"Long In The Tooth" Horses Prefer Short Chop Alfalfa
Older horses with poor dentition could be missing out on vital fibre and nutrients according to a Dengie-funded study at Writtle College. The dissertation study, undertaken by Equine Science degree student, Tracy Mann, showed that short chop grasses and alfalfa are more suitable for the veteran equine than long-chop hay, leading to the conclusion that it should be possible to counteract weight loss in older horses by providing these feeds as alternative forage.
The study, which was inspired by an increase in calls about older horses to Dengie’s award-winning Feedline, found that horses will actually refuse feed such as hay if they find it difficult to chew which offers an explanation as to why older horses often lose significant body weight during winter months.
A sample of 12 horses was compared for their ability to consume three different types of fibre (hay, high temperature-dried grass and alfalfa (Hi-Fi Senior) and a soaked alfalfa/sugar beet combination (similar to Dengie Alfa-Beet) within a 45 minute timeframe.
When offered to the older horses hay was actually refused on 44% of occasions compared with just six percent for the Hi-Fi Senior while the soaked alfalfa sugar beet combination was not refused at all.
Hay presented the greatest problem for the older horse where a 66% lower rate of consumption was observed in the timed trials than that among those with normal dentition. A 30% reduction was observed in the time taken to consume the Hi-Fi Senior which was refused on just three occasions indicating that it was a good, easy to eat source of fibre but owners must be conscious of allowing plenty of time for the horse to eat especially if it is fed as a bucket feed.
The older horses found the soaked product which was similar to Dengie Alfa-Beet easiest to consume. This is a more finely ground feed making it easier to chew but likely to pass through the digestive system quickly so, if possible, it should therefore be fed alongside Hi-Fi Senior to maintain normal gut function.
The study concluded that when older horses with poor dentition find fibre difficult to chew it takes longer for them to eat or they refuse it all together leading to a danger of significant reduction in intake of essential fibre and nutrients. A combination of short chopped fibre and soaked alfalfa and sugar beet provides an alternative to hay that horses with poor dentition find much easier to chew and so are able to consume sufficient quantities that should help them to maintain weight and condition.