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.


Previously known as Tying-Up, Azoturia and Monday Morning Disease, Equine Rhabdomyolysis Syndrome or ERS is the most common name currently used to describe muscle disorders in the horse. Studies and research have identified some distinct disease pathways for tying up in horsesand we will explain more about what those are. But first….

How big a problem is it?

Surveys in leisure horses suggest up to 3% of the population may be affected by tying up and other exercise-related muscle disorders,whilst in performance horses the incidence rises to between 5 and 7% of racehorses, 8% in polo ponies and up to 14% in eventers. The differences between studies of different disciplines probably reflect variability in study designs etc and it is probably fair to suggest that an incidence of around 10% in exercising horses is a reasonably accurate assessment based on research to date.

Why does it happen?

Horses affected have an underlying susceptibility that is triggered by other things. It is generally accepted that movement or exercise is the final trigger factor that results in the muscle seizing or cramping but there are other risk factors also involved including diet, sudden changes to work without adjusting the diet, electrolyte imbalances, infections and weather. Several of these may combine to create a “perfect storm”.

How are muscle problems defined?

Some horses have an inherent muscle defect which can either be a disorder relating to the contracting and relaxing of muscles which tends to be called RER, or a defect in how carbohydrates are stored and/or utilised in the muscles which is referred to as PSSM. The latter is further sub-divided into two groups – Type 1 and Type 2.

There appears to be a group of sufferers that don’t have an underlying muscle defect. Research suggests that inappropriate diets and management issues are most likely to be the cause of problems in this group.

More about the different disease types

Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM)

There are two sub-groups of PSSM cases

PSSM1– caused by a genetic mutation found in more than 20 breeds of horses with the highest prevalence being in European draft horses. Quarter horses and Appaloosas are also affected by PSSM1. These horses don’t break down glycogen in their muscles as easily as normal horses due to a mutation of the enzyme Glycogen Synthase 1 (GYS1). This means they can have 1.5 – 5 times higher levels of muscle glycogen in their muscles compared to normal horses. This can make it very difficult and painful for them to move.

Whilst some PSSM1 horses are asymptomatic, diets high in non-structural carbohydrates (sugar and starch) can exacerbate clinical signs as these nutrients are stored and accumulate. Signs include apparent laziness, shifting lameness, tensed up abdomen, tremors in flank area and firm hard muscles over hindquarters. More chronic signs such as reluctance to move forward, muscle loss and lack of energy are seen in Draft Breeds and gait abnormalities can also be seen in Quarter Horses.

PSSM2 – refers to all PSSM cases that aren’t caused by genetic mutation GYS1 and so there may be more than one further subset identified in due course. PSSM2 is more prevalent in Warmbloods and is often detected via poor performance.

PSSM2 – The most common signs of PSSM2 are poor performance and a drop in energy levels after a short period of exercise. Unwillingness to perform can be highlighted by the horse’s reluctance to collect and engage hindquarters, as well as poor rounding over fences. Firm back and hindquarter muscles can also be seen in some cases.

Recurrent Exertional Rhabdomyolysis (RER)

RER is the term used to describe horses that have an abnormal process of muscle contraction. As the name suggests it commonly happens when horses are working at speed and so is most commonly seen in Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds and Arabs. It also tends to be associated with nervous, excitable or stressy individuals and in younger horses, fillies are more prone to the problem but this difference between the sexes seems to reduce with age. The trigger factors for RER include high cereal diets and being held back when training at speed.

If we use ERS to refer to those horses that don’t have a muscle abnormality,then the most commonly reported trigger factors include:

Feeding and Management Tips:

Much of the advice applies to any of the different disease types. The extent to which you may be willing or able to implement the advice is often determined by the type and level of work the horse is doing. It is important to note that research in Scandinavia has shown that Standardbreds could perform racing level exercise on a forage based ration without compromising performance.

With Halloween only a short time away there are many posts and videos appearing on Social Media about feeding pumpkins to horses. How safe is it to feed pumpkin to horses and what do you need to consider before offering pumpkin as a treat to your horse?

Pumpkin is suitable to feed to horses and is just one of many different fruits and vegetables that your horse may or may not enjoy according to their preferences! If you would like to try feeding pumpkin to your horse then consider the following.

Can horses eat pumpkin as a treat?

As with any treat, feed pumpkin to your horse in small amounts and introduce it gradually as you would with any new feed. Pumpkins are quite sizable and whilst it may be fun to watch your horse play with and demolish an entire pumpkin, if your horse eats it all then that’s quite a sudden diet change which has the potential to increase the risk of digestive disturbance!

Is pumpkin a choke risk to horses?

If feeding smaller portions of pumpkin to your horse then consider the risk of choke – slivers may be more appropriate than cubes for example. We would advise removing the particularly tough stalk if you are letting your horse play with a whole pumpkin.

What about sugar content – can I feed pumpkin to a laminitis prone horse?

All fruit and veg contain natural sugars in varying proportions. Looking in the local supermarket the nutritional values stated for raw pumpkin are 1.7g per 100g as sold – translate that to ‘as fed’ for horses. By comparison the carrots were 7.4g as sold. To put this in perspective hay would typically contain 10g of sugar per 100g as fed.

As with all other fruit and veg, pumpkin can be given as a treat to laminitis prone individuals as long as it is used as a treat and not fed by the bucketful! When it comes to feeding pumpkin, giving a treat of 100g-200g adds very little extra sugar, especially if that is divided into treats over the day.

Make a treat last longer

Don’t limit treats to just in hand feeding. Hiding some slivers of pumpkin in a haynet, some Dengie Pure Grass or Hi-Fi Molasses Free may engage your horse in more foraging activity thereby keeping them occupied for that little bit longer.

Can I only feed pumpkin raw to my horse?

In America there are also references to people using tinned pumpkin that has been cooked as a palatable ‘mash’ for their horse. If you wanted to try this, look for tinned pumpkin that has nothing added to it or simply cook and mash your own.

Why isn’t my horse keen on pumpkin?

Don’t be concerned if your horse isn’t keen on pumpkin, horses can be suspicious of novel feeds or may simply not like the taste of pumpkin! Try some other fruit and veg treats for example banana, pears, swede or parsnips. Alternatively Dengie’s Alfalfa Pellets and Grass Pellets can both be used as tasty treats.

What’s the difference between hay and haylage?

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!

Is haylage better than hay?

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
Ash % 6.4 6.8 6.6
Crude protein % 10.8 11.6 11
NDF % 60.5 60.7 60.8
WSC % 10.1 7.1 6.9

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.

hay in a net

When can I feed this year’s hay or haylage?

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.

Can I feed hay or haylage as the sole diet or does haylage and hay lose nutritional value with age?

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.

Is There An Alternative To Hay Or Haylage?

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.

You’re only as old as you feel!

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.

Feed For Older Horses That Are Stabled

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.

Senior-Specific Problems

Poor dentitionweight 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.

What feeds are best for senior horses with poor dentition?

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.

Weight Management

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.

PPID and Laminitis Care in Older Horse Diets

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.

Obese Horses & Equine Metabolic Syndrome

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.

How To Help Your Overweight Horse With Laminitis

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.

How Effective Is A Grazing Muzzle For Overweight and Obese Horses?

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.

Calorie Counting

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.

Benefits Of Exercise

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.

The Laminitis Trust

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!

ProductDigestible Energy (MJ/kg)Sugar Level %Starch Level %
Hi-Fi Lite7.571.5
Hi-Fi Molasses Free8.52.51.5
Healthy Hooves Molasses Free8.52.51.5
Alfa-A Molasses Free11.54.52

Jake’s Story

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.