Written by Alexandra Wesker on 13 June, 2016
As published in Horse Magazine, March2015 issue.
Equine nutritionist Alexandra Wesker shares seven reasons for giving horses and ponies a high-fibre diet.
Reason 1 - A source of energy and warmth
Fibrous feeds such as hay, haylage and grass provide ‘slow-release’ energy, which means a horse is less likely to become fizzy than if fed cereals such as oats or barley. Horses cannot digest fibre directly – bacteria in the digestive system peform this job, releasing nutrients for the body to use.
The amount of energy bacteria can retrieve from fibrous feeds depends on the type of fibre. Fibre in soft, leafy spring grass is broken down easily and releases a lot of energy. The fibre in stalky, rough autumn grass is more difficult for the bacteria to break down and provides less energy. This means a meadow offers more energy at the beginning of summer than at the end. For the same reason, the time of year hay is harvested has a big impact on its energy content. ‘Good’ bacteria can release more energy from soft, leafy hay than it can from stalky forage.
When bacteria in the gut break down fibre and release energy, they also produce warmth. This serves as an internal stove for horses and plays a major role in keeping them warm. This is why fibre is such a valuable feed source in the winter months.
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