Smart alternatives to searching for quality, affordable hay for sale during hay shortages.
Posted | Tags: Nutrition
How To Address Horse Hay & Hay Pricing Issues With High Quality Hay Forage Replacements.
Drought in most areas of the country this year can mean some serious problems with finding good quality hay for our horses. Fortunately, there have been improvements in forage alternatives. In the past, you had your choice of alfalfa cubes and one or two complete feeds. Now, there are other cube options, chopped forages and a broader spectrum of complete feeds.
Key considerations when choosing the best alternative forage option for your feeding program:
- Fiber Length ÛÒ Most nutritionists agree that fiber length of 1Û to 1 å_ is most desirable, fiber length is important to assure good gut motility and to provide scratch factorÛ, a desire within the horse to meet certain fiber requirements. Without this horses can develop bad habits, such as wood chewing.
- Digestibility ÛÒ Overly mature hay and straw is high in lignin and not very digestible. The same is true with feed ingredients. Beet pulp, soy hulls, wheat midds and alfalfa meal would be low in lignin and very digestible while peanut hulls and rice hulls would be high in lignin and not very digestible
- Consistency ÛÒ Research indicates that a leading cause of colic is a rapid change in fiber. Most horse owners know to change the grain portion of the diet slowly. The same is true, and perhaps more important, with fiber products because of the microbial population in the cecum. Bacteria need some time to adjust to new fiber sources.
- Protein ÛÒ Since the fiber portion of the diet should constitute at least 50% of the total intake, you need to consider protein content. If you start feeding considerably lower quality hay than normal, you may need to consider a higher protein grain source, or vice versa.
Now that you know a little of what to take into consideration, what options do you have to choose from when considering a forage alternative? First you need to figure out if you need to consider replacing all of your hay or supplementing what you already have. If you are supplementing your fiber, are you supplementing to improve poor quality or do you want to stretch out what you have, or a combination of both?
Complete feeds are defined as a diet that supplies not only the protein, vitamins, and minerals required for proper nutrition, but also sufficient amounts of fiber. These products work great for extending or improving hay resources but typically lack sufficient fiber length to act as a complete replacement. Therefore, some long stem fiber is recommended.
Cubes historically consisted only of 100% alfalfa cubes. Now there are different combinations such as alfalfa and timothy hay. Cubes will basically almost always be at least 50% alfalfa because of the binding properties of alfalfa to retain cube durability. Cubes work very well to supplement hay and can also work well as the total hay replacement because you do maintain the proper fiber length of at least 1Û. Many horse owners have used cubes as treats in the past and overlooked their potential to improve fiber nutrition. Alfalfa pellets are a less desirable option because of the lack in fiber length that cubes have., pelleted hays are eaten much quicker leaving the horse looking for something more to do.
Chopped forages have been around for a few years and continue to be a great option to supplement or replace hay. They have the necessary fiber length and can offer the option of 100% timothy hay that cubes cannot. The hay is chopped to about 2 inches in length and then molasses and vegetable oil is applied.
Fiber products designed for horses with metabolic issues, such as Triple Crown Safe Starch Forage or Timothy Balance Cubes, work very well for this group of horses. The advantage for these horses is both choices are a hay source that is lower in carbohydrates.
Specific uses of fiber alternatives not necessary related to hay shortages or quality are endurance riders who would benefit by providing a source of fiber and calories during a ride without the negative benefits of grains in the middle of an event. Winter feeding would also be a way to increase internal body heat with the fiber and also the combined effect of the high fat. Finally, chopped forages have been found to improve intake over long stem hay while trailering to various events or shows.
The bottom line is that many horse owners are going to be in a real dilemma due to the drought across most of North America in 2012. However, unlike just a few short years ago, there are now some viable alternatives available designed specifically for the horse owner.