Testing & Nutrition

Why is it important to feed tested hay?

We cannot determine the nutritional content of forage based on its type or appearance.  The majority of most horses’ diets is made up of hay.  If we don’t know the nutritional content of that hay, then we cannot be sure that our horses’ dietary needs are being met.

We cannot generalize that a certain type of hay will always – or even usually – test the same way.  Timothy and other grass hays can vary widely in protein and sugar content depending on growing conditions.  Protein levels in alfalfa can also vary a great deal.  Without testing, you cannot know these values.

Equine obesity is becoming an epidemic.  “Easy keepers” tend to benefit from a diet that is higher in fibre and lower in energy and sugars/carbohydrates, while also ensuring to meet their protein and other nutrient requirements.  Without hay testing, we simply cannot know if what we are feeding is safe for these horses.

Feeding inappropriate hay to sugar sensitive horses can cause diarrhea, laminitis, and worsen Equine Metabolic Syndrome and other equine metabolic disorders.

Hard working and/or harder keeping horses need adequate energy, protein, and carbohydrates in their diets to be able to work while maintaining muscle and body condition.  Feeding too many concentrates to harder keeping horses puts them at risk for gastric ulcers, colic, and other gastrointestinal problems. Thus, it is important to provide a more nutrient and calorie dense forage first, instead of increasing concentrates to unsafe quantities.  Without testing, it is impossible to know if your hay is appropriate for your hard keeper.

What test values are ideal for your horse?

Because every horse is an individual, it is helpful to know what to look for in a hay test, depending on the type of hay, and the horse’s metabolism, age, and activity level.

Grass Hay
Mature
Sedentary
Mature
Working
Metabolically Challenged
Dry Matter/Moisture (%) 88-92 / 8-12 88-92 / 8-12 88-92 / 8-12
Crude Protein (%) 10-15 12-16 10-16
ADF (%) 30-40 30-40 30-40
NDF (%) 50-60 50-60 50-60
WSC (%) 14 or less 17 or less 10 or less
NSC (%) <15 <18 <10
Nitrates (%) <0.44 <0.44 <0.44
DE (kg) 2 Mcal
+/- 0.2
2 Mcal
+/- 0.2
2 Mcal
+/- 0.2
Alfalfa Hay
Mature
Sedentary
Mature
Working
Metabolically Challenged
Dry Matter/Moisture (%) 88-92 / 8-12 88-92 / 8-12 88-92 / 8-12
Crude Protein (%) 12-17 12-18 12-18
ADF (%) 30-40 30-40 30-40
NDF (%) 40-50 40-50 40-50
WSC (%) 12 or less 12 or less 10 or less
NSC (%) <13 <13 <12
Nitrates (%) <0.44 <0.44 <0.44
DE (kg) 2 Mcal
+/- 0.2
2 Mcal
+/- 0.2
2 Mcal
+/- 0.2

Recommended values provided by  Hi-Pro-FEEDS-logo

 

For detailed information on hay tests and how to read them, you are welcome to refer to the following document prepared by Shelagh Niblock at Hi Pro Feeds, which is where we send our hay for testing: Your Hay Test and your Horse

What is the best feeding plan for my horse?

At Wrayton Transport Hay Sales, we are really passionate about hay and equine nutrition, and we spend a lot of time reading articles and studies, talking to customers, and liaising with equine nutritionists and vets in order to be able to provide the best possible information to our customers.

Every horse is different, but in some very specific ways, all horses are the same.  They have evolved a digestive system that functions very differently from our own; humans evolved to eat set meals with significant time between, whereas horses and other equines evolved to graze continuously.  When we feed horses like humans, we are not respecting their physiology, and so their digestive systems cannot function properly, and there are often consequences.

One interesting fact about the equine digestive system is that the cecum (also called the hindgut – comparable to the large intestine in a human), has both its entrance and exit at the top.  Where in a human, gravity helps to move food through the large intestine, in the horse, a steady supply of forage is required to keep the cecum full, and continue to push food back up to the top to exit.  When the horse is fed set meals and the cecum is not full, colic can result from material stuck at the bottom. Another significant difference between humans and horses is: humans produce stomach acid when we eat, while horses produce stomach acid all the time.  If horses are allowed to graze continually, as they chew and swallow, their saliva buffers the acid in their stomachs, but if they are left to stand between set meals, the acid can eat into the stomach lining and cause ulcers.

Horses who are fed in a way which goes against their physiology tend to show symptoms:  fence chewing, eating bedding/footing, behavioural issues from the pain of ulcers or the stress and frustration of being unable to eat according to their instincts, eating manure/leaves/etc, cribbing, weaving – we knew a horse who ate caterpillars and ended up dying of colic despite surgery.  There are less visible consequences too: higher insulin leading to higher blood sugar, and the resulting metabolic syndrome and laminitis.  And colic, which is the number one killer of domestic horses, is a symptom of a malfunctioning digestive system.  How can the digestive system function properly if we force our horses to eat in a way which does not respect how they are made?

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Chip in summer 2015, after a year and a half of being fed free choice, out for a ride!

Lynda, who works in the office, often tells the story of her horse, Chip, a morgan/appaloosa cross.  Chip spent many years on a yo yo diet of continual gorging and then restriction, and as a result of that and his genetics, came to Lynda with significant metabolic issues and a relatively serious weight problem.  Chip would live out on huge pastures in summer, and then when winter came, would be left to paw through the snow to find dead grass underneath to eat.  Then, when he lost too much condition, Chip would be taken off the winter pasture and given 24/7 access to a round bale, would gain weight rapidly, and then be confined away from the hay for significant portions of the day in order to try to reduce his intake.  Lynda took Chip on, and was left with a horse who would eat and eat and eat….and eat some more, who kept gaining weight uncontrollably, and who was in danger of laminitis (and actually did suffer a mild bout of it).  It is a conundrum many of us are faced with – we are feeding a horse who WILL NOT STOP EATING, and so our instinct is to simply reduce his feed.  Everyone who cared for Chip had the best of intentions, as most of us do.  It took about 8 months of very hard work, feeding a consistent supply of high fibre, low sugar, adequate protein, tested hay, but Chip finally learned to stop eating on his own, and began to self-regulate his forage intake.  Lynda has owned Chip now since March 2014, and his weight is now acceptable and stable, he has excellent feet, and he is so much happier too.

There are many articles on these topics, but a good place we have found to start has been to read through some of the articles on Dr. Juliet Getty’s website, Getty Nutrition (http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/Library).  There is a section on “Free Choice Forage Feeding” containing an overview and in-depth information on feeding horses according to their instincts and physiology.  Happy Reading 🙂