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Summer Feeding – What Forage Intake Does A Horse Need?

In summer, horses are naturally inclined to gain weight.  Horses are designed to store up as much as possible during the summer months so that if they are in the wild they are in good condition going into the long cold winter.

Comfortable stables, cozy rugs and good diets in the winter months mean that they don’t need the survival kit of a rapidly expanding waistline to get through the winter any more.

It can be a bit of an uphill battle against Mother Nature when trying to tighten up that grass belly and make that apple shaped bottom a little more athletic looking.

It is a common problem to be unsure how much forage should be fed to keep things healthy on the inside, and at the same time keep an eye on weight gain. Horses require an absolute minimum of 1.2% of their bodyweight in dry matter each day.

Feeds are composed of two basic components: water and dry matter. The dry matter is composed of protein, fibre, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, etc. The dry matter (DM) is the best way of being accurate as to what is fed.

Hay and haylage will have varying levels of DM, with the greatest variation in haylage. A simple forage analysis will tell you the DM exactly. As a guide most hays are 85% DM or higher. Haylage is more difficult to put an average value to as it can range from 50-80%.

Pasture will contribute to DM intake, although it is lower in DM, typically just 20%. However horses readily consume grass and on good pasture a horse can get 0.6kg of DM in per hour.

For example a 500kg horse would require as a minimum 6kg of DM per day. If he is out for 4 hours he would likely consume 2.4kg of DM ( 0.6kg x 4 hours ). If he is being fed a typical hay with 90% DM or 0.9kg / kg as fed he would need 4kg of hay to meet his basic needs ( 6-2.4 = 3.6, then 3.6 / 0.9 = 4 ).

If you have a horse stabled that eats all that 4kg in one sitting, he will then be standing in the stable with nothing in front of him for hours. This has negative effects on gut health. Ideally when feeding a stabled horse any forage the total volume should be spread out over as many meals as possible. This keeps trickle feeding the digestive system.

The golden rule is feed little and often regardless of the season or the waistline. How we feed is as important as what we feed. For more information on your horses digestion, read our article on “General Feeding – Understanding the basics“.

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  • Horses