Winter has set in and has rooted itself deeply across the provinces of Canada and the Northern USA. It is at this time all horses have to rely on some form of forage other than pasture. This may include hay or haylage, or even forage cubes if necessary, but either way you look at it, Forage is First - it is a primary source of food for horses, providing them with much needed energy, fibre, nutrients, protein and some fat. If you were thinking ahead in the summer or fall, chances are that you have stored your hay bales or you have made arrangements for regular delivery to your barn. Hay is also considered one of the least costly foods in a horse's diet compared with prepared feeds and supplements. Just because it costs "less" does not make it any "less" important. Then why is this food so overlooked?
It is easy to look at hay and assume that just because it is green it is good for my horse and that is all that is needed to know - other than the supplier saying "it's good horse hay". But just because hay looks green does not mean that it is good hay, nor does it mean it is the ideal hay for your
horse. For example, green looking hay does not exclude the fact that it may contain enough poisonous weeds to seriously harm your horse. Also if your horse is "sugar or starch sensitive" because of obesity, laminitis, Insulin Resistance or PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction - formerly known as Equine Cushing's Disease) , you would not know if your hay is high in carbohydrates by just looking at it. Some hays have a fair amount of nutrients that will meet your horse's requirements while other hays do not. A horse working throughout the winter on a regular basis will have different requirements than a horse at maintenance. How do you know if your hay is then suited? A visual look at your hay will give some indication but not the complete picture; nor will someone "telling" you give you the "proof". You need to dig a little deeper .....
One of the first things I recommend to horse owners is getting your hay analyzed before you purchase. If that is not possible then at least analyze the first load that comes into your barn before you bring in more. The analysis, combined with a sensory assessment, truly provides the best and most complete evaluation of your hay. It gives you the facts about what you are getting for what you paid, and it establishes whether the hay is suitable for your horse. It also helps to manage your budget for the winter, since you will be adding feeds or supplements to make up for any deficiency in nutrients that your horse requires. In other words, analyze your hay, then pick your feeds and supplements. Does your hay stack up to what your horse requires or even what you thought your were getting? The lab report will tell you. For under $50, a report can provide a wealth of information to the inquisitive horse owner. So how do you interpret the results?
Feed My Horse Equine Nutrition Software will help you decipher the information and let you know if nutrients in your forage are in excess or deficient based on how much you feed and your horse's profile. The total cost of a forage analysis plus a one year's subscription of the software can easily be offset by the amount of money you would have normally spent by feeding too much hay, or too much purchased feed and supplements that your horse may not have needed in the first place. Take the guesswork out of feeding your horse, analyze your hay and remember, Forage is First!... always.
Stay warm, stay safe and healthy to you and your horse this winter!
Healthy Horses. Happy Owners. Superior Results!
Superior Equine Health and Nutrition Inc.
www.SuperiorEquineNutrition.com ~ www.FeedMyHorse.ca ~ SuperiorEquine@gmail.com
The articles contained in this column are for the purpose of education and are not intended to take the place of proper veterinary care. They may be used in conjunction with such care to facilitate healing and maintain health of the horse.
Photos courtesy of photopin.com.