidebar rake contained the least amount of ash. Find more information on hay rake impact on ash content.
6.) Identifying key differences between forage types
We compared teff, alfalfa and cool-season grasses (for example, Kentucky bluegrass) and found that teff had lower nonstructural carbohydrates and higher fiber values compared to cool-season grass and alfalfa. When grazed by horses, blood insulin levels were lower for horses grazing teff compared to cool-season grasses in the fall and late fall. Find more information on evaluating glucose and insulin levels in grazing horses.
5.) Effectiveness of grazing muzzles
Our research found that grazing muzzles reduce forage intake, regardless of forage species, by about 30 percent. Find more information on grazing muzzles.
4.) Estimating actual and ideal horse bodyweight
Over the past several years, we have collected data on almost 2,000 equines and have developed more accurate equations for estimating body weight and new equations for estimating ideal body weight. This research also led to the development of the Healthy Horse App. Find more information on horse body weight.
3.) Cool-season grass grazing preference
This research is the basis for all of our grazing research. We found that horses prefer Kentucky bluegrass with a lesser preference for orchardgrass when planted in monoculture (by themselves). Find more information on cool-season perennial grasses for horse pastures.
We then determined that horses preferred mixtures of endophyte-free tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass and timothy. This mixture also yielded well, withstood grazing pressure and met the nutritional needs of most classes of horses. For more information on grass mixtures for Midwest horse pastures.
2.) Effectiveness of hay nets
We found that when feeding from different nets, horses took 6.5 hours to consume a hay meal from a small-holed net compared to about 3 hours when the hay meal was fed off the stall floor. Find more information on using slow feed hay nets.
In a separate study, we found that overweight horses on a restricted diet feeding from the hay nets had lower peak insulin and cortisol values (a stress hormone) compared to horses feeding from the stall floor. Find more information on horse weight loss.
1.) Importance of hay feeders
Our research has found that using a hay feeder is critical for reducing waste when feeding hay. When feeding round bales, not using a feeder resulted in 57 percent waste. When feeding small square bales, not using a feeder resulted in 13 percent waste. Find information on using round-bale feeders and small square-bale feeders.
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