Is Straw Suitable to Feed to Horses with EGUS?

Not all horses and ponies with gastric ulcers struggle to maintain weight. For good doers or overweight individuals turnout 24/7 on well covered pasture and/or ad-lib forage to help manage ulcers could result in further weight gain which brings its own potential health issues. Straw is a very low calorie fibre source as it contains lignin which is indigestible.

Fibrous Feeds are a Key Part of Managing Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Feeding straw in combination with other more nutritious fibre sources keeps the overall calorie intake low, whilst maximising the amount the horse has to eat. Encouraging continuous eating of fibrous feeds is a key part of the management of gastric ulcers.

One study by researchers in Denmark has however, found that horses fed straw as the sole or predominant forage source were 4.5 times more likely to have gastric ulcers . One of the potential reasons researchers gave for this link was that straw lacks significant levels of the nutrients protein and calcium which are thought to buffer acidity within the digestive tract.

In the UK, straw is rarely fed as the sole forage source to horses. Recognising that straw can be useful as a low calorie forage source for good doers, current recommendations provided in the book Equine Applied and Clinical Nutrition published in 2013, are to not completely avoid straw, but to limit intake to less than 0.25kg dry matter per 100kg of a horse’s bodyweight. For a 500kg horse this would be 1.25kg dry matter or 1.4kg as fed assuming 90% dry matter. Don’t forget that horses on a straw bed are very likely to tuck in if they are on restricted quantities of other forage!

Tips for Managing the Good Doer Horse with Ulcers:-

  • Maximise fibre intake especially fibre in a format that encourages more chew time e.g long or short chop fibre sources in preference to pellets
  • If restricting overall intake to manage weight, divide feed and forage into meals with no more than a 6 hour gap between them as research has found horses are more likely to have ulcers if they spend long periods with nothing to eat
  • Try to slow the rate of eating with small meals, double netted forage or forage in different locations in the stable or paddock to encourage movement and natural foraging behaviour
  • Allow access to hay or a small quantity of fibre feed that preferably includes alfalfa prior to riding for extra buffering potential
  • Allow free access to water