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Finding Alternatives to Hay

This winter there is plenty of hay west of the Mississippi, but the eastern states may have trouble finding good hay for their horses as a result of the lingering effects of the 1999 drought.

The impact isnít that bad for those who have the ability to buy and store full truckloads of hay, but local supplies are likely to be poor for those who canít afford to truck in good hay. Some alternatives that individuals can consider are forage, a variety of cubes, chopped forages and complete feeds that are currently available on the market.

Figure out whether you need to replace all of your hay or just supplement what you currently have in order to determine your fiber alternative. If you have some hay then consider if you need supplements to help

 improve your quality, if you have to stretch your current supplies or if you need supplements for a combination of these two reasons.

Protein content should be considered since the fiber portion of a horses diet should be at least fifty percent of their total intake. You may need to look into a grain source with higher protein levels if you have to feed your horses considerably lower-quality hay than you normally feed. The reverse is also true, but you probably wonít have to worry about it during the winter.

Not only is the proper nutrition found in complete feeds with protein, vitamins and minerals but they also have the right amounts of fiber. If you are extending or improving your hay resources then these products will work well. However, they canít act as a complete replacement for any length of time since they lack the sufficient fiber content. It is still recommended that you have some long-stem fiber.

Good gut motility is assured with proper fiber length in addition to maintain the Ďscratch factorí or the horses innate desire to meet their fiber requirements. Horses will develop bad habits when this requirement isnít met such as wood chewing.

In the past many cubes contained one hundred percent alfalfa. However, the market now has cubes that offer different combinations such as alfalfa and timothy or alfalfa and whole corn plants. Although since the legumesí binding properties help to retain the cube integrity they still have to be about fifty percent alfalfa.

Hay is well supplemented through cubes and these cubes can also work as a complete hay replacement since they give the proper fiber length. However, alfalfa pellets lack the fiber length so they are not the best option for fiber supplements.

The advantages of vitamins, minerals and added energy are found in complete cubes like complete feeds, but they also have the proper fiber length. However, many complete feeds lack the fiber length of the complete cubes.

For a few years chopped forages have been available and continue to be an excellent option when it comes to supplementing or replacing hay. This option allows you to feed straight timothy product which is something you donít get with cubes and they still have the necessary fiber length. With this option hay is chopped to about two inches and then has molasses and corn oil added. While chopped forages are complete diets they do not have the fortification of vitamins and minerals.

Some owners choose alternatives such as beet pulp or soy hulls but these will need additional nutritional management that isnít required with the complete cube option. A rapid change in fiber has been shown to be the leading cause of colic according to a recent research study. Most horse owners know that it is important to change grain rations slowly. This also applies to fiber products and it perhaps even more important.



Read the next horse nutrition article on Winter Feed and Diet Changes.
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