From Lisa J Davies
We Brits are quite used to bad weather. Our country is famous for it. But the weather in the past few years has been exceptionally wet and cold.
Grass has suffered particularly badly. I recently heard one lady say that she has never seen her land so boggy in the twenty years that she had been there. Every horsey person I know is complaining of the mud. In some fields there is barely a blade left.
The crappy weather has caused the prices of hay and most other foodstuffs (horsey and human) to rocket. There’s a lot of us groaning and wondering how long all of this is going to last.
Well, I can’t force the sun to come out (but please God, let us have a sunny summer this year!) but I have been doing a little research on feeding straw to horses.
As we know, horses thrive on a high fibre trickle diet. That means that fibrous food, such as hay, should make up the bulk of your horse’s feed and he should be eating little and often throughout the day. It is a very bad idea to feed your horse more bucket feed (commercial mixes and straight grains) than roughage (this is further explained here). In some cases, this can be difficult in the winter.
Feeding straw is very common in the States and parts of Europe. Here are some reasons why:
- Straw is cheap and abundant
- Straw is high in fibre
- Eating straw ad lib will reduce the chances of your horse developing gastric ulcers (Gastric ulcers can occur when the horse’s stomach is empty for long periods of time)
- Eating straw will keep your horse occupied and out of mischief
The only problem with feeding straw is that it does not contain much protein. Oat straw contains slightly more protein than other types of straw but it is still not enough to replace hay altogether. It is best fed mixed 50/50 with hay.
If you are going to feed 100% straw to your horse, you must feed him extra protein.
Good sources of protein are:
- Alfalfa pellets or chop
- Linseed meal (micronised linseed)
- Soybean meal
- Commercial Protein Supplements
- All of the traditional cereals such as barley and oats are high in protein but they are also high in starch which can be detrimental to your horse’s digestive system.
A good idea would be to feed straw to your horse while he is out in the field, and feed hay at night. This would prevent expensive hay being blown away or trampled on, while still keeping your horse happy and fed.
There is no way around the fact that horses need to eat a lot of roughage regularly to keep their digestive systems ticking over. It is not in our culture to feed straw, and when you start you may get a few puzzled looks from other horse owners. But it is worth doing. It will not only save you money but it will keep your horse happy and healthy.
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