In the UK, feeding straw to horses as the sole forage source is rarely done and some people are put off using it at all because they believe it is one of the causes of impaction colics in the horse. This is a shame as straw for horses can be a really useful feed ingredient particularly for diluting more nutritious fibre sources so the combination can be used to maximise chew time for good doers. A recent study investigating feeding barley straw to horses together with hay to those who were overweight, found the group on the straw/hay diet had a significantly greater weight loss compared to feeding hay alone. Although the study didn’t match the volume of forage between groups, one thing that we can take away from the study was that there were no impactions, providing further support that straw is safe to use.

horse being hand fed straw

What are the benefits of a horse eating straw?

Straw is high in fibre and has a very low calorie level compared to other forages as it contains higher proportions of indigestible materials such as lignin. It is great for mixing with good quality hay or haylage to dilute the calories supplied to good doers especially in situations where it is hard to buy in separate forage such as on a livery yard where forage is provided as part of the livery arrangement.

Another benefit of a horse eating straw is that it can also be part of the bucket feed and at Dengie we use straw as a key ingredient in our Hi-Fi range to provide a lower calorie ration helping to promote weight loss and reduce the risk of issues such as laminitis. Although straw has very little buffering capability itself, it is still beneficial for gastric health in the sense that it increases chew time and therefore greater saliva production. This is important as saliva contains bicarbonate which helps to buffer acidity in the horse’s digestive tract.

Dengie Hi-Fi Range Horse Feed

Straw often gets “bad press” in the context of gastric ulcers as one study by researchers in Denmark, found that a horse eating straw as the sole or predominant forage source was 4.5 times more likely to have gastric ulcers. What often gets lost when people read this research is the proportion of straw in the ration. There is no evidence that straw included at levels up to 30% of the total diet causes any issues in relation to EGUS.

Do horses eat straw?

Although straw is often not the most palatable source of fibre, most horses will eat it, particularly if they are on a restricted diet. It can easily be mixed in with hay and soaked or steamed if necessary. At Dengie we add herbs or coatings to help with palatability and the straw is also dust extracted. Horses on a straw bed are very likely to tuck in if they are on restricted quantities of other forage and so are consuming straw that way too!

What type of straw is best?

Oat straw is what we use at Dengie. It is usually favoured over feeding wheat straw to horses as wheat straw tends to be less digestible but in moderation, eating any type of straw doesn’t usually present a problem as demonstrated by horses eating their straw bedding.

The nutritional value of different straws will vary according to the type but also the growing and environmental conditions. On average, straw would have a starch level of around 2.5% and WSC (water soluble carbohydrate) of 6.5% (Equine Applied and Clinical Nutrition, 2013).

For further advice on feeding straw to horses or to receive a personalised ration plan for your horse call the Dengie Feedline on 01621 841188 or click here to complete our Feed Advice Form.

If you often feel that you’ve been working harder than your horse, you may be thinking that a change of diet could solve all of your problems; but can feeding help to improve your horse’s energy levels?

Before making changes to your horse’s diet check the following first:

  1. If your horse’s lack of energy is out of character it is important to establish if there is an underlying cause to the problem, such as ill health or pain and discomfort from ill-fitting tack for example.
  2. It is important to honestly assess whether your horse is capable and fit enough to do what is being asked of them and address this if necessary.
  3. Consider if your horse’s lack of energy could relate to behaviour rather than diet. Some horses are naturally laid-back characters and others become ‘bored’ with repetition. Feeding is unlikely to influence your horse’s behaviour in these situations, but sometimes rider training and a more varied exercise regime can.

When it comes to feeding the following questions are important to ask:

Has my horse got enough energy in their diet?

The easiest way to determine whether your horse has sufficient energy for the work they are doing is to assess their bodyweight using body condition scoring. Ideally your horse should be a 3 on the 5 point scale for optimal body condition. Click here to learn how to assess your horses body condition score.

Horse Condition Score Chart

A horse that is above 3 on this scale is receiving excessive amounts of energy or calories and is carrying too much weight. Encouraging weight loss by decreasing overall energy intake and increasing exercise to improve fitness levels will ultimately help to improve your horse’s energy levels.

A horse that is well below 3 on this scale is receiving insufficient amounts of energy or calories in their ration. Increasing overall energy intake to promote weight gain and achievement of optimal body condition may help improve overall energy levels. It is important to note that very fit horses may maintain their weight and have an optimal body condition and health at just under a 3 on the condition scoring scale.

If your horse is in optimum body condition this suggests they are receiving the correct amount of energy in the diet for the work being done. At this stage, looking at the type of energy supplied may also potentially influence behaviour. Fibre and oil provide slow release energy whereas sugars and starch provide quick release energy. For lazy horses where more sparkle is required, cereal grains are usually fed as they provide lots of starch and therefore quick release energy. There is however, no certainty as to how the introduction of cereal grains will affect your horse’s behaviour; it may have no effect, or result in spooky, silly behaviour rather than helping them to be more forward-going. Recent research found that horses fed a cereal-based concentrate mix were more reactive to new situations and equipment than those on a high fibre and oil diet. They were less consistent in their behaviour and had higher heart rates compared with horses fed the fibre-based feed.

If feeding cereal grains does provide the desired increase in energy levels then research has suggested that time of feeding is important. Within 2 hours of eating a starchy feed the horse’s blood glucose levels rise, followed by a rise in insulin to store glucose. If the horse is exercising whilst the body is also trying to store glucose, this could potentially affect performance due to low blood glucose levels. Cereal based feeds should therefore not be given within 3-4 hours prior to exercise. Feeding fibre does not have this effect and can be fed prior to exercise.

As too much starch can contribute to problems such as colic and laminitis, it is important that cereals are used in moderation. For horses that haven’t been fed cereals before they should be introduced gradually, literally a handful at a time to give the digestive system time to adjust to the new feed. Oats tend to be the cereal that is most commonly used to try and give horses more energy although all cereals provide quick release energy and so may have the desired effect. Feeding cereals to an overweight horse would not be beneficial as it is likely to encourage further weight gain which will compound the problem of lethargy further.

If your horse runs out of steam towards the end of a ride then the feeding strategy should focus on improving stamina. Research has shown that feeding additional oil helps to improve stamina in the horse which is why relatively high levels of oil are fed to endurance horses. If your horse lacks stamina then the oil content of the ration can be increased by introducing high oil feeds such as Dengie Alfa-A Oil if it is appropriate for the horse’s bodyweight. Horses will need to be trained on a high oil ration for two to three weeks before improvements are seen.

Is my horse receiving a balanced diet?

Vitamins and minerals are integral components of energy metabolism and a shortfall of these in the diet can result in poor performance. If you are feeding the recommended quantities of a compound feed that is intended for the level and type of work your horse is doing, the diet should be balanced. Using straights with a balancer or supplement at the recommended levels should also provide a balanced ration.

One thing that many horse owners are concerned about if their horse is lethargic is anaemia. This can be diagnosed with a blood test carried out by a veterinarian. Unlike humans, anaemia in horses is rarely due to low levels of iron in the diet as grass and forage are naturally abundant sources. If your horse’s anaemia isn’t caused by blood loss, an unbalanced diet with insufficient levels of copper in the diet could be the culprit. Copper is important as it is involved in haemoglobin synthesis and the mobilisation of iron stores. Haemoglobin is the pigment that carries oxygen within the body to the tissues where it releases it for aerobic respiration to occur which ultimately produces energy. Copper is typically low in UK pasture and forage and so should be supplemented as part of a balanced ration.

Electrolytes are minerals that are found in fluids in the body and their concentration in fluids found both in and around cells affects neuro-muscular function. Electrolytes are also found in sweat and horses in prolonged work such as endurance can lose considerable amounts. Electrolyte losses and dehydration are linked to fatigue and ultimately compromise performance. Excessive losses can have serious repercussions for health. Horses that appear to get tired towards the end of their work may well be doing so as a result of electrolyte losses, particularly if they are working in hot conditions. Electrolyte supplements can be used before, during and after a busy work period or routinely every
day if the horse is in hard work or sweats profusely.

Top Tips for Feeding Lazy Horses

For personalised feeding advice call the Dengie Feedline on 01621 841188 or click here to complete the Feed Advice Form.

Rising temperatures, strenuous work and the physiological stress of travelling and competing can cause an electrolyte imbalance in horses as they sweat more which is the main way electrolytes are lost from the body.

horse being exercised on hot day

Electrolytes For Horses

Electrolytes are minerals that are found in fluids in the body and their concentration in the fluids found both in and around cells affects neuro-muscular function. Electrolyte losses and dehydration are linked to fatigue and can ultimately compromise your horse’s performance. Excessive losses that create an electrolyte imbalance in horses can have serious repercussions for their health. Horses that appear to get tired towards the end of their work may well be doing so as a result of electrolyte losses, particularly if they are working in hot temperatures.

Both electrolytes and water are needed for re-hydration so adding salt or electrolyte supplements for horses to their water is ideal. If you find this puts your horse off drinking then they can be mixed into the bucket feed. It is recommended to make the feed wet and slushy to promote efficient absorption.

What are the benefits of Horse Electrolytes vs Salt?

powder supplement

Table salt is a combination of sodium and chloride and so electrolytes for horses should include potassium and possibly magnesium in addition to make it more effective than simply using table salt! Potassium is abundant in fresh forage and conserved grass forages such as hay and haylage make a reasonable contribution to the horse’s overall requirements. Horses with no access to grass and those on limited forage intakes are likely to benefit even more from electrolyte supplements for horses.

How to Help Prevent an Electrolyte Imbalance In Horses

For further advice on electrolytes for horses or to receive a personalised ration plan for your horse call the Dengie Feedline on 01621 841188 or click here to complete our Feed Advice Form.

Water is essential for life and the composition of your horse’s diet can have a significant impact on water intake. There can be around 50 litres of water in the digestive system but this is significantly influenced by diet. Horses at grass for longer periods usually consume far higher levels of water than stabled horses as grass is around 80% water, hay is only about 15% water and haylage typically between 30 and 50%.

Meal feeding can also affect fluid balance in the body with research showing considerable shifts in water out of the digestive system when meals are fed. Feeding a few large meals each day can cause sufficient dehydration in the colon to result in impaction which could initiate other forms of very serious colic such as large colon displacement.

horse being exercised on hot day

Causes of Dehydration in Horses

There are many factors that contribute to dehydration in horses including:

Signs of Dehydration in Horses

Dehydration in horses not only affects their performance, but it can also have serious implications for their health and potentially be life-threatening. Symptoms of dehydration can be confused with other things but the typical signs to look out for are:

How to Hydrate a Dehydrated Horse

In a serious case of dehydration veterinary attention is required to administer fluid therapy to rehydrate the horse. To reduce the risk of dehydration in horses there are various things you can do:

horse drinking water in field

Top Tip for Summer

It is important to have fresh clean water available to your horse at all times of year but you may find the sunshine and warmer weather means you’re having to wash out and change the water in your field more frequently than you would do normally.

Feeding Electrolytes To Horses

Rising temperatures and harder work can cause your horse or pony to sweat more resulting in the loss of electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals that are found in fluids in the body and their concentration in and around cells affects neuro-muscular function. Electrolyte losses and dehydration are linked to fatigue and ultimately compromise performance. Excessive losses can have serious repercussions for health too. Horses that appear to get tired towards the end of their work may well be doing so as a result of electrolyte losses, particularly if they are working in hot conditions. Click here to read more about feeding electrolytes to horses.

How to Cool down a Horse in Hot Weather

Walking can help to cool your horses, by increasing the movement of hot air from the body and replacing it with cooler air. Ensuring the horse is in the shade and out of direct sunlight will also increase convection cooling. It is also important to physically cool the horse down after exercise. Cold water applied all over the body has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to keep horses cool. It is important to ensure the water temperature is cooler than the horse so that heat can be lost through both evaporation and conduction (transfer of heat from the body to the air).

horse wash down

The cool down period helps to bring the horse’s temperature and respiration rate down but it has another important function. The lymphatic system is crucial to the horse’s health, performance, and recovery. It consists of an extensive network of vessels and nodes that help to maintain fluid balance and cellular health. After exercise, the lymphatic system clears the waste generated by cells that have been working hard to supply the fuel that powers performance. A cool down for around 20 minutes helps the lymphatic system to work efficiently.

Top tips for helping to prevent dehydration:

For personalised feeding advice call the Dengie Feedline on 01621 841188 or click here to complete the Feed Advice Form.

Review many horse feeds marketed towards the ulcer prone horse and you will notice that they are typically for the working horse or those that don’t hold their weight. However, there are many horses with ulcers that are good do-ers which can make selecting the right feed trickier; what’s the priority with these individuals and the best feed for horses with ulcers – managing the ulcers or promoting weight loss?

horse eating from rubber bucket

Why feed the ulcer prone good do-er?

Whilst the mainstay of any horse’s diet should be forage, in the form of either fresh pasture, or conserved forage like hay or haylage, even good do-ers can benefit from a bucket feed for the following reasons:

To provide a balanced diet; UK pasture and forage lack a number of key trace minerals including copper, selenium and zinc as well as vitamin E in conserved forage. Topping up these nutrients helps to ensure a balanced diet is supplied. Most frequently this can be achieved by adding a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer to a low calorie chopped fibre feed to act as a carrier.

As a lower calorie alternative to hay; hay and haylage can easily supply more energy or calories than the good do-er in light work requires and so the amount fed may need to be restricted. Alternatively, it is possible to replace a proportion of the forage ration with something even lower calorie such as a low energy chopped fibre feed. Overall this may mean the horse can have a larger amount to eat which supports digestive health.

As a pre-exercise feed to reduce the risk of acid splash; whilst this could be hay or haylage, many people will be aware that research has shown that feeding alfalfa as a fibre source is a superior buffer in the digestive tract. Feeding a double handful of a chopped alfalfa based fibre feed in the 20-25 minutes before you ride is recommended to help prevent ‘acid splash’ in the non-glandular region of your horse’s stomach. The fibre ensures the stomach isn’t empty and suppresses the movement of the acidic contents when the horse moves.

Should I feed my good do-er, ulcer prone horse Healthy Tummy, Alfa-A Oil or Performance Fibre as they have the BETA feed approval mark for equines prone to gastric ulcers?

Yes you could, but there are other suitable alternatives when looking for horse feed for good doers. These feeds all supply 11.5MJ/kg or more digestible energy which makes them higher calorie feeds that are less suited to the good do-er and those in light work. Whilst the overall calorie intake could be controlled by limiting the amount fed, it is more beneficial for your horse to have more of a lower calorie feed for more chew time. Suitable options would be Healthy Hooves Molasses Free, Hi-Fi Molasses Free or Hi-Fi Lite.

horse eating out of bucket

Don’t these products contains straw? Straw isn’t suitable for horses with ulcers is it?

Back in 2009, a study that looked at the incidence of gastric ulceration in a population of horses found that those that were fed straw as the sole or predominant fibre source were more likely to have ulcers. The reasons given related to the structure of straw and the fact that straw contains low levels of calcium and protein. This makes sense given that it is alfalfa’s naturally high protein and calcium levels that are thought to make it a superior buffer.

However, the key here is that straw was used as the sole or predominant fibre source which is something we simply don’t tend to practice in the UK. Furthermore Dengie Healthy Hooves Molasses Free, Hi-Fi Molasses Free and Hi-Fi Lite all still contain a proportion of alfalfa as well for extra buffering potential alongside the straw. Given how valuable the addition of straw can be to the ration of a dieting horse, as it enables us to increase overall intake with minimal calories, the current advice even for ulcer prone horses is that it can be included, typically up to 30% of the total daily ration. Using Dengie products that contain straw at the recommended feeding rate will be well within these guidelines and is an appropriate choice of horse feed for good doers and ulcer prone horses.

How do I choose between Healthy Hooves Molasses Free, Hi-Fi Molasses Free and Hi-Fi Lite?

Healthy Hooves Molasses Free – for horses in regular work that maintain their weight easily, use Healthy Hooves Molasses Free as a complete feed. When fed at the recommended quantity of 500g or 1 Stubbs scoop per 100kg of bodyweight, no additional vitamin and mineral supplementation is required. Healthy Hooves Molasses Free can also be fed at less than the recommended quantity alongside a supplement or balancer.

Hi-Fi Molasses Free – for good do-ers in light work, simply feed alongside a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement such as Leisure Vits & Mins or balancer such as Leisure Balancer. Use as much or as little as your horse’s condition allows.

Hi-Fi Lite – feed as per Hi-Fi Molasses Free, or alternatively to partially or totally replace the usual forage ration. At 7.5MJ/kg digestible energy and 7% sugar, Hi-Fi Lite is lower calorie and lower sugar than average hay.

For personalised feeding advice call the Dengie Feedline on 01621 841188 or click here to complete the Feed Advice Form.

Feeds suitable for Ulcer Prone Good Do-er horses

Read any article regarding equine digestive health and you will be advised to feed a low starch horse feed. But what is starch, why do we feed it to horses and why do we need to be careful with high starch horse feed?

What is starch and where do we find it?

Starch is a carbohydrate and storage form of energy for plants. Plants store varying amounts of starch and it is typically found in much higher concentrations in the seeds or grains of cereal plants. Oats, barley, wheat and maize are the cereal grains most commonly used in horse feeds and contain high levels of starch. Grasses and alfalfa would typically supply 2-3% starch, compared to cereal grains like oats that supply in excess of 50% starch. Interestingly, alfalfa stores the sugar it produces as starch but it moves it into its roots which is why the parts that are used in horse feed are so low.

bucket of oats

Why do we feed starch to horses?

Traditionally starch in horse feed has provided a concentrated source of energy that horses find very palatable. Horses that are working very hard have high energy demands and as forage has a low energy density a lot would have to be consumed to meet the horse’s needs. There are ways around this such as pelleted forms of high-quality fibre such as Alfalfa Pellets and using oil alongside the fibre which are becoming more popular alternatives to cereals.

Starch is broken down in the horse’s small intestine to the simple sugar glucose which is a readily available source of energy for the horse. When produced in excess of the horse’s immediate energy requirements, glucose is stored as glycogen in the horse’s muscles and liver. Having a sufficient store of glycogen is particularly important for the performance horse, like the racehorse, as when they are working at fast speeds their body uses anaerobic metabolism to break down glycogen to glucose to use for energy. Insufficient glycogen stores will limit performance and result in fatigue. Starch from cereal grains tops up the horse’s glycogen stores faster than other energy sources such as fibre, which may be particularly significant for horses that are competing with little rest time between competitions. It is interesting to note that compared to humans, horses are quite slow at replenishing their glycogen stores regardless of the energy source.

Why do we need to consider a low starch diet for horses?

Firstly, as the amount of cereal based feeds in the diet increases, typically the amount of fibre offered or consumed decreases. Fibre is vital for the maintenance of digestive health and digestive disturbances, such as gastric ulcers and colic, are more likely to be experienced in horses on a low fibre, high starch diet. Secondly, horses have a limited capacity to digest starch in their small intestine. Starch escaping digestion in the small intestine ends up in the horse’s hindgut where it is rapidly fermented. This results in a more acidic environment and a change in the intestinal microbiota. This change has also been linked to an increased risk of colic, laminitis and even behavioural changes.

horse rolling around

When feeding starch to horses we therefore need to be mindful of the amount used and consider whether, for horses in lower levels of work, we actually need to feed cereal based concentrates at all. If too much starch is fed, then the risk of digestive disturbance increases. Current advice is to restrict starch intake to less than 1g of starch per kg of bodyweight per meal and less than 2g of starch per kg bodyweight per day.

Click here to use our Starch Intake Calculator to ensure you are feeding the correct amount of starch to your horse.

What’s the alternative to starch for horses?

How can we strike a balance for hard working horses that have high energy demands between meeting their energy needs whilst looking after their digestive health? As a starting point use more digestible sources of fibre such as early cut haylage, alfalfa and sugar beet, as these can provide significantly more energy than less digestible fibre sources such as late cut hay. Oil is also a useful addition to the ration as it is very energy dense. Dengie Alfa-A Oil combines highly digestible alfalfa with a rapeseed oil coating and supplies as much energy as a competition feed, but without the starch. Only then, if energy demands cannot be met as the horse is working very hard with limited rest between competitions, should a high starch horse feed be considered and care taken not to exceed recommended levels.

For feeding advice on low starch diets for horses contact the Dengie Feedline on 01621 841188 or complete our Feed Advice Form.

Conserved forage, such as hay and haylage , is the cornerstone of the laminitis prone horse’s diet; as they typically spend longer periods stabled, or in a no-grass area. When it comes to food for laminitic horses, people often think about the bucket feed first. However, as it forms such a large part of the diet, it is just as important to ensure that the forage is appropriate.

What’s more suitable, hay or haylage for laminitics?

This isn’t an easy question to answer. The current advice is that the best hay or haylage for laminitics is one with less than 10% non-structural carbohydrate (NSC), which is the sum of water-soluble carbohydrate and starch added together on a dry matter basis. How much NSC a forage contains is impossible to predict and is hugely variably according to the types of grasses, age at harvest, and environmental conditions during growth and at harvest. The key piece of advice when purchasing a forage is therefore to ask for an analysis, or get the forage tested if an analysis isn’t available. If well made, the NSC of haylage can be lower than hay, but this isn’t always the case.

When it comes to hay or haylage for laminitics, another factor to consider is your horse’s weight. Traditionally, haylage was cut earlier than hay, meaning that the grasses were more digestible. For good do-ers prone to weight gain, haylage was less useful for managing their waistlines and so hay was more frequently recommended. Today there are a number of commercial haylages available that are higher in fibre and lower calorie, making them more suitable for the good do-er and those that are laminitis prone; providing they are low NSC. These can be particularly useful when hay quality is poor, or for horses that additionally have respiratory issues.

Some sources have advised against using haylage for laminitis prone individuals, but the scientific evidence to date has been inconclusive. One study found a higher insulin response to haylage compared to dry and soaked hay. High circulating levels of insulin in the blood are of concern as it is thought to link to laminitis. However, the NSC of the haylage used in this study was higher than the hay which would explain these results; rather than simply being an effect of consuming haylage. Another study compared haylage with varying levels of NSC and found that the impact of insulin sensitivity was diminished when NSC was low. Whatever your forage choice, they key message remains: get it tested and select forages with low levels of NSC for laminitis prone individuals.

Hi-Fi Lite hay replacer horse feed

What about forage replacers?

hi-fi lite

Another alternative to traditional long stemmed forages is to use a short chop hay replacer, which can be deemed one of the best forage based horse feeds for those with laminitis. This can be useful when the nutritional content of the forage is unknown, forage is in short supply, or when the horse struggles to chew long-stem fibres. Dengie Hi-Fi Lite can be used as a total forage replacement. Combining chopped alfalfa and straw with a light molasses coating, Hi-Fi Lite provides just 7.5MJ/kg digestible energy, 7% sugar and 1.5% starch. Hi-Fi Molasses Free can be used to partially replace the forage ration, up to 1kg per 100kg of your horse’s bodyweight daily, and provides 8.5MJ/kg DE, 2.5% sugar and 1.5% starch.

At Dengie, we pride ourselves on offering some of the best high fibre feeds for horses with laminitis. If you’re looking for information or advice on the best hay or haylage for your laminitic , please contact the Dengie Feedline on 01621 841188 or click here to fill out the feed advice form.

Carslake, H.B. Argo, C.McG. Pinchbeck, G.L. Dugdale, A.H.A. McGowan, C.M. (2018) Insulinaemic and glycaemic responses to three forages in ponies. The Veterinary Journal, 235, pp. 83-89.

Lindåse, S. Müller, C. Nostell, K. Bröjer, J. Evaluation of glucose and insulin response to haylage diets with different content to nonstructural carbohydrate in 2 breeds of horses. Domestic Animal Endocrinology, 64, pp. 49-58.

Chickens make great pets with the added benefit of providing you with fresh, tasty eggs. Keeping chickens as pets has grown in popularity, with a rise in chicken ownership over the last few months in particular. Here are some helpful management tips for new chicken owners or those thinking of getting and keeping chickens.

Housing For Pet Chickens

When it comes to keeping chickens, the right housing is important. Your chicken coop should provide your hens with a place to lay their eggs and a secure space to roost overnight. Hens like to lay their eggs in a dark and quiet place. Many coops have a nesting box at the side with an access lid allowing you to easily collect your eggs without causing too much disturbance to the birds inside. Hen houses should be secure and protected from predators such as foxes; ensuring your coop is sturdy and raising it off the ground can help prevent predators digging their way in.

Bedding, such as Dengie Fresh Bed for Chickens, can be spread on the floor of the coop to help absorb any moisture, droppings and smells. The bedding also provides cushioning for your hen’s feet and insulation in the colder months. Nesting boxes should also be lined with soft and dry bedding to provide comfort for hens when laying and also help protect your eggs. A pet chicken may also be an ex battery hen. It’s important to remember that ex battery hens are often not used to roosting on a perch and may prefer snuggling into a nest of bedding instead. This can help to keep your pet chickens to feel safe, secure and comfortable.

chicken in coop

Cleaning and Management

Regular cleaning and disinfecting of your chicken coop is important to keep harmful bacteria, parasites and viruses at bay. Droppings and wet patches can be removed from bedding on a daily basis and a thorough clean should be undertaken weekly. Always remember to clean out your drinkers and feeders too.

It is vital to check both your hens and their coop for parasites such as red mite which are often brought out by the warmer weather. It is important to keep up to date with parasite treatment and worming of your pet chickens should be performed three or four times per year.

Feed and Water

Your hens will need daily access to fresh water to help keep them hydrated, an average laying chicken will need around 200ml of water per day. It is also important to ensure your hens have a balanced and nutritious diet by feeding a specially formulated poultry ration which would normally contain a blend of cereals, proteins, vitamins and minerals. An average pet chicken will require between 120-150g of food per day. Remember to make any feeding changes gradually as making sudden changes can lead to digestive upsets.

Dengie Fresh Bed for Chickens

Fresh Bed For ChickensDengie Fresh Bed for Chickens is made from chopped and dust extracted straw with a pine oil coating, providing anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Fresh Bed was developed in association with the British Hen Welfare Trust to provide a clean and warm bed for your chickens that is dust free and smells fresh. Most importantly chickens love it!

It is easy to dispose of as it breaks down much quicker than shavings or wood pellets producing great compost for your veggies. Fresh bed is available in 100 litre or 50 litre bales and is also suitable for other poultry such as ducks, geese and pheasants.

If you have any questions about keeping chickens, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our expert team today. While we may specialise in horses, our dedicated team can provide assistance with enquiries around our Fresh Bed For Chickens and bedding products.


When it comes to laminitis in horses, feeding needn’t be complicated. Many people ask “what is a safe feed for horses with laminitis?” As a starting point it is important to think about why we feed, and this varies according to the type of laminitis prone horse we are feeding. An overweight horse will have different requirements to a lean horse, and an older horse or pony with PPID may have other age associated health problems, such as poor dentition, that require a specific type or format of feed.

horse eating out of bucket

In all cases, the mainstay of advice when it comes to choosing the best feed for laminitic horses is to choose products that provide low levels of starch and sugar. When added together, the sugar and starch provided by a feed should be less than 10%. Unless a product specifically claims to be low sugar and starch, you may not find this information on the feed bag. However, feed manufacturers should be happy to share this information and so just give them a call to find out. The sugar and starch levels of Dengie’s fibre feeds can be found on the individual product pages on our website, under the analytical constituents tab.

In addition to being low sugar and starch, the ration also needs to supply an appropriate amount of energy for the individual, and supply a balanced diet with respect to vitamins, minerals and good quality protein. Many of Dengie’s fibre feeds meet the criteria that make them deemed to be a safe feed for horses with laminitis, some of which are approved by The Laminitis Trust.

Feeding the good do-er or overweight horse

If a horse is overweight and laminitis prone, it can be tempting to think they don’t require a bucket feed at all. Whilst they don’t need a feed to supply energy or calories, a grass or forage only ration does not provide everything a horse needs. Deficiencies are even greater if grazing or forage have to be restricted to facilitate weight loss and manage laminitis risk. That’s why when it comes to laminitis in horses, feeding needs to be balanced and tailored to the horse’s individual needs.

Healthy Hooves Food

UK pastures and forage typically lack the trace minerals copper, selenium and zinc. Horses fed predominantly hay are also likely to lack vitamin E, and additionally good quality protein if the hay is soaked and restricted.

For the good do-er or overweight horse, the main reason to provide a bucket feed is to top up on nutrients naturally lacking in pasture and forage. This can be achieved by using fortified feed such as Healthy Hooves Molasses Free or by feeding a vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer added to a low calorie fibre feed such as Hi-Fi Molasses Free.

Using a fortified feed

Fortified feeds like Healthy Hooves Molasses Free are designed to provide a balanced ration when fed at the recommended quantity. The feeding rate of Healthy Hooves Molasses Free is 500g or approx. 1 Stubbs scoop per 100kg of bodyweight. For a 600kg horse this would therefore be 3kg daily. As the feeding rate is high, for those that are on dieting rations this quantity should form part of their total daily forage ration. For example, a 600kg horse should receive 10kg of hay in 24 hours as fed: assuming the hay is 90% dry matter. When feeding Healthy Hooves Molasses Free, this would become 7kg of hay and 3kg of Healthy Hooves Molasses Free split into as many portions as practical throughout the day. If less than the recommended quantity of a fortified feed is fed, it is still necessary to top up with a balancer or supplement.

Using a feed balancer

A feed balancer is a very concentrated feed. As well as supplying vitamins and minerals, a balancer also provides good quality protein such as lysine: an essential amino acid. The use of a feed balancer is particularly recommended for those that are having restricted grass access and soaked forage, as they could be lacking good quality protein. Pelleted balancers are also useful for fussy feeders as they tend to be very palatable.

If you have a horse on a very restricted diet, but in light work, you may be surprised that we would suggest Dengie Performance+ Balancer in preference to Dengie Leisure Balancer. This is because Performance+ Balancer has a higher specification of nutrients including lysine, which could be lacking in the diets of horses on very restricted rations.

A feed balancer can be fed alone, but typically a small amount of low calorie fibre feed such as Hi-Fi Molasses Free or Hi-Fi Lite will be fed alongside for some extra chew time.

Using a vitamin and mineral supplement

A broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement is the ultimate low calorie feeding option. A vitamin and minerals supplement is best suited to individuals that have grass access, or alternatively if being restricted are being fed additional feeds or supplements that supply additional lysine.

As a powder, Dengie’s Leisure and Performance Vits & Mins need adding to a small amount of low calorie fibre feed such as Hi-Fi Lite, or Hi-Fi Molasses Free in order to act as a carrier. A top tip is to dampen the fibre feed prior to mixing in the supplement: so that the supplement doesn’t fall to the bottom of the bucket and get rejected.

Feeding the poor do-er

Alfa-A OilWhilst the poor do-er has the same requirements for vitamins and minerals as the good do-er, they will need some extra energy or calories in order to maintain weight. As a starting point it is important to check with your vet that there isn’t an underlying reason that your poor do-er isn’t holding weight such as poor dentition, or PPID that isn’t under control. If all is well, the second thing to consider is whether your poor do-er is having ad-lib forage, and actually eating a good quantity?

What’s the best feed for laminitic horses that are poor do-ers to put in the bucket? Choose feeds that are low in sugar and starch, but provide digestible sources of fibre and added oil for extra energy. Did you know that Dengie’s highest calorie fibre feed, Alfa-A Oil which combines alfalfa with a rapeseed oil coating, is suitable for laminitis prone individuals that need help to maintain weight as it is naturally low in sugar, whilst providing as much energy as a conditioning mix or cube? Other products in the range including Alfa-A Molasses Free, Healthy Tummy, Alfa-Beet and Alfalfa Pellets are also suitable.

For advice tailored to your laminitis prone individual click here to complete our Feeding Advice Form or give the Feedline a call on 01621 841188.

Can I turn my laminitis prone horse or pony out to grass?

Grazing seems like the most natural thing we can allow our horses and ponies to do – after all they have evolved to graze and browse in their natural environment. However, grazing can be the final trigger for the painful and debilitating disease laminitis which is why grass intake needs to be carefully monitored and managed especially for those most at risk.

If your horse or pony has had laminitis and been off grass completely, before reintroducing turn out time on pasture you should consider the following: –

  1. Is your horse a healthy bodyweight? – overweight horses and ponies are at greatest risk of laminitis
  2. Is your horse showing any clinical signs of laminitis? – if the problem hasn’t completely resolved then seek further veterinary help and keep the horse off grass
  3. Has your horse or pony had previous multiple episodes of laminitis triggered by grazing, even though they are a healthy weight?
  4. Does your horse have normal insulin sensitivity? – this is determined by testing levels of hormones such as insulin which needs to be done in conjunction with your vet.

Quite simply, only those horses and ponies that aren’t showing any signs of laminitis currently, are not overweight and that don’t have an underlying metabolic problem such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) or PPID, are the lowest risk but if they are naturally good doers and therefore likely to gain weight easily, the amount of grass they have access to is still likely to need to be restricted.

pony grazing in field

What’s the problem with grass?

The problem with grass is that it is an abundant source of sugar and energy and it is hard to know how much your horse or pony is consuming. For many leisure horses and ponies, grazing on even average pasture can provide way more energy than they require resulting in weight gain and obesity which predisposes them to laminitis. Then, consuming a lot of sugar from the pasture on a particular day, means a tipping point is reached that results in laminitis.

The sugar in grass can be in the form of simple sugars but also storage sugars such as fructan. The total of the two combined in referred to as WSC (water soluble carbohydrates). Levels of WSC in grazing vary according to grass species and environmental conditions, and so are very difficult to predict.

Laminitis Grazing Management

horse wearing grazing muzzleIf you are able to turn out your horse or pony it is vital that you keep them at a healthy bodyweight. Laminitis grazing management can help you to do this. If you are concerned about their weight or their risk of laminitis, then you should also try to avoid grazing them at times when environmental conditions indicate that WSC levels could be elevated or when there is lots of grass available that will inevitably increase their intake.

Methods to restrict grass access to help manage bodyweight include the use of a grazing muzzle and strip grazing. Grazing muzzles must be introduced with care to ensure it fits properly, that the horse knows it can eat and drink with the muzzle on and that the horse isn’t being bullied by others in the field. The National Equine Welfare Council gives some advice regarding grazing muzzle use for laminitis grazing management:

So, when is the best time to graze a laminitis prone horse?

The question of ‘when’s the best time to graze a laminitis prone horse?’ is a tricky one to answer as in practice water soluble carbohydrate levels are very difficult to predict. Generally the following advice is given regarding turnout:-

For friendly feeding advice contact the Dengie Feedline on 01621 841188 or click here to complete our Feed Advice form.