Feed costs are by far the biggest chunk of our horse care budget. Hay is the most important part of the feeding regimen, with regard to what horses need to be healthy. When feed costs rise, there are alternatives to either replace hay or be a partial supplement to feeding hay. It is important to note that any change in feeding regimen should be made gradually over a two week period. A quick change of feed can cause colic, diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal problems for your horse.
Hay provides around 18% fiber in a horse’s diet and is responsible for the motility of the hind gut in the horse. In other words, it keeps things moving along through the digestive tract and prevents colic and other gastrointestinal malfunctions.
The following feeds can be used to replace your total feeding regimen or to partially replace it.
- Complete feeds, Pelleted feed that contains grass and other roughage ingredients, can be used as a replacement for feeding hay. Complete feeds are very good to use in older horses that have lost their teeth and can no longer eat hay or pasture grasses.
- Hay cubes (alfalfa or timothy/alfalfa), chopped hay pressed into cubes, can be fed either as a replacement or a supplement to hay. Can be fed dry or soaked to aid in palatability.
- Beet pulp. High in fiber, which greatly aids in digestibility. Also, a great source to put weight on a hard keeper. Best fed after soaking in water to allow for expansion and palatability.
- Oat hay. Similar in quality and digestibility as grass hays. Less costly than alfalfa hays.
- Soy hulls. Very high in fiber
- Haylage. This is a processed complete feed similar to silage. There is a chance for mold and spoilage as it contains a lot of moisture. Very high in fiber and very digestible.
The feeds below can be used to supplement your feeding regimen, and would need to be fed with reduced amounts of hay and grain:
- Rice Bran or Wheat Bran. These contain less fiber than what is in most hays but more than what is in most grains. May need to add a mineral supplement if feeding these.
- Oats. Can be added to grain regimen, but if fed solely will need mineral supplementation. Higher in fiber than most grains.
It is possible to provide our horses with nutritious feeds without breaking the bank. Quality should always be foremost in any feed choice.
Consult your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist before making any feed change to determine amounts to be fed to your horse.