Before commencing to feed green feed fodder to horses it is important to understand a little of the process of digestion that occurs in the horse.
The stomach, small and large intestine all pay important roles in delivering nutrition and hydration to horses. Whether paddock housed or stabled, controlling the feed a horse receives will drive its ultimate performance. Dietary control relates both to feed value and quantity.
The first part of the horse’s digestive system, the mouth, serves not only to grind the cellulose walls of the bio-mass or hard feed (as the case may be) that the horse eats, but also serves to add saliva as lubrication so that once swallowed, the food is in small particles and more easily digested.
When the food arrives at the stomach it is met with secreted digestive enzymes and strong acids which begin the process of protein and fat digestion. After approximately 45 minutes in the stomach the food will start to exit into the small intestine where digestion continues and the absorption of nutrients into the blood stream begins.
The small intestine is really the nutritional extraction plant for the horse and is typically between 20m to 22m long in the average 16.5 hand horse. Provided that the capacity of the small intestine is not exceeded (either due to too much feed or a blockage in the intestine) starch and sugar digestion is in the main completed there, resulting in the production of glucose which is then readily absorbed into the blood stream. Absorption of vitamins and minerals found in the food also begins.
A similar conversion process takes place in the small intestine in regard to protein, with protein being converted to amino acids which are then absorbed into the blood stream.
Most foods eaten by the horse will contain elements of fat and/or oil (vegetable or other added), which is also broken down as the food passes through the small intestine. The breakdown is achieved by the horse producing bile (as it requires it) emulsifying the fats and oils into small droplets.
From the small intestine food passes through to the large intestine where beneficial bacteria and yeast breakdown remaining cellulose to volatile fatty acids, a source of energy for the horse. Provided it receives good quality, mould free feed and the horse itself is in a healthy condition, the large intestine can manufacture some B complex vitamins along with vitamin K. This is accompanied by a process of water absorption in the large intestine before the waste products’ move on through the colon to the rectum and exit the horse as dung through the anus.
Don’t rush a change of feed
Even though a horse may take to eating fodder very quickly its important due to the length and function of the horses digestive system that food changes are managed as a gradual progression. We suggest that somewhere between one and two weeks is an appropriate time period to gradually introduce an increasing fodder component into a horse’s diet.
The time period is necessary for the gut flora of the horse to adjust to the different digestive needs of the horse moving from its present feed regime to a regime with different breakdown requirements.
The water level in green feed fodder may be higher than that which the horse may have been used to and this will also have an impact on the operation of the small intestine. An increase in water soluble carbohydrates, from feeding fodder, if not managed through a timed introduction to the digestive system can cause major disruptions to the gut microflora and can lead to metabolic disturbances such as laminitis. These risks can be avoided by a gentle and extended introduction to a change in the horse’s diet.
How much to Feed
Our research following international studies and guidelines indicates that a healthy horse requires around 1.5% of its body weight as dry matter. The total roughage requirements of your horse need to take this requirement into account. Green feed fodder can replace up to 100% of hard feeds fed to horses, depending on the starch requirements of the animal. Horses whose performance requires a higher starch content in their diet may require supplementation with a feed such as steamed flake barley.
Fodder typically, being a green feed has a low dry matter content so the volume of fodder to be fed will need to be assessed. In addition to feeding green feed fodder to your horse you may need to supplement that feed with good quality hay, lucerne or other dry matter.
Unlike cattle who are less affected by poor quality hay, horses face greater respiratory challenges when they encounter poor quality hay infected with mould or fungus spores. Academic studies indicate that feeding a semi wilted forage in the place of hay will make a significant contribution to reducing respiratory challenges in stabled or confined horses.
The benefits of a fodder diet
Users of fodder internationally have observed that horses fed fodder :
- Recover better after work
- Are better hydrated
- Have a well stimulated appetite
- Receive high levels of protein
- Have energy provided as “cool fuel”
- Had improved gut health