A Practical Guide to Sales Prep – Forage

The aim of yearling sales preparation is to produce an athletic, well-mannered, sound individual in good body condition to shine in the sales ring. Nutrition plays an important role in preparing yearlings for the sales ring, helping to ensure they achieve their maximum potential.  Planning is critical, from selecting the most suitable forage and hard feed to tailoring supplements to the individual needs.   

Why is testing your forage beneficial? 

Forage is the basis of all horse’s diets and forage analysis is one of the most powerful tools in a studs feeding regime. Knowing the energy, protein and mineral content of your hay or haylage can help you ensure that your youngstock are getting an optimally balanced diet and enable you to correct any deficiencies or imbalances present. Analysing the hygienic quality of the forage is also important, especially during sales preparation, when any adverse challenges to the respiratory system are unwelcome. 

What is the ideal forage? 

For most horses being prepared for the sale, a high-quality and palatable early cut digestible hay or haylage is recommended. This will maximise the utilisation of fibrous feeds to meet their energy requirements and decreases the amount of hard feed required. It can also help to avoid the pot-bellied appearance that is often associated with ‘gut-fill’ when feeding a mature, less digestible forage.  

Ideally, the mineral content of any forage fed should fall within the typical range. In addition, careful attention should be given to the ratios of minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, as well as copper and zinc, which are needed for bone and cartilage health. Hygienically, the forage should not be overly dusty, nor should it contain high levels of molds.  It is worth noting that molds may not always be visible to the naked eye, which is why testing is so crucial. 

How much to feed? 

The risks of feeding too little forage are well documented and include colic, gastric ulcers, loose droppings and the development of stereotypic behaviours such as cribbing. Ideally forage should be provided ad libitum (i.e. the horse has continual access to forage). However, in some cases, for example an overtopped and greedy yearling, it may be necessary to restrict forage intake a little. If restricted, this should be to no less than 1.5% of bodyweight as dry matter. For a 400kg yearling this equates to approx. 7kg of hay/ day. If feeding haylage, which has a lower dry matter content, the amount fed will need to be around 20% more than if feeding hay.  

The daily forage should be divided into several small meals so that the horse is not without forage for more than 4 hours. This will help to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal or behavioural problems such as gastric ulcers, colic or crib-biting. Finally, it’s important to be aware that if forage is restricted too severely the horse may eat their bedding be it straw or even shavings! This is not desirable in terms of digestive health and may also result in a bloated or pot-bellied appearance. 

Should you soak or steam forage? 

This will depend on your reason for soaking or steaming your forage. During sales prep, the most common reason is to improve the hygiene quality of the forage, thereby reducing any challenges to the respiratory system.  

Research has shown that soaking hay for 10-30 minutes can reduce Respirable Particles (RP), which will include a wide range fungal spores, bacteria, dust and pathogens, by 93%, whilst simply ‘watering’ hay reduces RP by only 43%. However, prolonged soaking can increase the bacteria content of hay dramatically, result in loss of minerals phosphorus and copper and potentially reduce palatability.   

Steaming hay or haylage also reduces the concentration of respirable particles, with a reported reduction in mould spores and bacteria of up to 99%. Other benefits of steaming are that, unlike soaking, it does not effect on the nutritional value of hay, so the levels of proteins and minerals all remain the same, and it does not affect palatability, in fact in some cases it can actually be improved! Read more about steaming vs soaking here.

Connolly’s RED MILLS offers nutritional and hygiene forage testing for customers as part of their nutritional services and support package. Get in touch with our expert team to find out more. 

Find out more about nutrition during sales prep in these articles:

Practical Guide to Sales Prep – Feeding

Practical Guide to Sales Prep – Supplementing for Sales Success


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