The fundamental difference between hay and haylage is the way that the grass is conserved. Hay is cut when grass is mature and left to dry in the field before being baled and stored. To conserve hay and prevent it from spoiling or going mouldy, the grass needs to be sufficiently dry before baling. Typically hay will be 85% or above dry matter which relies on good weather conditions to achieve – not always easy in the UK! Hay of insufficient dry matter will not store well and will be very likely to go mouldy making it unsuitable to feed.
Haylage tends to be cut earlier in the season and is left to wilt for a shorter period of time in the field before being baled and wrapped in several layers of plastic. The difference between haylage and hay is that, whilst the conservation of hay relies on the removal of moisture, the conservation of haylage relies on the exclusion of oxygen which prevents mould growth. Haylage is typically between 50 and 70% dry matter.
There seems to be an increasing trend to produce drier haylage which is more accurately termed ‘wrapped hay’ as the dry matter is closer to that of hay. Caution has to be taken with very dry haylage when wrapping as dry, coarse material may result in more air pockets in the bale and a bale that is more difficult to wrap without puncturing the plastic. Both of these factors can mean that very dry haylage is more susceptible to higher mould counts or becoming spoiled during storage as the higher levels of oxygen increases the opportunity for mould growth.
Another difference between hay and haylage which confuses many people is how much to feed. Due to a greater amount of moisture in haylage you actually need to feed more haylage by weight than hay to provide the same amount of dry matter. For example, a 500kg horse that needed 10kg of forage on a dry matter basis daily would require 11.8kg of hay as fed assuming it was 85% dry matter and 16.7kg of haylage as fed assuming it was 60% dry matter in order to provide this. Knowing how much moisture your forage contains by analysis is key for working this out!
Any nutritional differences between hay and haylage are predominantly determined by the grass type and age of maturity when harvested rather than the actual conservation methods. The table below shows the differences between hay and haylage when made from grasses cut within the same field at the same time to show the differences due to the conservation method.
|Post Fermentation DM basis||Hay||Haylage DRY||Haylage WET|
|Dry matter %||88.4||68.4||57.7|
|Crude protein %||10.8||11.6||11|
Preference of horses for grass conserved as hay, haylage or silage C.E. Muller ∗, P. Uden (2007) *Department of Animal Nutrition and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
As can be seen from the table, some nutrients don’t vary much as their levels are determined more by the grass species than the conservation technique. This would include ash which is an analysis of the inorganic materials such as minerals, as well as the NDF which is a measure of fibre. What may be surprising is the difference in WSC. This stands for water soluble carbohydrate and is a measure of the simple sugars plus fructan. The haylage in the table above has been very carefully conserved and has sufficient moisture to ensure that some fermentation has occurred. This uses up the sugar and converts it to another form of energy called volatile fatty acids which reduces the sugar level. In practice many of the haylages that are tested via Dengie’s forage analysis service have very similar WSC levels to hay, especially if they are more like a wrapped hay with a higher dry matter.
Another thing to consider when weighing up whether haylage is better than hay is respiratory health. Hay is a larger source of respirable particles compared to haylage. Respirable particles are very small particles that are invisible to the naked eye and are a combination of things that could potentially be harmful to your horse’s respiratory health including mould spores and bacteria. Another option for overcoming this issue is to steam hay using a hay steamer e.g. Haygain, or a high temperature dried forage replacer such as Dengie Hi-Fi Senior or Pure Grass as high temperature drying produces a consistently clean forage source.
A common question to the Dengie Feedline is how soon can I feed this year’s hay or haylage? When it comes to this year’s hay once it is baled and stored the answer is you can introduce it straight away as long as there is no heating in the bales. Do bear in mind that the nutritional value of the hay will be greatest just after harvest, nutrients such as vitamins will decline over time. When it comes to haylage it is a bit longer – usually around 6 weeks or longer. This is because it takes time for the fermentation process to take place which then ensures it is properly conserved. Whichever forage you use and whenever you choose to introduce it the key advice is to remember that any change between batches of forage constitutes a dietary change and should be done gradually over the period of a couple of weeks by ideally mixing old and new forage together.
Generally, UK pasture and therefore forage lacks the trace minerals copper, selenium and zinc. Conserved forage like hay or haylage also loses vitamins, for example vitamin E which is usually abundant in grass, very quickly post-harvest. Whilst hay and haylage alone may provide enough calories for many horses and ponies it should be supplemented with a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement, balancer or fortified feed.
One myth when it comes to feeding hay is that last year’s hay is safer for a laminitis prone horse or pony. Post-cutting and baling when the grass has finished respiring there will be no further losses of non-structural carbohydrate, which is the sum of water soluble carbohydrate and starch added together, just through storage alone. The level of non-structural carbohydrate in any forage can be highly variable and is dependent on grass types and environmental conditions during growth and at the time of harvest. The only way to know what a forage provides and therefore how suitable it is for your horse is to get the forage tested.
If hay or haylage is in short supply what’s the alternative? A number of the Dengie fibre feeds can be used as partial or full hay replacers. Dengie’s Pure Grass brings the field to the stable, or for good do-ers Hi-Fi Lite is an excellent option. We can provide more information about Dengie’s range of forage replacers, including those suitable for veterans with poor teeth.
The winter months mean management changes for many horses and ponies. Those in their “senior years” may sometimes need a little extra support to ensure they emerge from winter full of the joys of spring! Whether you have a “20 going on 2 year-old”, or an aged veteran with poor dentition, we are here to help with diet management strategies and solutions for feed for older horses that can help you to see them safely through this winter.
Improved knowledge, veterinary care and nutrition mean that horses and ponies are living much longer and our perception of what defines an old horse has changed. Although many senior mixes and cubes are available, not every senior horse or pony needs them, especially those that hold their weight well. If you are feeding less than the recommended quantities of a veteran mix it will mean that your older horse is missing out on essential vitamins and minerals. To counter these shortfalls, adding a supplement or balancer to top up on essential nutrients is advisable. The older horse with any age associated health issues, including poor dentition or Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID formerly known as Cushing’s), will need a little more support.
Stabling over the winter months is not always the most “comfortable” situation for the older horse. Confinement to a smaller space may result in stiffer joints and poor ventilation in the stable may result in respiratory problems, which is a common problem for older horses and ponies. Dengie Performance+ Balancer contains added glucosamine for joint support and a prebiotic for digestive support as well as a broad-spectrum of vitamins and minerals to provide a balanced feed for older horses.
Poor dentition, weight loss, PPID (formerly known as Cushing’s disease) and laminitis are just some of the problems that a veteran horse may face. In practice, this means that they require a more specialised ration all year round, but for those with poor teeth the winter months can be particularly challenging as the reliance on conserved, long stem forage increases. Monitoring bodyweight and condition by regular use of a weigh tape and body condition scoring is good practice for any horse owner, but it is especially important for those with veterans. This will provide plenty of opportunity to alter the feed for older horses before weight gain or any changes progress too far.
As horses age their teeth can become worn and loose, a problem that is usually first noticed when a horse drops partially chewed feed from its mouth which is termed “quidding”. Horses that quid, long stem forage like hay or haylage can be problematic due to poor digestion resulting in further complications, such as colic. Feed for older horses and their ration should be adjusted to avoid these complications.
As a 500kg horse can eat around 6-8kg or more of forage in the winter months alongside grazing, it is not surprising that as soon as they start to struggle with forage, they may lose weight.
It is vital to remember that a horse needs fibre to maintain digestive health and fibre intake should still equate to at least 1.5% of bodyweight; a 500kg horse would therefore require 7.5kg of a fibre-based feed per day. When horses can no longer manage long stem forage the next step is to try a short chop hay replacer product, such as Dengie Hi-Fi Senior or Dengie Pure Grass. These are short chop alternatives to long stem forage and are much easier to chew. Simply treat them like a haynet in a bucket.
Another option for feed for older horses with poor dentition is to soak food to a mash or gruel consistency. Adding Dengie’s Alfa-Beet or Grass Pellets to a hay replacer ration is an ideal way of softening it as well as providing extra calories for those horses that need to gain weight. Dengie Alfa-Beet combines alfalfa and unmolassed sugar beet with a convenient 15-minute hot soak or 2 hour cold soak. A combination of Alfa-Beet, Grass Pellets and a High Fibre Cube can be the best senior horse feed options or for those who can’t even manage to chew short chop fibres any more.
Just because a horse is old it does not necessarily mean that they are going to be thin. However, if your veteran does start to lose weight it is important to ascertain the reason why and not just to put it down to “old age”. Run through a checklist including dental check, vet check and worming check to identify any problems. Also check your horse’s diet; in particular, are they eating as much hay as they used to? It may be time to consider moving onto a more senior specific or higher energy feed.
Remember to proceed with caution as many senior mixes are not ideal for veterans that have problems like laminitis or PPID, both of which require a low sugar and starch diet. Alfa-A Oil is Dengie’s highest calorie fibre feed and has a calorie level equivalent to a conditioning mix or cube but without the high starch levels. This makes Alfa-A Oil a suitable feed for older horses that need to gain weight but require a low sugar/starch ration. It can also be fed alongside Dengie Alfa-Beet if extra condition is needed.
The dietary management of a horse or pony with Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID, formerly known as Cushing’s Disease) should be based on a low sugar and starch diet, just as for horses prone to laminitis. Unfortunately, one of the main problems associated with the PPID is that horses tend to be more prone to laminitis as a result of the hormonal balance changes. This may mean that you may be doing everything right with regard to their diet and yet laminitis still occurs.
Feeding according to weight and dental condition is also an additional consideration for horses and ponies with PPID and laminitis. For those that maintain weight easily, a low calorie, low sugar and starch product, like Dengie Hi-Fi Lite or Hi-Fi Molasses Free, is suitable. For those that struggle to maintain weight Dengie Alfa-A Oil, Alfa-A Molasses Free and Alfa-Beet are all suitable feeds.
For more information or nutritional advice on feed for older horses, contact the experts at Dengie on 01621 841188, today!
The rise in overweight and obese horses and ponies could be linked to the number of laminitis cases. Despite continued research, laminitis is a debilitating and painful condition that seems to be on the rise.
The dilemma seems to be that, although most owners appreciate that their overweight or obese horses or ponies are at an increased risk of laminitis, they seem to find it very difficult to diet them effectively. This might be because many people simply don’t realise where the calories (energy) is coming from. We’ll count some calories in a typical ration shortly, but first it is worth understanding a little more about the link between obese horses and laminitis risk.
Equine Metabolic Syndrome is a name used to describe a range of symptoms, including insulin resistance or dysregulation, obesity and recurrent laminitis.
Research in humans in the 1990s demonstrated that adipose (fat) tissue isn’t just an inert store – it can actually develop the ability to secrete hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers in the body and it is known that adipokines (hormones produced by the adipose tissue) can affect immune function, inflammation, tumour development and glucose regulation. Keeping blood glucose levels within normal ranges involves a number of hormones, one of which is insulin. If the function of insulin is compromised, it is referred to as insulin resistance.
Insulin facilitates the removal of glucose from the blood, so insulin resistance can result in blood sugar levels remaining elevated despite more and more insulin being produced. It is thought that over-exposure to insulin and glucose can damage the cells lining the blood vessels (endothelial cells). As these are responsible for the constriction and dilation of blood vessels, the link between insulin resistance and obese horses and laminitis becomes apparent.
If you have an obese horse, you will need to embark on a weight-loss plan. The main source of energy in most horses’ diets is grass – eight hours’ grazing time on average spring pasture will supply enough energy for a 500kg horse. It is recommended that you limit your horse’s turnout time to help restrict their main source of calories. Consider stabling, a grazing muzzle and limiting the available grazing area.
There have been very few studies investigating how effective grazing muzzles are, but Tracey Hammond MSc (Dist), a Dengie nutritionist, carried out a study for her master’s degree dissertation. The study showed a 75-85% reduction in grass and energy consumed as a result of the grazing muzzle. Although the study was small-scale, this does show promising and effective methods for restricting intake for overweight and obese horses.
The benefit of using a grazing muzzle is that horses can still be turned out, which is better for their respiratory system and allows them to interact with other horses and move around more, which will use more energy than if they are stood in a stable.
It is also important not to be tempted to treat overweight or obese horses with a sprinkling of cubes or mix in their feed. You might be surprised to learn that half a scoop of mix provides enough energy to support 20 minutes’ schooling and, if cubes are used, this increases to 50 minutes because they are heavier.
Although it can often seem that however much work you do with your horse it doesn’t seem to lose weight, it is important to keep doing it. Double check that you are sufficiently reducing your horse’s calorie intake through dietary restriction as exercise alone will not result in sufficient weight loss.
It is also important to consider that, even if the horse isn’t losing weight, exercise might help to maintain sensitivity to insulin, as has been found to be the case in humans. Therefore, even if the horse isn’t losing weight, exercise could help to avoid insulin resistance and laminitis.
Dengie has four products approved by The Laminitis Trust , more than any other feed company. Every Dengie fibre feed is based on alfalfa, which not only provides lots of essential fibre for keeping the digestive system healthy, but is also naturally low in starch and sugar, making it ideal for individuals prone to laminitis.
Abundant in vitamins and minerals, alfalfa supplies essential nutrients that your horse or pony needs to keep it in top condition. The table below should help you to choose which product is best for your horse or pony but, if you would like more further advice or information, call our friendly feedline on 01621 841188 or chat live online to a nutritionist about your overweight or obese horse, today!
|Product||Digestible Energy (MJ/kg)||Sugar Level %||Starch Level %|
|Hi-Fi Molasses Free||8.5||2.5||1.5|
|Healthy Hooves Molasses Free||8.5||2.5||1.5|
|Alfa-A Molasses Free||11.5||4.5||2|
Jake, an eight-year-old Connemara and has always been a good-doer. When he was diagnosed with EMS, his owner Emma knew she had to take action. “I arranged for a Dengie nutritionist to visit and weigh Jake. He was given a personalised diet-plan of Healthy Hooves Molasses Free and we’ve not looked back! Jake now weighs a healthy 417kg – he’s lost an incredible 99kg in the last 12 months! He loves his feeds, is healthy, happy and in great condition.”
Emma Williams from Essex
To read more about Jake’s weight loss story click here.
Protein is often cast as the villain, but it is actually vital for good health in your horse. Protein is found in all tissues in the body and enzymes, hormones and antibodies are also made of protein. The building blocks of protein are amino acids, some of which have to be supplied in the diet because the body cannot make sufficient quantities to meet requirements. The amino acids that must be supplied in the diet are termed essential amino acids for horses. The ‘quality’ of a protein is often measured by the levels of essential amino acids it contains. Lysine is the only amino acid for horses, essential or otherwise, for which the requirement has been determined.
Lysine is an essential amino acid which means that it must be supplied in the diet. Lysine is known as a limiting amino acid. This means that whilst there can generally be an abundant amount of protein in the diet, the horse can still be protein deficient if there is insufficient lysine in the diet. Lysine for horses is particularly important for youngstock because a deficiency will limit growth and development.
Generally, if enough energy is consumed, which can be identified by the horse being in good body condition, the overall amount of protein in the diet is likely to be sufficient as well. However despite adequate protein intake it is possible for a horse to still be lacking sufficient essential amino acids for horses, like lysine. This is most likely to occur in horses that have restricted grazing and forage, or possibly even for horses having soaked forage. It can also occur at times of higher demand coupled with inappropriate nutrition such as during pregnancy, lactation and growth.
Easy-to-spot symptoms of protein deficiency in horses include:
Alfalfa is a member of the legume family, so possesses the ability to ‘fix’ nitrogen from the atmosphere and incorporate it into the plant. Along with soya, which is also a legume, alfalfa is one of the most commonly used sources of protein in horse feeds.
The key features of the protein in alfalfa are:
It has taken some time, but there is now fairly extensive research vindicating protein, which raises the question: why was protein ever thought to be the cause of so many problems. The explanation might well lie with the laws governing the nutritional information that has to be listed on every bag of horse feed.
As the level of protein has to be declared on a bag of feed and the starch level doesn’t, protein has often been used as the measure of the ‘richness’ of a feed. With traditional cereal-based compound feeds such as mixes and cubes, it usually follows that the higher the protein level, the higher the starch level, as the feed provides more energy for a higher level of work. If high protein (and starch) feeds are being fed and a problem such as laminitis or colic ensues, it is fairly understandable that protein is believed to be the cause because this is the nutrient that the horse owner knows has increased when they look at the back of the bag. Until changes to legislation are made, it is likely that some horse owners will continue to blame protein for a number of problems.
Some of the diseases and problems that protein is wrongly blamed for include:
As feed manufacturers are required to declare only the level of crude or ‘total’ protein on a bag, this doesn’t tell you much about the levels of essential amino acids for horses in the feed. Most manufacturers will be able to tell you this information if you request it directly. If you would like a personalised feeding plan for your horse, including more information on key essential amino acid for horses, please telephone the Dengie Feedline on 01621 841188 or email email@example.com.
Have you noticed a change in behaviour in your horse? Or perhaps lumps and bumps have appeared on their skin. This could possibly be as a result of a horse allergy or intolerance. Although feeding is definitely not always to blame when it comes to allergy and intolerance, it makes sense to evaluate the horse’s current ration as a starting point. This guide will help feeding those with common horse allergies and intolerances.
Getting to the bottom of the cause of a horse allergy or intolerance can be really tricky. It therefore stands to reason that putting your horse on a ‘simple’ ration with fewer feed ingredients, as often suggested by vets recommending an elimination diet, could possibly help to identify what your horse is reacting to if their symptoms disappear.
The simplest feed from the Dengie range is Dengie Alfalfa Pellets. These are just pure pelleted alfalfa with nothing else added – no molasses, preservatives or binders. Providing 10MJ/kg of Digestible Energy, Alfalfa Pellets have a similar energy level to a pony nut but are based on only one ingredient. Dengie Alfalfa Pellets can be fed dry or soaked to form a mash.
All Dengie Fibre Feeds are free from whole cereal grains. The Alfa-A range is based on pure alfalfa with different coatings for different situations and is suitable for working horses or those that struggle to maintain condition.
The Hi-Fi range combines alfalfa with other fibre sources such as cereal straw or high temperature dried grass and is suitable for horses at rest or in light work that maintain their condition with ease. Simply choose a fibre feed most suited to your horse’s needs and feed alongside a Dengie Vits & Mins supplement or Dengie Balancer to provide a balanced ration.
Dengie has the answer to many common horse allergy or intolerances with our ten fibre-based products that are all molasses free:
A large part of any animal’s immunity is within the gut. Horses have evolved to eat a fibre-based ration and would naturally spend 16-18 hours per day eating. The stresses of domestic life, including competition and travel, can disrupt the population of micro-organisms within the horse’s digestive tract. This can lead to lose droppings and poor coat condition.
Digestive Health Plus combines a prebiotic with live yeast and brewer’s yeast, which helps to create favourable conditions in the horse’s gut for beneficial fibre digesting bacteria to thrive. Digestive Health Plus can be fed at a concentrated level at times of stress or may be fed daily at a maintenance level.
Ensuring your horse receives a balanced ration with respect to vitamins and minerals is another way to support your horse from the inside, especially as vitamins and minerals have an important role as antioxidants and therefore within immune function. If feeding a fibre only ration, or less than recommended amounts of a feed with added vitamins and minerals, a Dengie Balancer or Dengie Vits & Mins should ideally be added to the ration.
Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO), also known as COPD or heaves, is a common respiratory problem in stabled horses. It is a result of a hypersensitivity to inhaled allergens causing respiratory
distress like asthma in humans. There is no quick fix to managing RAO, but long-term success relies on creating as dust-free environment as possible. From a feeding perspective this would include selecting the best possible hay and steaming it or using haylage.
When it comes to fibre in the bucket feed, all Dengie’s alfalfa and grasses are high temperature dried to produce a consistently clean forage source. When good quality hay or haylage is in short supply, Dengie Hi-Fi Senior or Pure Grass is an ideal alternative. Hi-Fi Senior combines both high temperature dried grasses and alfalfa, providing a very clean fibre. Despite its name Hi-Fi Senior is suitable for a range of horses and ponies including performance horses where respiratory health is a concern. Dengie Pure Grass contains high temperature dried grasses with nothing else added.
For friendly feeding advice tailored to your horse’s individual needs, or to change diet management to accommodate your horse allergy please contact the Dengie Feedline on 01621 841188.
Equine Grass Sickness (EGS) is a disease of horses, ponies and donkeys which causes damage to the nervous system, resulting in paralysis of the gut.
The exact cause of equine grass sickness is still not known, but there is evidence to suggest the cause is Clostridium botulinum. These bacteria are found in the soil and can be consumed when the horse is grazing. The bacteria can build up in the gut and begin to release toxins, which affect the horse’s nervous system. Grass sickness in horses is most prevalent in between 2 – 7 years old and cases are reported all over the UK. The peak time for grass sickness occurs predominantly during spring and summer.
There are three forms of equine grass sickness – acute, subacute and chronic – with the acute form being most severe.
The clinical signs of equine grass sickness can be obvious, but diagnosis and a comprehensive treatment plan for grass sickness requires an examination by a veterinarian.
The main aim is to use feeds that are easy to chew, highly digestible and palatable to the horse. Ideally, a diet high in energy and protein should be supplied to try and restore the weight and condition that has inevitably been lost as a result of equine grass sickness.
Turning the feed into a slurry or gruel often helps and so feeds that lend themselves to this are ideal. Pelleted feeds have a small particle size and when water is added can be turned into a gruel-like consistency. A cooked cereal meal can be a useful way of supplying lots of highly digestible energy in an easy-to-chew-and-swallow form. Soaked fibre feeds such as Dengie Alfa-Beet are also ideal for supplying highly digestible fibre that is easy to eat.
Using a digestive supplement is also recommended – Dengie suggest using scFOS prebiotics, as anecdotal reports suggest it is helpful in combatting Clostridium species of bacteria, the suspected cause of equine grass sickness. Dengie Digestive Health Plus contains scFOS prebiotics and is suitable for recovery from equine grass sickness.
Alfa-Beet combines alfalfa with unmolassed sugar beet and is a highly digestible and easy to chew soaked feed.
Hi-Fi Senior combines alfalfa and soft grasses with a molasses and rape seed oil coating, making it highly digestible and easy to chew. Hi-Fi Senior can be fed ab lib as a total forage replacer if required. The short chop length makes it easier to chew than hay or haylage.
Healthy Tummy is a nutritionally balanced , high-calorie feed containing the latest ingredients known to promote gut health, including alfalfa. Healthy Tummy combines chopped and pelleted alfalfa with an oil coating, ADM Protein In-Feed Formula and a unique blend of herbs including oregano, cinnamon and ginger.
Alfalfa Pellets contains pure high temperature dried alfalfa and are an excellent way of providing fibre in a concentrated form. For example, 1 Stubbs scoop of Alfa-A Original holds 0.4kg whereas a Stubbs scoop of Alfalfa Pellets holds 1.6kg.
Pure Grass contains high temperature dried grasses in a short chop format that is easy to chew. Pure Grass is naturally sweet which can help to tempt fussy feeders and can be fed ad-lib to replace the usual forage ration.
Grass Pellets are pure high temperature dried grass pellets with nothing else added. Grass is naturally sweet which helps to tempt fussy feeders. These should be soaked to a mash when fed alone.
Meadow Grass with Herbs combines chopped and pellets grasses with a rapeseed oil coating and herbal blend. Meadow Grass with Herbs is a high calorie feed that is soft and easy to chew and highly palatable due to the naturally sweet grass and additional herbs, perfect for the fussy eater.
For more information about any of our feeds, or if you would like samples to do a palatability test, don’t hesitate to contact our friendly Feedline team on 01621 841188.
The need to put a horse on box rest for recovery or repair usually occurs with very little notice and needs to take immediate effect. This has many repercussions for the horse’s health and welfare and the following factors need to be considered when box rest has been advised.
Changes to a horse’s diet should normally be made gradually. When box rest is required, it is usually the case that the greatest risk to the horse’s health is feeding too much or the wrong type of feed. Therefore, reducing or removing cereal-based feeds from the diet straight away and increasing the amount of fibre that is fed is very important.
To ease this sudden change, using a live yeast and prebiotic supplement such as Dengie Digestive Health Plus is recommended. This helps to stimulate the good bugs and bacteria in the gut and help them deal with the change of diet more efficiently.
Immobility due to box rest is not good for digestive health or for the health of the lymphatic system. Moving around aids the removal of gas from the digestive system and encourages bowel movement. As a horse at rest is sedentary, it increases the risk of problems such as . It is important to feed plenty of fibre to promote healthy, normal gut function. Unless the horse is overweight, ad lib forage is ideal.
The lymphatic system filters waste material from cells and relies on muscle contraction, arterial pulse and peristalsis (movement of the gut) to achieve this. The horse has a high number of lymph nodes compared to humans for example, which slow the movement of lymph. Half of all the horse’s lymph nodes are found in the gut and work best when there is plenty of food trickling through the gut to stimulate peristalsis. A horse on box rest that is not eating very much can experience lymph accumulation. This can result in filled legs and other concerns.
Any change to a horse’s usual routine can cause stress, but box rest can be particularly stressful for horses that are not used to being stabled. This can result in a lack of appetite which may cause weight loss and problems such as colic. Providing lots of different types of fibre whilst the horse is at rest should encourage the horse to exhibit more of their natural browsing behaviour, thereby helping to ensure they consume enough fibre to keep the gut working normally.
Grass is much more digestible than conserved forages like hay and haylage. When a horse is taken off grass and suddenly given a conserved forage, which is common on box rest, the level of indigestible fibre they are consuming increases. In some cases, horses at rest don’t cope with this very well and lose weight as they simply can’t get as much nutrition from the hay/haylage as they can from grass. This is a common problem in older horses and poorer doers.
For these individuals consider using haylage as it tends to be harvested earlier than hay and so is more digestible. Alternatively, or in addition, consider using chopped fibre feeds based on grass such as Dengie Hi-Fi Senior, Meadow Grass with Herbs or Pure Grass. The grass in these feeds is harvested when it is very young and so it is easier for the horse to digest and therefore helps to avoid problems such as weight loss and colic. They can be used as partial or complete hay replacers, either in the short term to aid the transition from pasture to conserved forages, or longer term for horses that can’t chew long length forages.
Soaked sugar beet, such as Dengie Alfa-Beet, is a source of highly digestible fibre and so is ideal for poor doers, older horses and horses at rest. As it is fed soaked it carries additional water into the digestive tract – pasture is about 80% water whereas hay is only 20% water, so feeding soaked feeds can help to maintain water intake.
For poorer doers, box rest provides the challenge of how to supply “calories” without increasing the risk of digestive upsets. Avoiding cereals is recommended as they contain high levels of starch that is associated with muscle problems, colic and laminitis. The alternative is to use fibre-based feeds that contain oil – feeds such as Dengie Alfa-A Oil provide as many calories as conditioning mixes but are at least 10 times lower in starch (2% compared to 20%+ in most conditioning mixes).
Vitamins and minerals are important components of tissues, antioxidants and other parts of the immune system. They are therefore vital for effective repair and recovery whilst on box rest, and so it is worth looking for products that contain bio-available sources of these essential nutrients. Terms to look out for include ‘chelated minerals’ which simply means the mineral has been attached to another molecule to ensure it is absorbed efficiently from the gut.
For good doers, balancers and supplements are an efficient way of supplying a balanced diet without additional calories, making it an ideal feed for a horse at rest, too. They can be mixed with a handful of chopped fibre feeds such as Dengie Hi-Fi Molasses Free alongside forage and that’s all the horse needs for a balanced diet. For poor doers, the balancer or supplement can be fed alongside a higher calorie fibre feed such as Dengie Alfa-A Oil.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any probiotic supplements containing live bacteria approved for horses, but live yeast and prebiotics can be used.
For more information on how to care for a horse at rest or for a specific diet management plan whilst your horse is on box rest, contact a Dengie nutritionist today!
In 2004, the 2nd European Workshop on equine nutrition was held in Dijon. The theme of the workshop was the ‘growing horse’, which gave researchers throughout Europe a chance to present their latest findings into developmental problems. It was a fascinating few days that ultimately revealed there are still many more questions than answers. Some of the main points are summarised below.
Developmental Orthopaedic Disease (DOD) is the umbrella term used to describe any growth-related problem. These can be very obvious and easily recognisable, such as contracted tendons where the foal appears to be walking on tip-toes, or they can be much more subtle and difficult to definitively diagnose such as Wobbler Syndrome.
One of the main points to come out of the Dijon conference is that DOD in horses is a multi-factorial problem and that some of the factors are easier to influence than others. One of the most difficult to control is that of genetics and so it is important to consider that sometimes problems will occur regardless of how much effort you put in to try and avoid them. A contributing factor that can be influenced however is nutrition.
The growth of the foal begins at the point of conception and the diet needs to take account of this. In breeds where mares generally hold their weight easily, extra calories are not required. It is therefore common for mares to receive little additional feed to keep calorie intake at the proper levels. In practice, this often means that the mare doesn’t receive any additional minerals either, which can cause problems.
The foetus accumulates mineral stores that it can draw on during the first few months after birth when it is growing very rapidly. If DOD occurs during this young stage, it usually indicates that the foetus was not able to obtain sufficient stores. This can be due to a number of reasons, the most usual one being that the mare didn’t receive additional minerals in the diet and so couldn’t pass them to the foal. The health of the placenta can also affect how well nutrients are passed to the foetus and therefore influence DOD risk. Placenta health can be compromised by infections or old age. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t breed from older mares – you just have to accept that there is an increased risk of problems.
One myth that has well and truly been dispelled is that excessive protein causes DOD in horses. It is now generally agreed that the most dangerous type of diet is in fact one that is high in energy and low in minerals as this stimulates a rapid rate of growth without supplying the building blocks to support it. Straight cereals are an obvious culprit as they provide lots of energy but have poor vitamin and mineral content. However, if a supplement or balancer is used alongside and cereals are fed in moderation, they can be a cost-effective way to feed.
When adding minerals to the diet the crucial factor is that they are balanced. Feeding more of one mineral in isolation is not necessarily a good thing as it upsets the balance of others. For instance, limestone is frequently added as a source of calcium as most people are aware that calcium is required for bone development. Although calcium is important, feeding too much can block the availability of other minerals such as zinc and copper, which are also vital for growth and preventing DOD in horses. Copper, for example, is an important constituent of the enzymes that are needed to give tendons their elasticity. Supplements and balancers formulated specifically for breeding stock are low in calories but contain optimum levels of minerals and other essential nutrients making them ideal for good-doers.
One of the most interesting but largely unexplored ideas is how the time of year the foal is born could influence development, but some suggest that there is a correlation between DOD in horses or foals and the season of their birth; Foals would naturally be born in late spring and summer when the mare has access to plenty of grass with a high nutritional value, which allows her to produce the most milk when the foal most needs it. Breeding foals early, in January or February as routinely happens in the Thoroughbred industry, means that the foal arrives when there isn’t much grass available to the mare. To compensate for the lack of grass, large amounts of supplementary feed has to be given which increases the risk of digestive upsets, such as colic, and is not particularly cost-effective. Crucially, it also means that by April or May when lots of grass is available and the mare is likely to be producing lots of milk, the foal is three to four months old and starting to become less reliant on the mare as a source of nutrition. Some researchers believe that the milk may provide too much energy when the foal doesn’t need it, which may lead to DOD in horses.
The advice for dealing with DOD in horses has usually been to shut the foal in the stable and just give it hay and water. Although there are still many questions unanswered, one thing that is now recognised is that hay and water is not good enough. Just as you wouldn’t expect a child with a developmental problem to improve on bran flakes and water, foals need a balance of essential nutrients to repair damage. Supplements or a low calorie balancer should be fed at the recommended levels alongside hay to provide the nutrients needed to build healthy tissues.
Hopefully this has given you an insight into why DOD in horses occurs and some guidelines for trying to avoid it. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees, but if you provide a balanced diet of vitamins and minerals and avoid over-feeding, you’re on the right track. Arguably the most important message is that if you try to mess with Mother Nature by breeding early or from older mares, problems are more likely to occur. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it – you just need to be prepared to deal with the consequences.
For more information on feeding pregnant mares, foals, studs or for any other nutritional advice, contact the Dengie experts, today!
Feeding your horse can seem like a minefield, but one mantra that every horse owner should start with is “feed according to your horse’s bodyweight and workload”. Whilst this sounds simple in practice, how do you know how hard you are working your horse?
Feed manufacturers typically simplify workload into four categories when helping you to decide if a feed is appropriate for your horse – maintenance, light, medium and hard work. Here we look at the description within each category.
Horses at maintenance are those that are not taking part in any ridden or enforced exercise such as those that are retired. Their energy requirements are simply those to support their normal bodily functions and to maintain weight.
Many horses at maintenance will easily maintain their weight on grazing and forage alone. They are unlikely to need a significant amount of bucket feed in order to supply additional energy or calories but it is important to remember that UK pasture and forage typically lack certain trace minerals. Pasture is usually lacking in copper, selenium and zinc and conserved forage can be short of vitamin E as well, particularly as it ages. Horses at maintenance should therefore be offered a vitamin and mineral lick, balancer or vitamin and mineral supplement in a small amount of a low-energy chopped fibre feed, such as Hi-Fi Lite to top up on these nutrients.
Horses in light work are generally described as doing light hacking and schooling, mostly at walk and trot with some canter, for a maximum of 1 hour daily. Local, unaffiliated competitions are probably only light work for most horses and ponies too. In practice, the need to add a supplementary feed as workload increases really depends on how well your horse maintains their weight. It doesn’t matter how hard they are working, if they are still overweight then they clearly don’t need more energy! Body condition scoring is the best tool to know if you are supplying sufficient energy in the diet; a condition score 3 on the 5 point scale is about right for most leisure horses.
Good do-ers in light work may simply require a ration that’s similar to those at maintenance. For those that don’t hold their weight quite as easily, opt for feeds that supply around 8-10MJ/kg digestible energy (DE) such as Hi-Fi Molasses Free, Healthy Hooves Molasses Free or Alfa-A Lite. Using feeds high in fibre will provide slow-release energy helping to reduce the chance of over-exuberant behaviour.
A horse in medium work is usually expected to be doing regular schooling for around an hour a day and competing in affiliated competitions. Feeds for horses in medium work are typically formulated to provide 10-12MJ/kg DE. The higher level of energy in these feeds comes from the use of more digestible fibre sources such as alfalfa and sugar beet or the inclusion of more oil. For example, Alfa-A Molasses Free, Healthy Tummy or Meadow Grass with Herbs
The requirements for antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin E and selenium also increases with increasing workload and so feeds for horses in medium work or above will also contain higher levels of these nutrients. Regular training will also increase the amount of sweat produced and so an electrolyte supplement should be added to the feed on a daily basis to meet requirements for horses in medium work or above.
A horse in hard work is competing at higher levels and their training and schooling reflects this. Eventers and racehorses will do more faster work in their training whereas dressage horses work harder to do more advanced movements. Show jumpers often compete very frequently and the rigours of travel may also increase the horse’s energy and nutrient requirements. Feeds for horses in hard work are typically formulated to provide 12 MJ/kg DE or more. To provide this high level of energy feeds can include either more cereals or more oil. Feeding a high level of cereals does increase the risk of digestive problems such as gastric ulcers and colic. Therefore for horses in hard work choose a high fibre feed with a high oil content, such as Alfa-A Oil or Performance fibre.
PPID which was historically known as Cushing’s Disease is a degenerative endocrine disorder that disrupts the control of hormones produced in the pituitary gland, that commonly affects older horses and ponies.
If you are worried that your horse or pony is showing signs of PPID/Cushing’s Disease then you should consult your vet who may carry out a blood a test. Veterinary medication prescribed by your vet can help to manage the symptoms and help regulate your horse’s hormone levels.
PPID is caused by neurons in the hypothalamus gradually degenerating over time. These neurons are responsible for releasing dopamine to inhibit the production and release of hormones from the pars intermedia, which is one of the three lobes of the pituitary gland. In the absence of a signal to stop, the pars intermedia continues to produce hormones, leading to high levels circulating in the body. This results in some of the common symptoms of PPID/Cushing’s Disease, including a longer, curly coat that fails to shed, a dipped-back and pot-bellied appearance, excessive drinking and urination and an increased susceptibility to laminitis.
Although not proven yet, there is some suggestion that horses and ponies diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) are more likely to develop PPID/Cushing’s Disease later in life.
The underlying endocrine problems of PPID/Cushing’s Disease can increase the risk of laminitis in horses and ponies. The trigger that ultimately results in the clinical signs of laminitis is often diet-related and is usually due to excessive consumption of sugar and starch. Therefore, when looking for suitable feeds for horses and ponies diagnosed with PPID/Cushing’s Disease the advice is to choose products that are low in sugar and starch. The recommendation is that the non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), which are a combination of water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC, or ‘sugar’) and starch is less than 10-12% when combined.
Here are four top tips that our nutrition team advise for horses and ponies with PPID/Cushing’s Disease
1.Monitor your horse’s weight
Get in the habit of checking your horse’s weight by both weigh taping and body condition scoring on a regular basis. Aim to keep your horse or pony at a healthy weight. Click here to learn how to monitor your horse’s bodyweight.
A balanced diet is very important as horses with PPID/Cushing’s Disease may have a compromised immunity and poor skin condition. If you are feeding less than the recommended amount of a fortified feed or if you’re feeding your horse a fibre only diet, it’s necessary to add a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer to ensure your horse’s diet is balanced.
Other age associated issues, such as dental issues may also need to be considered when selecting an appropriate horse feed. As PPID/Cushing’s Disease tends to affect older horses, poor teeth may be an additional problem to overcome. High-fibre feeds that can be soaked, such as Dengie Alfa-Beet, may be easier to chew and can be used as partial hay replacers.
One possible symptom is a lack of appetite, and if your horse is a fussy eater, offering him different types of high-fibre feeds may tempt him to eat. If your horse doesn’t eat much hay in the stable, try offering a bucket of chopped fibre feed alongside to see if you can encourage your horse to eat more fibre. Secondly, try feeds with different flavours or herbs to temp them.
Horses and ponies diagnosed with PPID/Cushing’s Disease should be fed a low sugar and starch diet. As Alfalfa is naturally low in both sugar and starch, there are a number of feeds in our range that are suitable. Your horse’s diet should be balanced and provide a level of energy appropriate to your horse’s condition and workload – not all horses with PPID/Cushing’s Disease are overweight!
Low calorie horse feeds for overweight horses or those in light or no work
High energy and conditioning horse feeds for underweight horses or those in work
Horse Feeds for those that maintain a healthy weight
After speaking to our nutrition team, Chewy’s owner, Rebecca changed his diet to Hi-Fi Lite and Leisure Vits & Mins. His progress and weight were monitored – at his heaviest he weighed 468kg.
Bucket Feed – 1kg of Hi-Fi Lite, split over three feeds a day
Forage – 5kg of hay, divided between 1kg post-lunch and 4kg at night
Grazing – Five hours of turnout from 7:30am to 12:30pm, wearing a grazing muzzle during the spring and/or autumn abundance of grass.
Thanks to a change of diet and our nutrition team’s advice Chewy lost 70kg and at his lightest weighed 400kg. Since losing the excess weight Chewy has been free from laminitis. His weight fluctuates a little due to spring and autumnal grass flushes, but he’s healthy and in great shape.