Forage-based Diet for Horses
Horses were born to be natural grazers. Today, many of our equine friends are given extra love and attention with individually prepared meal twice daily. These are comprised of oats, corn, barley, or any processed feeds.
However, when horses were introduced to America by the Spanish, they survived and thrived on forages – the native grasses of the prairies that were available to them. Nearly 500 years later, equine enthusiasts are rediscovering the benefits of a forage-based diet for horses.
What is a Forage-based Diet?
In a forage-based diet, most of the calories come from forage with little or no grain included in the diet. Forage sources can include free-choice hay or pasture, hay pellets or a combination of these feedstuffs.
While many horse diets rely heavily on a mixture of processed feeds or grains, a forage-based diet is the opposite. As its name implies, it is a meal regimen that primarily consists of forage or fiber.
Because you can’t tell the make-up of your pasture grass or hay, it is vitally important to have your hay and forages tested. Testing your hay ensures that the nutrient requirements of your animals are being met.
What are the Benefits of a Forage-based Diet for Horses?
There are many benefits of a forage-based diet for horses. Diets rich in forage can improve their mental, physical and overall well-being. Since horses are grazers, their digestive system works best with nearly constant intake of high-fiber forage instead of small, grain-based diets.
Forage-based diets can lower the risk of ulcers and other gut problems, especially when forage is provided free-choice.
Let’s break down these benefits and discuss them in further detail.
Unique Digestive System
The horse’s hindgut is used for fermentation of forages and fiber, it can convert high-quality hay into energy that the horse can use. A horse can eat up to 2 to 2.5% of its weight in forages per day.
As an example, a 1,000-pound horse could eat 20 to 25 pounds of forage or hay daily to maintain its body condition. It would take at least half of that in grain, which would be much less cost efficient for the owner.
Quality forage is an excellent source of energy and protein for your horse. Forage is also high in protein, which helps build strong bones and increases skeletal strength.
High quality, green forage is also an excellent source of fat-soluble vitamins such as A and E. Vitamins A and E are significant antioxidants and are involved in a variety of notable functions that include vision and muscle health.
Another benefit of feeding high quality forage is the fat content. Most forage has a fat content of approximately 3%, and is mostly Omega 3 fatty acids, which have many important anti-inflammatory roles.
As mentioned earlier, forages are high in energy and protein. Most grains derive their energy from sugar and starch. An excess of sugar can cause digestive upset or colic.
The extra sugar makes the horses nervous or anxious. Instead, energy derived from forages is better for their overall stomach and health, and will help with prevention of colic.
Making the Transition to Forage-based Diets
There are some considerations to make if transitioning to a forage-based diet for horses. Transitioning a horse to a forage-based lifestyle is a gradual process that should be done carefully to avoid digestive issues. Here are some steps you can take:
1. Assess the Current Diet:
Evaluate the horse’s current diet, including the type and number of concentrates (grains) and forages being fed.
2. Gradual Change:
Introduce changes slowly to allow the horse’s digestive system to adapt. Abrupt changes can lead to colic or other digestive problems.
3. Increase Forage Intake:
Gradually decrease the number of concentrates while increasing the amount of forage. Aim for a forage-based diet where the majority of calories come from good-quality hay or pasture.
As you Increase Forage, Focus on Quality Forage
Ensure that the forages provided are of high quality. Depending on activity level, your horse will need a lot of hay to get the calories it needs. As mentioned previously, horses can eat 2 to 2.5% of their body weight.
Since you are not providing a fortified grain, you may also need to provide vitamins and mineral supplementation to balance the diet. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of testing your hay.
4. Monitor Weight and Condition:
Keep a close eye on the horse’s weight and body condition. Adjust the forage and concentrate ratios as needed to maintain a healthy weight.
And don’t forget to take into account any special needs of the horse. This can include—but is not only referencing—age, activity level or health conditions. Some horses may require additional supplements to meet their nutritional needs. They will need to be given special attention.
5. Provide Access to Fresh Water:
Ensure the horse has access to clean and fresh water at all times, especially when transitioning to a forage-based diet.
6. Regular Veterinary Check-ups:
Schedule regular veterinary check-ups to monitor the horse’s health and adjust the diet as necessary.
7. Slow Feeding Methods:
Consider using slow feeding methods, such as hay nets or slow feeder devices, to mimic natural grazing behavior and prevent overconsumption.
8. Monitor Behavior and Digestive Health:
Observe the horse for any changes in behavior, such as signs of discomfort or colic. Monitor manure consistency and frequency.
Remember that every horse is unique, and individual needs may vary. If you have specific concerns or questions about transitioning your horse’s diet, it’s advisable to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist for personalized guidance.
Add Nutritional Support to your Forages
If you are looking for nutritional supplements that are fully fortified with vitamins and minerals to support nutritional health, Vitalize® offers several solutions. These Vitalize supplements contain AO-Biotics® Amaferm®, a research-proven prebiotic to enhance digestibility in horses and other animals.
Choose from three fully fortified Vitalize supplements.
Vitalize® Equine Free Choice
Vitalize® Equine Free Choice is a highly fortified, free-choice vitamin and mineral supplement for horses of all ages and stages while on pasture. In addition to Amaferm, it is fortified with organic trace minerals and high levels of vitamin E, biotin and B vitamins. Free Choice also contains garlic to deter insects.
Vitalize® Equine Protein Pellet
Vitalize® Equine Protein Pellet is a pelleted, natural protein supplement for horses, fortified with vitamins and minerals. In addition to vitamins, minerals and Amaferm, it is fortified with organic trace minerals to balance rations. It also provides 28% natural protein.
Vitalize® Equine High Performance
Vitalize® Equine High Performance is a pelleted supplement highly fortified with vitamins and minerals designed to support the nutritional needs of performance horses. It contains high levels of calcium to help maintain proper gut pH. This product is fortified with vitamins, minerals and organic trace minerals and contains Amaferm for increased digestibility.
BioZyme® Inc., makers of Vitalize equine products, offers free hay testing to its customers. To learn more about collecting samples, getting your samples analyzed, and working with our nutrition team, visit Vitalize Hay Testing.
If you are transitioning to a forage-based diet from a grain-based diet, remember that it should be a gradual transition. Gradually reduce the amount of grain you feed your horse daily while increasing their amount of hay and fiber sources.
BioZyme Believes in Care that Comes Full Circle
At BioZyme, we know that horses were meant to graze and thrive on forages. However, not every diet will agree with every horse. There could be instances where you can’t totally eliminate grains from your horse’s diet. If you are unsure, always consult your vet or an equine nutritionist.
We want your horse to have #agoodgutfeeling, and that is why we have dedicated years of research to our formulations. We use a three-pronged approach when it comes to research, one of our four core principles.
Discovery studies focus on the generation of new hypotheses that fit or explain given data sets. In the narrowest sense, the term “discovery” refers to the purported “eureka moment” of having a new insight.
Mechanistic studies use the difference between treatment groups to explore the mechanism of action of the treatment. The result of these efforts is to not only know that a treatment works, but to know how it works.
Validation studies generate and document data by observing animals in their normal and natural environments either as a control or with a specific treatment. Validation helps define the scope or range of conditions under which reliable results may be obtained.
Give Your Horses the Good Gut Feeling Today
If you would like more information about Vitalize, you’re in luck. We offer a monthly electronic newsletter full of useful information about taking care of your equine companion. Sign up for this free newsletter today.
In addition to helping your horse with its digestive health, did you know that Vitalize also makes products to help protect the health of your horse’s joints? We do.
Vitalize® Hyaluronex® Joint is a liquid product for horses designed to support sustainable soundness using hyaluronic acid and antioxidants. It contains MHB3®, a patented high molecular weight hyaluronic acid to support bone, joint and soft tissue health. Hyaluronex Joint helps maintain a normal inflammatory response and support normal exercise recovery.
Get your Vitalize Products Today
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Horses were meant to graze. A forage-based diet for horses can give your horse the constant intake required to properly maintain their digestive tract and keep their mental focus in check.