Stretching Your Hay Supply What to Feed When Hay is Scarce? Lori K. Warren, PhD, PAS Dept. of Animal Sciences, University of Florida Drought conditions result in poor hay production and rising feed costs. Because Florida imports a large amount of hay, we are also at the mercy of drought in other states. As a result, we are often forced to find alternative feed sources to either “stretch” our limited hay supply, or completely replace it. Basic Feeding Guidelines: •High-fiber roughages should make up the majority of the horse’s diet. Knowledge of how to adjust the diet begins with an understanding of how much your horse can eat. Horses should be fed between 1.5% and 3.0% of their body weight per day in total feed (i.e., hay plus grain). The amount of feed should be adjusted based on the quality of the forage, the addition of grain to the diet, the horse’s physiological state (e.g., growth, lactation, level of work), and the desired level of body condition. Expected daily feed intake, as a percent of the horse’s body weight, is presented in Table 1. •Ideally, horses should be fed 1.5 to 2.0% of their body weight per day as roughage. A minimum of 1% of body weight as roughage is needed to maintain normal digestive function. Roughages, including hay and pasture, are the most important component of your horse’s diet. Roughages provide essential sources of digestible energy, protein, and some vitamins and minerals. Roughages also supply dietary fiber required for the normal function of the horse’s digestive system. Ideally, horses should receive 1.5 to 2.0% of their body weight per day as roughage. A minimum of 1.0% of body weight as roughage is needed to maintain gut health. •If grain is needed to maintain body condition, divide the daily portion into several smaller meals. Each grain meal should not exceed 0.5% of body weight. •Make any changes to the diet gradually over 1 to 2 weeks. •Provide free-choice access to water and salt. Roughages, by definition, are feeds that are high in fiber (minimum 18% crude fiber). In addition to hay and pasture, there are many other high fiber feeds that can be used to totally replace or partially replace the roughage portion of your horse’s diet. Table 2 lists some alternative roughage sources, along with their replacement value relative to grass or alfalfa hay. Table 1: Expected daily feed intake as a percent of body weight* Class of horse Mature, idle horse Working horses** Mare, late gestation Mare, lactation Weanling Yearling *Adapted from NRC (1989) Nutrient Requirements of Horses **Depends on intensity of work. Roughage 1.5 – 2.0 1.0 – 2.0 1.0 – 2.0 1.0 – 2.0 1.0 – 1.5 1.0 – 1.5 Grain 0 – 0.5 0.5 – 1.5 0.5 – 1.0 0.5 – 1.5 0.5 – 1.5 0.5 – 1.5 Total 1.5 – 2.0 1.5 – 2.5 1.5 – 2.5 2.0 – 3.0 2.0 – 3.0 2.0 – 2.5
Other Feed-Related Concerns Unfortunately, drought conditions bring other concerns besides difficulty in finding hay. The following are some feed-related issues to be aware of when looking for hay: Feeds with moderate levels of fiber (11-15% crude fiber) can also help you cut back on the amount of hay you feed. However, these lower fiber feeds cannot totally replace all of roughage or hay your horse needs—some hay (or adequate time on pasture) will still be needed. This is because many of these feed ingredients are also very high in starch. Even fiber-added commercial products that fall into this category often have more starch than hay. Consumption of large amounts of starch is associated with a greater risk of gastric ulcers, colic and laminitis. As a guideline, provide your horse with at least 1.0% of its body weight per day in hay. Then use feeds with a moderate level of fiber to help complete the remaining portion of your horse’s ration. Table 3 lists feeds with a moderate level of fiber that can be used to replace 2 to 6 pounds of the hay you feed your horse. Take Good Care of Your Pastures Pasture is the most natural source of roughage for the horse; but similar to hay production, drought can negatively affect pasture availability. Ensure that your pastures make it through a dry spell by: 1)Fertilize pastures based on soil test results and at the appropriate time of year. 2)Prevent overgrazing by removing horses from the pasture before the grasses are grazed down below 2 or 3 inches and bare spots develop. 3)Alter your turnout schedule to include shorter turnouts of 1 to 3 hours, instead of all day. Limiting pasture access to just a few hours each day will not only reduce drought stress to your pasture, but has the added benefit of providing your horse with some nutrition, thereby reducing the amount of hay you need to supply. 4)Consider investing in a sprinkler or irrigation system. Even if you irrigate one or two of your pastures, the additional grass may be enough to prolong pasture use and reduce hay feeding. 5)Overseed ryegrass or oats in the fall (Oct/Nov) to provide grazing during the winter months. •Inspect hay shipped in from other states Florida routinely has hay shipped in from the northern states. During a drought, whether experienced here or elsewhere, the quality of the hay coming into Florida may not always be ideal. Some hays may be overly mature and stemmy, which could be a problem if your horse was accustomed to a forage of higher nutritional value. Avoid hays that are weedy, as some weeds can be poisonous. Be cautious of alfalfa grown in western states where drought conditions can cause greater plant uptake of selenium. Florida is known to be selenium deficient; thus, our horses typically receive selenium supplementation, which can create toxicity when combined with forage that is also high in selenium. •Use of hay stored for more than one year Hay that is stored under cover and protected from sun and rain loses very little of its nutritional value, with the exception of vitamins E and A. Therefore, hay that has been properly stored for one or two years might provide a reasonable alternative to your usual hay supply. However, to prevent a vitamin deficiency, your horse should receive supplemental vitamin E and vitamin A when feeding hay that has been stored for more than one year. •Avoid moldy hay •Monitor your horse for colic Drought itself doesn’t cause colic, but changes to the feeding program when dealing with feed shortages could cause colic. To prevent colic, make all changes to the diet gradually over 10 to 14 days—this requires planning ahead for feed shortages. Prevent excessive sand intake by ensuring pastures are not overgrazed. Provide free-choice access to salt and water at all times.
Table 2: Alternative roughage sources that can be used to totally replace or partially replace your horse’s hay. Can be used for total replacem ent of hay Can be used for partial replacem ent of hay Replacem ent Value* Alternative Roughage Com m ents on Roughage Alternative Am t. needed to replace 1-lb grass hay Am t. needed to replace 1-lb alfalfa hay ? ? Alfalfa hay 0.85 lbs 1.0 lb Higher protein and calcium than grass hays, so will feed less. ? ? Perennial peanut hay 0.85 lbs 1.0 lb Sim ilar to alfalfa hay. ? ? Grass hay 1.0 lb 1.2 lbs Many types of grass hay: tim othy, brom e, orchardgrass, fescue, etc. ? ? Berm udagrass hay 1.0 lb 1.2 lbs Varieties include Coastal and Tifton-85; Sim ilar nutrition as other grass hays. Usually contains som e m illet grain; Less nutritional value than m ost grass hays; May have a laxative effect if feed as the only roughage. Includes Johnsongrass, Sudangrass, & sorghum -Sudan hybrids; May cause neurological problem s in horses. ? ? Millet hay 1.3 lbs 1.6 lbs Sorghum grass Not recom m ended ? ? Alfalfa hay cubes 0.85 lbs 1.0 lb Alfalfa that has been chopped and cubed; Sim ilar nutrition as alfalfa hay (see above). Com bination of alfalfa and tim othy forages; Less protein and calcium than straight alfalfa, but m ore than plain tim othy. Type of hay (or straw) will dictate feeding value; som e products contain added fat or m olasses that alter feeding value. Consult feed m anufacturer for feeding guidelines. ? ? Alfalfa/tim othy hay cubes 0.95 lbs 1.1 lbs ? ? Chopped hays (chaffs) Varies Varies ? ? “dehy” alfalfa pellets 0.85 lbs 1.0 lb Pelleted alfalfa hay; Sim ilar nutrition as alfalfa (see above). Contains a m ixture of grains and roughage sources; Designed to be fed without hay; Should contain at least 18% crude fiber if no hay is fed; Exam ple = senior feeds. Hay preserved by ensiling rather than traditional drying; Higher m oisture than hay, so will have to feed m ore; Can spoil (m old), so feed contents of bag within 2-3 days. ? ? “Com plete” feed 0.70 lbs 0.85 lbs ? ? Haylage 1.55 lbs 1.85 lbs ? ? Oat hay 1.0 lb 1.2 lbs Nutritive value sim ilar to grass hays. Oat straw m ore palatable than wheat or barley straw; Bulky, high fiber, low in other nutrients; Will require protein, m ineral and vitam in supplem entation. Good source highly digestible fiber; Relatively high in calcium ; May require soaking before feeding; Lim it to 10 pounds (dry weight) per day or less. ? ? Straw 1.25 lbs 1.5 lbs ? Beet Pulp NO 0.70 lbs 0.85 lbs ? Soy hulls NO 0.8 lb 1.0 lbs High fiber, but m ore digestible than other hulls. Lim it to 5 pounds per day or less. *Replacement values based on average digestible energy content of feeds. Feed amounts may have to be adjusted due to variation between sources of feed and horses.
Table 3: Moderate fiber feed sources that can be used to replace a portion of the hay in your horse’s diet.* Can be used for total replacem ent of hay Can be used for partial replacem ent of hay Replacem ent Value* * Moderate-Fiber Feed Alternatives Com m ents on Moderate Fiber Feed Alternative Am t. needed to replace 1-lb grass hay Am t. needed to replace 1-lb alfalfa hay High in fat and phosphorus; More fiber than m ost grains (sim ilar to oats), but less fiber than hays and other roughages; Diet m ay require additional calcium supplem entation if product is not already balanced by the m anufacturer, if 2 lbs or m ore rice bran are fed per day, and/or if horse is also receiving plain, unfortified grains (e.g., oats); Maxim um am ount of rice bran usually lim ited to 2 pounds per day. More fiber than m ost grains (sim ilar to oats), but less fiber than hays and other roughages; High in phosphorus; Diet m ay require additional calcium supplem entation if 2 lbs or m ore wheat bran are fed per day and/or if horse is also receiving plain, unfortified grains (e.g., oats); Maxim um am ount usually lim ited to 5 pounds per day. Not a high fiber feed, but contains m ore fiber than other grains; Lim it to 1% of horse’s body weight or less; Ensure at least 1% of body weight is fed as high fiber roughage; Fortification of diet with vitam in/m ineral supplem ent m ay be necessary. Com m ercial feeds containing added fiber sources (i.e., beet pulp, soy hulls, peanut hulls, etc) can be fed to reduce the am ount of hay needed. Most of these feeds still contain grains (oats, corn, barley) or grain by-products (wheat m iddlings, wheat bran), so total am ount offered should be lim ited to 1% of horse’s body weight or less. The am ount of hay that can be replaced by these products varies based on the level and type of fiber and the fat content. Consult the feed m anufacturer for feeding recom m endations. ? Rice bran NO 0.50 lbs 0.60 lbs ? Wheat bran NO 0.60 lbs 0.70 lbs ? Oats NO 0.65 lbs 0.75 lbs Fiber-added feeds (11 – 15% crude fiber) ? NO Varies Varies *Feeds in this table cannot replace all of the hay you feed your horse, but can replace 2 to 6 pounds of hay, depending on the product selected (see comments). All horses should receive a minimum 1% of its body weight per day as hay or some other high fiber roughage (18% crude fiber or greater). **Replacement values based on average digestible energy content of feeds. Feed amounts may have to be adjusted due to variation between sources of feed and horses.