Newsletter April 2016

Dear Horse lover,

In the previous mailing*, Sally Flis of Equi-Analytical (US) discussed what a roughage analysis tells you. In the current mailing I will explain how a roughage analysis can be used in the Natural Feeding system.

I will also address the concerns of one horse owner who asks whether a roughage-only diet would be suitable for her horse.

Alex and Sensation

In a couple of months, the newsletter will be Question and Answer-based. Please click here to send in your nutrition-related questions before the end of May and they might feature!

Have a lovely Spring,


*To read the previous newsletter, click here.

Using your roughage analysis in Natural Feeding

By: Alexandra Wesker MSc – Independent horse nutritionist, Natural Feeding for Horses
As featured in the Equi-Analytical newsletter. Sign-up here.

Why is roughage important?

When I speak to horse owners about how they feed their horses, most of them tend to focus on the manufactured feeds they give and consider roughage as a filler. However, roughage or forage provides many nutrients. On top of that, it has many other valuable characteristics for horses. A roughage-based diet supports a healthy hindgut where billions of bacteria ferment the roughage, releasing nutrients and producing vitamins. The same fermentation also produces heat and serves as an 'internal stove' to help maintain a normal body temperature. A roughage-based diet can also support performance, as it enhances the ability of the hindgut to serve as a water and electrolyte reservoir which is especially beneficial in endurance sports.

In nature, horses spend most of their time grazing (14 to 18 hours per day). Roughage therefore provides a great deal of entertainment. Cutting down feed intake, for example by replacing a lot of roughage with smaller amounts of concentrates, leads to boredom and frequently results in stereotypical behaviors, such as crib-biting/windsucking and weaving. Horses' teeth are suited to wear down with naturally prolonged, extensive chewing and generally wear down correctly by chewing roughage.

Furthermore, the chewing action stimulates the production of saliva, which buffers stomach acid and naturally supports a healthy stomach lining and the prevention of gastric ulcers. Altogether, roughage-based diets support physical and mental health and well-being of horses,plus help to prevent the development of stereotypical behaviors and digestive problems frequently associated with cereal-based diets.

Leafy grass.

In pointing out the benefits and necessity of plenty of roughage in the diet, I frequently encounter concerns about how well roughage will cover nutritional requirements. With such a strong focus being placed on manufactured feeds, it can be hard to believe that a suitable roughage can cover the nutritional requirements of most horses. Protein is usually of good quality and minerals are generally provided in a good ratio in many grass species. Vitamin content in roughage is usually sufficient to cover requirements and fresh grass contains omega-3 fatty acids which are known to have anti-inflammatory effects. Having said that, the nutritional composition of roughage is affected by many factors, including maturity, plant species, and time of day. As grass matures, it provides fewer energy and nutrients, and drying (for example, into hay) can further decrease values, especially of vitamins. Dietary shortfall by feeding roughage alone is therefore possible. When considering the number of horses that are overweight, however, dietary excess should be just as much of a concern.

Determination and utilisation of nutritional value

The trick to getting feeding right is through knowing the energetic value and nutritional composition of your feeds, together with knowing how well these suit your horse's requirements. Nutritional requirements need to be determined for horses on an individual basis and are affected by multiple factors, including body weight, exercise level, and breeding status. Nutritional content of roughage may be estimated with a ballpark figure, but in order to know its actual value, a roughage analysis is required. A roughage analysis can include moisture, dry matter, digestible energy (DE), crude protein with estimated lysine, fat, acid, and neutral detergent fiber (ADF and NDF), lignin, ethanol soluble and water soluble carbohydrates (ESC and WSC), non-fiber carbohydrates (NFC), starch, minerals, and trace elements. Some companies, including Equi-Analytical, offer a variety of analytical packages and pricing. These are very useful for obtaining a nutritional profile for particular uses, such as a fast analysis for main components, an analysis specifically for those concerned about carbohydrate levels, or a comprehensive analysis for those who wish to take their horse's nutrition to the next level.

The numbers on the analysis report are the one side of the coin for formulating your horse's diet. On the other side are the nutritional requirements and the eating capacity of your individual horse. Using these figures, the analysis report can be interpreted and a diet formulated. Nutritional requirements are dependent on multiple factors and involve a number of calculations. You can use general guidelines to do these calculations, ration evaluation software, or you can leave the calculations and report interpretation to a horse nutritionist. Natural Feeding (see below) also shows a method for determining nutritional requirements and comparing these to a roughage analysis. Whichever way, the analysis report needs to be compared to requirements in order to formulate your horse's diet.


I recommend formulating the diet to contain as much roughage as your horse's nutritional requirements allow. Ideally, a horse would have constant access to roughage, whether it is pasture or a preserved roughage such as hay. Depending on how much your horse can eat, your roughage can be one of three things: it may be perfect for your horse's requirements; it may not (entirely) cover your horse's requirements and require supplementation in certain areas highlighted by the analysis; or it may be too rich. Depending on its form and nutritional composition, a less rich roughage can be mixed in; it can be soaked or pasture management methods can be undertaken.

Even if your horse's roughage does not suit requirements perfectly, there are still ways to provide a continuous roughage supply. Roughage should always form the foundation of the diet and ideally, be provided on a continuous basis throughout the day.

Natural Feeding for Horses - the book

Natural Feeding for Horses - the book

‘Natural Feeding for Horses’ is the first book of its kind to introduce a step-by-step feeding system that guides you in assessing your horse's requirements, comparing them to your roughage and making horse feeding more natural.

Aside from fulfilling your horse's specific nutritional requirements, Natural Feeding supports the fundamental physical and psychological needs of horses and ponies. Integrating scientific findings, Natural Feeding also helps to prevent serious health problems such as colic, laminitis and stereotypic behaviour.

The book is packed with practical feeding tips, helps you to select a diet that covers your horse's requirements and guides you in making dietary changes.

Find out more about the Natural Feeding approach at

"A thoughtful, well researched and written book that will make a positive impact on horses as it makes it's way into the hands of horse owners. If you have ever been confused about determining the digestible energy content of the feed you provide your horses, or what level your horse needs based on its activity and size, then this book and its easy to understand formulas will help as she walks the reader through determining activity levels, required feed level, designing feeding programs, and information on safely replacing feeds with cereals. Buy the book, you won't regret it."
Functional Horsemanship (US) Read more

"In this handy guide, independent equine nutritionist Alexandra Wesker offers a step-by-step feeding system which is based on how horses live in nature. Making the transition couldn’t be easier, thanks to this book, and its guidance on monitoring body condition and advice on adapting your horse’s diet. Plus, it’s packed with practical feeding tips."
Horse Magazine (UK)

"Alexandra has managed to capture her knowledge in a very readable style and without compromising the value of the content in any way. In our opinion, if you want to do the best for your horse then you should get yourself a copy of the book and put as much into practice as you can knowing that even small changes can have tangible and worthwhile results."
Born Again Horseman (UK) Read more

Question: "Is a fibre-only diet suitable?"

"My Irish Sports Horses currently has a bucket feed twice a day, but I'd like to phase this out and give him more of a fibre-based diet. Would this be suitable, and what advice can you give me to make the transition a success?" Alison, Lancs, via Horse Magazine (UK)

Whether it is suitable to feed your horse more roughage depends on your horse’s requirements and the nutritional content of your roughage. Many factors impact these, but I can give you some general guidelines to get you started.

Replace the bucket feed with about 1.0-1.5 as much roughage if the bucket feed provides less than 10MJ of energy per kilogram, or with 2.0-2.5 as much roughage if it provides more than 10MJ per kilogram. If you already feed roughage continuously, you may need to look for a roughage with higher energy content.

Make diet transitions gradual. Rather than days, think in weeks or even months if you feed a lot of concentrates and have fed them for over a year.

Look at your horse. If his body weight remains stable, then energy and protein content is likely sufficient, but a vitamin and mineral supplement may still be required especially if you are exercising your horse.

In the next mailing:

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