Fiber Content Crucial For Adequate Pasture Alternatives 

Some horse owners opt to feed their horses alfalfa pellets in place of forage in their horse’s diet, but is this appropriate? Dr. Karen Davidson, of Purina Animal Nutrition, tells The Horse that while many horses ingest long-stemmed forage in addition to grain meals, most horses can remain healthy by eating completely pelleted rations or pelleted hay as long as the rations provide the appropriate type and amount of fiber. 

Forage a horse ingests in the form of hay, grass, chopped hay, hay pellets, hay cubes, or complete pelleted feed should be at minimum 1 pound of dry matter per 100 pounds of weight. In many cases, horses should eat 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of dry matter forage per 100 pounds of body weight. Exactly how much forage a horse should eat will depend on multiple factors, including the horse’s activity level and metabolism, as well as forage quality. 

Dry matter content varies widely between forage sources. Pasture often has a higher moisture content, often between 15 and 30 percent, meaning a horse must ingest 30 to 60 pounds of pasture grass. Baled hay that is cured should be 85 to 90 percent dry matter and consumed at 11 to 12 pounds per day. Hay pellets or cubes and complete feeds often are closer to 90 percent dry matter, so should be fed at about 11 pounds per day.

When pasture is of poor quality or isn’t available, horses require additional forage. Long-stemmed hay is ideal as it takes horses more time to ingest than pelleted forages, but pelleted hay is also an adequate choice. In cases where long-stemmed hay is not available, is expensive, or if the horse is unable to adequately chew or digest long-stemmed hay, pelleted hay may be the better choice. 

Pelleted forages are ingested more quickly so they should be divided into three or four meals per day. Spreading out the pellets on the ground or placing them in a feeder that had obstacles in it can also delay rapid pellet ingestion. 

There are limited studies on the effect of eating pelleted forage on dentition. It has been reported that eating pelleted forage encourages the development of sharp cups and reduces the directions in which a horse chews. Regardless of what type of forage the horse is eating, all horses need routine dental care; horses eating pelleted forages may need more-frequent exams than horses eating long-stemmed hay. 

Pelleted hay can provide adequate fiber to replace hay or pasture when fed properly. 

Read more at The Horse. 

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