Fibre Fuel for Winter

With winter just around the corner now is a good time to review your horse’s ration so that you can make any changes required to keep them in good condition during the colder months gradually. It’s important to consider that changing the forage supplied to the horse has been identified as a significant risk factor for colic and so introducing any new forage into the ration should be done over at least 10 days. This applies not only when the change is quite fundamental eg changing from a predominantly pasture based diet to hay or haylage but also when changing between different batches of hay or haylage. This means not running out of the old batch before buying the new one and so thinking and planning ahead is vital!

How much forage should I feed my horse?

If your horse is not overweight, then ad lib forage can be offered as it keeps the time the gut is empty as short as possible which reduces the risk of problems such as ulcers and colic. For good doers the amount of forage may need to be restricted to about 1.5% of bodyweight to ensure they don’t put on too much weight. The lower the calorie/energy content of the forage, the more can be fed without resulting in weight gain. In situations where only high nutritional value forage such as haylage is available, using a low calorie chopped fibre feed can be a convenient way to reduce calorie intake. Just replacing 1 or 2kgs of haylage a day can help to keep weight gain under control.

Don’t forget that fibre feeds are generally much lighter than cereal-based feeds, so the volume always seems like a lot – 1 scoop of chopped fibre weighs 300-400gms compared to over 1kg of mix. The extra volume is really beneficial for providing more chew time for stabled horses.

Making Forage Last Longer

If your horse is stabled for longer in the winter then making forage last longer can help to keep the gut healthy. Small-holed nets are often used to slow the rate of intake down and to make things even more challenging, slip several nets inside one another. Hanging root vegetables or hazel twigs around the stable has also been shown in research studies to provide more enrichment in the stable.

Maintaining condition

Poor doers can lose weight and condition in the colder weather particularly in years when forage quality isn’t good. As forage makes up such a large proportion of most horses rations, it’s no surprise they lose condition when it isn’t very good – imagine how much weight you would lose if half of what you ate was lower in calories!

When horses lose weight it is tempting to reach for the cereal based feeds but this can make horses more excitable particularly in winter. Research in other species has also shown that feeding high starch diets will, over time, reduce the absorption capacity of the small intestine and so actually makes the gut less efficient. Using fibre and oil for additional energy therefore makes more sense as they are more sympathetic to the horse’s digestive system.

Combining quality fibre such as alfalfa with oil as in Dengie Alfa-A Oil, provides the same level of energy as a conditioning mix, but with 10 times less starch making it ideal for over-excitable individuals or those with ERS, EMS or a history of laminitis.

Keep Calm and Carry On

In a recent study commissioned by Dengie and carried out by Edinburgh Vet School, the effects of different diets on horse’s heart rates and reactivity were compared. The same level of energy was supplied by both diets but one was high fibre and oil (Alfa-A Molasses Free) and the other was a cereal mix with a starch content of 20%; typical for a medium energy mix.

The horses were observed when asked to walk through a curtain of plastic strips and also when allowed to eat from a bucket with white noise being played behind it. The time taken to approach the bucket and the amount of resistance displayed when asked to walk through the curtain were also recorded. The results showed that horses on a fibre and oil diet were less reactive and had lower resting heart rates than those on a cereal based diet. This study supports the suggestion that high fibre and oil diets are less likely to cause over-excitable behavior which is particularly beneficial in the winter months.

To read about the study in further detail click here

Staying hydrated

Studies have shown that horses tend to drink between 6 and 14 per cent less in colder weather. Combined with a change from pasture at about 80 per cent water to 20 per cent water in hay, winter can result in a considerable decrease in water intake. This increases the risk of impactions and dehydration-related performance issues.

Using soaked fibre feeds such as Dengie’s Alfa-Beet will help to increase moisture intake, as well as provide highly digestible fibre.

For further information or advice on feeding your horse throughout the winter months, contact the Dengie Feedline, telephone 01621 841188 or visit and chat live to a nutritionist.