Horses in Australia generally eat pasture (if available) and all horses should spend about 18 to 20 hours a day grazing and browsing. A horse's stomach empties in around 25-30 mins, therefore making it very important that they have a constant supply of roughage in the form of hay or pasture to maintain optimum gut and mental health. If pasture isn’t available, then hay becomes critical in providing this necessary roughage. This is why slow feeding horses is a crucial management tool. As a horse owner, you need to make sure that you’re promoting this constant supply of food by using a slow feed hay net and following other necessary rules to keep them in their best shape.
Domestication has changed horses’ natural diets and ways of living. Having a deep understanding of equine nutrition and the essentials of feeding is key to ensure that they are healthy and happy all the time. Each horse is different, as is their individual workload and you must evaluate their needs and diet to meet those nutritional requirements.
Feeding them properly is part of their basic needs. It may sound easy and quick to do, but it’s important to remember that there are guidelines that you need to follow to help them remain in peak condition. Below are some rules to get you started:
1. Use a slow feed hay net
Using a slow feed hay net not only reduces hay wastage, but it also makes your horses healthier. Slow feeding has a lot of benefits including improvements in horses’ physical and mental health.
Hay nets for horses are recommended by veterinarians to help them reduce the incidence of colic, stomach ulcers, stable vices and assist with reducing obesity. A slow feed hay net can significantly regulate the amount of hay consumption that results in better body weight. An unexpected phenomenon we have had many customers tell us is that by using our GutzBusta® hay nets, they have found that overweight horses lose weight and skinny horses put on weight.
Horses spending a lot of time in their stable or yard can get bored easily. By using slow feeders, you are allowing them to eat strands of hay at once, not huge mouthfuls, focusing more on their food and becoming more satisfied with something in their stomach all of the time.
When using a hay net, check it regularly for repairs. Occasionally, humans cutting the baling twine string eagerly while the bale is inside the net or horses’ enthusiastic eating or pawing can cause the net to get a small hole. A small hole can turn into a nose-sized hole or a head-sized hole if not quickly fixed. You want to prevent this from happening so you need to make sure that you’re investing in a durable hay net for your equines or livestock. Fix the hole immediately or take the hay net out of use until you have fixed it so you don’t ‘teach’ your horse how to put nose size holes in the net.
Our GutzBusta® hay nets are made from tough materials that are UV Stabilized and heat-treated in 60ply polyethylene netting. These net types of slow feeders are safe, easy to fill, and can be used anywhere. We’ve been making these products for over eight years now and know how the netting behaves over time, therefore we have made our nets generous in size so that they remain easy to fill for the life of the hay net.
This netting is not water absorbent, therefore there is no change to its properties during rain and the netting does not take on extra weight if used to soak hay in. A quick shake and it’s practically dry again.
GutzBusta® 3cm Small Hay Net
2. Always give access to clean water
Providing water to horses at all times is very important for their diet. However, simply giving them water is not enough. You also have to make sure it’s not contaminated and your water supply is as clean and uncontaminated as possible. If you’re using an automatic waterer, water trough, or bucket for example, always check for green algae growth or any other contaminant such as a dead bird that may have fallen in and drowned. Dams are a good source of drinking water for horses, but make sure there is adequate water depth so horses aren’t forced to drink the muddy, putrid water of a near-empty dam.
Remember, horses’ water consumption depends on their body weight. According to Kentucky Equine Research, horses of similar body weight and breed may have different intakes. An idle horse can drink 3 to 7 litres of water per 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of body weight. This is equivalent to around 4 to 9 gallons for a 1,100-pound (500-kilogram) horse. Obviously, in a hot Australian summer, this intake drastically increases. Horses in work will also drink more.
3. Consider weather conditions
When it comes to feeding horses, considering the season or weather conditions is essential. It depends on each horse’s requirements, but generally, horses need more fiber in winter as they need additional energy to stay warm and maintain their body temperature. As the old-timers say ‘feed is as good as a rug!’
Experts share that equines should be given at least 1.5 to 3% of their body weight in some form of hays, forage-based cubes, or combinations. Their eating pattern or behavior should be monitored carefully during the colder months as well. Some weight loss is normal during winter and it’s actually not a bad thing to have a bit of weight loss heading into spring when grazing on pasture. Weight loss in winter isn’t ideal for older horses or broodmares, however, it’s not a bad thing for ‘paddock ornaments’ or ponies.
The summer season is also challenging for horses. They sweat a lot and their body temperature increases so you need to adjust their water intake during the hot summer months. Electrolytes and salt licks can be beneficial to your horses, too. These help in replacing the minerals lost while sweating.
Some horse owners tend to feed their horses by biscuit of hay. While it’s easy and convenient, feeding them should always be by weight. Just like water intake, food consumption also depends on their body weight.
A horse should eat approximately 1.5 to 2.5% of its body weight. Therefore, a 500-kilogram horse that is working moderately should be getting 10 to 12 kilograms of forage per day. If your horse is overweight, feeding them 1.5% of their body weight per day is advisable.
During spring and often autumn, equines tend to become overweight or obese because they ingest more calories or higher sugar pasture. This can predispose them to the much dreaded and painful condition of laminitis. If your horse or pony is already locked away from spring pastures and just being fed hay, then weighing hay instead of feeding per biscuit will help you identify how much they should consume.
Again, this is where using slow feed hay nets will come in handy. You can load up the nets with the right amount of hay suitable for your horses in whatever quantity suits your individual requirements. You can also regulate the feeding rate by choosing a net hole size that suits your individual horse or pony as our hay nets are available in 3cm, 4cm and 6cm holes. At GutzBusta®, we also offer a hay weigher perfect to use with our slow feed hay nets. This tool will help you determine what volume of hay your horses should be getting based on their lifestyle.
GutzBusta® Hay Weigher
5. Look for hay alternatives
Hay shortage is a real problem, especially in a drought. When there’s an inadequate supply, owners struggle to look for alternatives to maintain their horses’ health. But you don’t have to worry because there are various substitutes to hay that you can use to feed your horses.
Beet pulp is a good source of fiber. Some horse owners notice that when they feed beet pulp to their equines, they tend to eat less hay. It can be incorporated with feeds or hay, too. Forage pellets, on the other hand, contain dried alfalfa or grass blends that are technically made to replace hay. Nothing, however, is as good as hay if the appropriate pasture isn’t available.
If you’re looking for other hay substitutes, you can try soybean hulls. A study reveals that soybean hulls stimulate cecal fermentation and are sometimes a great substitute or addition to help prolong your hay when supply dwindles. These are rich in fiber and accepted well by most horses. Both beet pulp and Maxisoy have their positive and negative points, so it’s up to the owner to take all of these things into consideration and make the best decision based on your individual horse or pony.
As with anything, it’s up to the owner to do their own research for what suits them and their equines and other livestocks individual situations.
These are just some of the common hay alternatives that you can use to feed your equines. Take note that whenever you’re making changes to your horse’s diet, always make sure to do it gradually. Sudden changes to the type of feed can lead to colic or digestive upset.