By Dr Meriel Moore-Colyer Senior Lecturer at RAC and Scientific Consultant
At this time of year the increase in light and temperature not only makes riding more pleasurable but also initiates grass growth and the delight of fresh forage after the long winter months of conserved forage.
As we rejoice in seeing our horses frolicking around in the field and relish the reduction in mucking out, we need to be aware of the change in nutrient supply that fresh grass brings to the diet. Spring grass especially pastures composed of species such as perennial rye grass and high sugar-grasses are specifically designed to produce high levels of soluble carbohydrate (sugar), fructan (storage carbohydrate) and protein which increase milk and meat production in farm animals.
However, these grasses are less suitable for our trickle-feeding horses that ingest large volumes of forage every day and thus absorb considerably more nutrients than they need.
It is now well documented that high levels of water soluble carbohydrates coupled with low levels of fibre, characteristics of spring grass, can induce insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, obesity and laminitis.
Moreover, spring grass can be deficient in important minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Spring grass is therefore a nutrient-dense low fibre feed that needs to be balanced with a high-fibre feed. The best ‘balancer’ feed in this situation is hay.
When grass forms a high proportion of the daily diet, horses should be offered hay in the field and in the stable. Concentrates should be reduced in order to restore the ideal balance of high levels of slowly degraded nutrients, which is fibre and low levels of quickly digested nutrients, which is sugar.
Warmer less windy days can also mean that the air in the stable is more static, so pollen, fungal and bacteria spores will hang-around in the environment increasing the levels of respirable dust in the air. It is in these situations that the provision of low-dust high fibre forage is extremely important.
The best and cheapest way to do this is to thoroughly steam hay in a Haygain hay steamer. Haygain steaming has been scientifically proven to reduce respirable particles such as bacteria and mould spores and produce palatable hygienically clean forage. Steamed hay is particularly suitable in this situation as the horse will probably eat considerably less forage than in the winter time and so would not consume a bale of haylage before it goes-off. Once steamed, hay remains highly palatable and low in respirable particles, so one bale can last the horse for days.
So even when the days are warm, the grass is green and the stable chores are reduced don’t forget your Haygain steamed hay which will balance the diet and reduce dust in the stable environment so your horse is fit and healthy for the competition season ahead.
• For further information please contact HAYGAIN hay steamers on 0333 200 5233 or www.haygain.com