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Got Hay?

Feeding hay offers a multitude of benefits for stabled horses, when compared to feeding only chaff. We’ve rounded up some of them below.

Hay helps to prevent ulcers forming during work and travel.

Recent research has confirmed that feeding hay before work or travel leads to the formation of a ‘hay mat’ over the liquid portion of the stomach contents. This helps prevent splashing up of stomach acid as the horse bumps around, which in turn helps to prevent the formation of stomach ulcers in the more delicate upper section of the horse’s stomach. Lucerne hay offers additional acid-buffering qualities, which makes it a good choice for this purpose, particularly if you know your horse is prone to ulcers.

Having hay available through the day helps prevent boredom.

Horses can become bored in boxes. Having some hay available in a slow-feed system simulates the foraging behaviour of horses in the wild, and helps to prevent boredom. Bored horses can become cranky or anxious, or develop undesirable behaviours including cribbing, windsucking, weaving, box-walking, pawing and kicking. Eating hay takes two to three times as many chews per kg of feed ingested (compared to concentrate feed), so with hay your horse will spend more of their day munching, and less trying to injure themselves!

Chewing hay helps release TMJ tension and improves chiropractic health.

Research has shown that chewing hay causes a larger range of motion of the jaw, compared to chaff and grain. This extended chewing action improves TMJ (temporomandibular joint) release, which helps improve chiropractic health, and reduces stress. As horses chew and the TMJ is activated, tension, which is stored in the TMJ, is released. This helps signal to your horse’s brain that all is well and they are safe. Horses who do not release their TMJ regularly will hold a tight jaw, and have higher levels of tension, stress and anxiety.

A steady supply of hay reduces the likelihood of an empty tummy.

Horses release digestive acid into the stomach constantly, as opposed to carnivores, who release stomach acid in response to the ingestion of food. Therefore, horses must never be let to go hungry. This will go a long way to preventing stomach ulcers in your horses.

Feeding hay means that your horse’s grain meals can be smaller.

Horses have quite small stomachs for their overall size. Reducing the amount of chaff bulking up your horse’s meals, means that your horse can have smaller main meals. This provides several benefits.

Firstly, your horse will not overfill the stomach at meal times. When horses consume more than their stomach can fit, the meal starts to trickle out into the small intestine, before it has had a change to be broken down by stomach acid. This leads to an unwanted souring of the feed in the small intestine, and what is commonly known as acidosis in the gut. Better to give your horse their concentrates in a smaller meal, so it sits nicely in the stomach and is allowed time to thoroughly undergo the important early stage of gastric digestion. Then, when your horse is ready to eat again, they will have hay available to nibble on until their next concentrate meal.

Having a smaller concentrate feed also means that your horse will be more likely to finish it within 20-30 minutes, rather than it sitting in their feed bin all day or night. This means that the feed will not be unduly affected by flies, airborne or horse-borne bacteria, mould, yeast, hot weather, or oxidation, as it sits around waiting to be eaten.

Lastly, should your horse not finish their feed because they don’t like something in it, they will have hay to fall back on, again reducing the likelihood of an empty belly and stomach ulcers.

The takeaway.

In summary, while a little bit of chaff can be beneficial to add to your horse’s hard feed, it makes much better sense to feed the bulk of ‘roughage’ as hay, and to always have a little bit of hay available to your horse.

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