The importance of fibre

Question

I keep reading more and more about the importance of fibre can you provide advice on how much horses and ponies need on a daily basis and what I can feed to make sure they are getting enough.  

Answer

Fibre is the most important part of your horse’s diet and lack of it increases the risk of problems such colic, ulcers, diarrhoea and dehydration.

HorseHorses don’t have the enzymes needed to digest fibre and instead rely on cellulolytic bacteria in the hind-gut to ferment the fibre into volatile fatty acids, which can be absorbed and utilised as an energy source. The fermentation process takes considerable time, which is why energy from fibre is commonly referred to as ‘slow release’. Adequate dietary fibre is also essential for the synthesis of B-vitamins by beneficial bacteria in the hind-gut.

Typically, a horse will consume 2-2.5% of their bodyweight as food daily (i.e. 10-12½ kg dry matter/ day for a 500kg horse). For most horses at least three-quarters of their daily food intake will be provided as forage.  This give the horse plenty of fibre to chew on, stimulating saliva production and ensures their hind-gut remains healthy. In some cases lower levels of forage may be recommended e.g. overweight horses or ponies. However, intakes below 1% of bodyweight (i.e. 5kg for a 500kg horse) are not advisable and could lead to serious problems.

Typically, a horse turned out for 12hrs will receive around 50% of their daily forage from the grazing. Although, obviously this depends on factors such as the time of year and the amount of grazing available.  For good-doers or individuals prone to laminitis it may be necessary to restrict their access to pasture and provide an alternative source of forage (e.g. soaked hay).

Hay contains good levels of digestible fibre but it can be dusty, which can result in respiratory problems. Soaking the hay for 30min will help to remove any harmful dust particles.  For horses whose calorie intake needs controlling, hay can be soaked for longer periods (i.e. 8-12 hours). This will leach out many of the calories, leaving just the fibre element. Alternatively, for donkeys and very good-doers, a proportion of their daily forage can be replaced with low-calorie, oat or barley straw, provided they have no dental problems.

Haylage has become increasingly popular for hard-working horses or those with respiratory problems; as it generally contains higher levels of energy and protein and lower levels of dust compared to hay.  However, as haylage tends to contain 15-20% more water than hay you will need to slightly more of it to ensure a similar fibre intake. In addition, haylage will deteriorate when exposure to air, so once open bales must be used within 3-5 days.

EQUERRY-high-fibre-cubesWhen fed alone, none of the forages discussed above will provide the horse with optimal levels of vitamin and minerals and your horse will need an appropriate hard feed.  Some hard feeds can also be an excellent source of fibre for example, Equerry High Fibre Cubes contain 21% fibre and can even be used as a forage replacer for horses that can no longer not chew normal forage (e.g. older horses with poor dental condition). Other ways that you can add some fibre to your horse’s diet is to feed a little chop or unmolassed sugar-beet.

For more information please contact the Equerry Nutrition Team on 01845 565640 or visit www.equerryhorsefeeds.com

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