With continued drought conditions in many parts of Australia, it was no surprise to see Dr Stewart's recent article for Equine News Magazine so well received. Below is an exert from the article and you can find more by following the links...
Feeding a horse is usually the largest cost of ownership – and never more so than in times of drought. When the grass has browned off – or completely gone - availability and price are the deciders when it comes to what to feed! With a little planning and a knowledge of how to construct a diet with alternative or unusual feedstuffs, it is possible to provide a pretty well-balanced diet. In drought years, good quality forage may be too expensive or unavailable. So let’s look at the safety and efficacy of options for feeds not traditionally fed to horses.
Forage/fibre is the mandatory cornerstone for gut and horse health. Even in drought times a minimum of 1% of bodyweight in fibre must be provided. Table 1 shows the minimum amount of roughage that must always be fed – even in times of drought, and the minimum total daily feed intake - which can be 90% roughage or a mixture of roughage + concentrate.
Table 1. Minimum total daily intakes
Regardless of the class of horse, the necessary roughage cannot be abandoned - even when traditional forage is difficult to find. Roughages, by definition, are feeds that are over 17% fibre. In addition to hay and pasture, there are many other high fibre feeds that can be used to totally replace or partially replace the roughage portion of your horse’s diet. Table 2 lists some alternative roughage sources, along with their replacement value relative to grass or alfalfa hay.
Feeds with moderate levels of fibre (11 to 15 percent crude fibre) can also serve as an alternative during drought. These lower fibre feeds can’t totally replace the roughage your horse needs, but they can reduce the amount of hay you have to feed. Start by ensuring your horse receives at least 1% of its body weight per day in roughage (Table 1). Then use moderate fibre feeds to complete the remaining portion of the diet. The feedstuffs in Table 2 can be fed to ‘stretch’ the hay supply – and in some cases replace it. So when chaff and hay are just not available or just way too expensive, the following feedstuffs can be used: cereal grain straw, ground corn cobs, hulls, whole corn plants can be pelleted and fed to horses for an energy source but, to provide a balanced diet, a protein, vitamin and mineral supplement must also be fed. By taking the time to carefully select top quality roughage (ie low in dust, mould, contaminants and weeds) and continually monitor consumption patterns, you can make sure you’re providing the best possible diets in times of scarcity.
If grains increase in price, look at alternatives (Table 3) such as bran (usually wheat or rice), but as they are low in calcium and very high in phosphorus, it’s absolutely necessary to provide calcium. Beet pulp is safe and higher in calcium than phosphorus – but low in protein, vitamins A, B and D. To correct deficiencies in the feedstuffs, include a small amount of a correctly-formulated concentrate. Depending on age, weight, work and reproductive status only 300-700g should be required to balance most diets. Pregnant, lactating and especially growing horses benefit from lucerne – so if it is in limited supply, reserve it for these horses.
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EQUINE CLINICAL NUTRITION
By Dr Jennifer Stewart