Tony the Cat Checking in,

So in my last blog, I took some time to talk about the basics of horse nutrition. This time, I’d like to talk to you about the fiber needs of horses. Personally, I don’t see why they can’t just eat tuna like us cats, but to each his own I guess. Horses are meant to use fiber as their main form of fuel, which means they need a lot of it in their daily diets. Not only does fiber provide energy, but it also keeps their digestive system functioning properly. Horses need to have at least 50% of their diet in fiber, and will get most of their daily energy needs from that. What’s interesting is that horses can’t actually digest the fiber on their own! The fibers are broken down by intestinal bacteria living in the horses’ digestive tract. The bacteria break down the fiber into Volatile Fatty Acids, which the horse can digest. So where do horses get all of this fiber? Most of your horse’s fiber needs can come from adequate forage throughout the day, but there are also some alternative fibers available in the case of low forage options. Let’s talk a little about what fiber is made of, and then I’ll talk about those fiber options.

Fiber is made of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. If you have ever sharpened your claws on a tree, you’ll know that the bark is pretty hard and rough. That rigid material is the lignin and it cannot be digested by horses, or their gut bacteria. It makes for great claw sharpening though! The digestible fiber materials are the cellulose and some hemicelluloses.  These are found in the leafy parts of plants, and are known as insoluble fibers. Now, because they are insoluble, the bacteria in the gut have to break them down to make the energy horses need. A portion of the fibers won’t be digested though and these still help the horse maintain gut function.

Forage is the best way for a horse to attain the fiber that it needs for energy. As I said before, a horse needs at least 50% of its daily diet to be fiber, which means they need the majority of their diet to be forage if possible. Forage options include pasture grasses, Coastal hay, Timothy, Alfalfa, Peanut hay, and other grass options. These can be fed in a number of forms. Pastures can be free choice, but hays are available in a variety of feeding options including round bales, square bales, cubes and pellets. Young, freshly cut hays are the best options for keeping the horse healthy and providing them with the energy they need. The younger hay is higher in digestible fiber than older or later cut hay. For those that don’t have easy access to pasture or hay there are some other options that can supplement the fiber in a horse’s diet.

One of the most popular and best fiber alternatives is beet pulp. Beet pulp comes in a dehydrated form and is generally soaked in water before fed to the horse, which makes it easier to chew and can help prevent choking. Other options include bran (available in oat or rice options), chaff which is made from oat and barley straw, and Grain hulls. Unfortunately the last few options don’t provide as many of the energy needs as forage or beet pulp would. Chaff and grain hulls are low in energy, and are generally better used for easy keepers who need to be kept busy munching, but who do not need to gain any weight. Some complete feeds are also now being made with higher fiber content by adding forages to the feed. Fiber alternatives are best fed in several smaller meals throughout the day to keep the horse’s gut moving slowly over extended periods of time as it would in a natural grazing environment.

Next week, I’ll be talking about fats and proteins and their place in a horse’s diet. Until then, may your litter box always be clean and your food bowl full.

Tony the Cat Checking in,

So in my last blog, I took some time to talk about the basics of horse nutrition. This time, I’d like to talk to you about the fiber needs of horses. Personally, I don’t see why they can’t just eat tuna like us cats, but to each his own I guess. Horses are meant to use fiber as their main form of fuel, which means they need a lot of it in their daily diets. Not only does fiber provide energy, but it also keeps their digestive system functioning properly. Horses need to have at least 50% of their diet in fiber, and will get most of their daily energy needs from that. What’s interesting is that horses can’t actually digest the fiber on their own! The fibers are broken down by intestinal bacteria living in the horses’ digestive tract. The bacteria break down the fiber into Volatile Fatty Acids, which the horse can digest. So where do horses get all of this fiber? Most of your horse’s fiber needs can come from adequate forage throughout the day, but there are also some alternative fibers available in the case of low forage options. Let’s talk a little about what fiber is made of, and then I’ll talk about those fiber options.

Fiber is made of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. If you have ever sharpened your claws on a tree, you’ll know that the bark is pretty hard and rough. That rigid material is the lignin and it cannot be digested by horses, or their gut bacteria. It makes for great claw sharpening though! The digestible fiber materials are the cellulose and some hemicelluloses.  These are found in the leafy parts of plants, and are known as insoluble fibers. Now, because they are insoluble, the bacteria in the gut have to break them down to make the energy horses need. A portion of the fibers won’t be digested though and these still help the horse maintain gut function.

Forage is the best way for a horse to attain the fiber that it needs for energy. As I said before, a horse needs at least 50% of its daily diet to be fiber, which means they need the majority of their diet to be forage if possible. Forage options include pasture grasses, Coastal hay, Timothy, Alfalfa, Peanut hay, and other grass options. These can be fed in a number of forms. Pastures can be free choice, but hays are available in a variety of feeding options including round bales, square bales, cubes and pellets. Young, freshly cut hays are the best options for keeping the horse healthy and providing them with the energy they need. The younger hay is higher in digestible fiber than older or later cut hay. For those that don’t have easy access to pasture or hay there are some other options that can supplement the fiber in a horse’s diet.

One of the most popular and best fiber alternatives is beet pulp. Beet pulp comes in a dehydrated form and is generally soaked in water before fed to the horse, which makes it easier to chew and can help prevent choking. Other options include bran (available in oat or rice options), chaff which is made from oat and barley straw, and Grain hulls. Unfortunately the last few options don’t provide as many of the energy needs as forage or beet pulp would. Chaff and grain hulls are low in energy, and are generally better used for easy keepers who need to be kept busy munching, but who do not need to gain any weight. Some complete feeds are also now being made with higher fiber content by adding forages to the feed. Fiber alternatives are best fed in several smaller meals throughout the day to keep the horse’s gut moving slowly over extended periods of time as it would in a natural grazing environment.

Next week, I’ll be talking about fats and proteins and their place in a horse’s diet. Until then, may your litter box always be clean and your food bowl full.

 

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