Myths usually come about due to a lack of understanding and scientific explanation. But with the ever growing advances in equine nutritional research it’s becoming easier and easier to put some of those myths to bed. Here, experts in equine nutrition Jane Buchan, of Baileys Horse Feeds, and Lizzie Drury, of Saracen Horse Feeds, put a few feeding myths to rest.
FEEDING BRAN KEEPS THE DIGESTIVE TRACT MOVING
Bran is the seed coat or the outer layer of a cereal grain and for many years its primary use was in bran mashes. The two primary ingredients in a typical bran mash are wheat bran and hot water, with other ingredients added based on the preference of the horse. Through the ages, bran mashes have been touted as effective laxatives, and an aid to ‘keep the digestive tract moving’ and thus preventing colic. This theory has now been refuted by scientific trials at Cornell University, which have shown no increase in faecal water content or associated softening of the droppings (even when it was fed in its most sloppy state, faecal water content only increased by 3%). Loose manure usually occurs the day after bran has been suddenly introduced in to a horse’s feed, but this is merely a result of mild digestive upset caused by the sudden change in diet.
NUTS AND CUBES CAUSE HORSES TO CHOKE
There’s no reason why horses are more likely to choke on cubes or nuts than a mix. Any horse can choke if he bolts his feed or can’t chew it very well due to poor dentition. Adding chaff to your horse’s feed will slow him down or dampening the feed for the older horse may help to prevent choke, but don’t avoid nuts and cubes, there’s just no reason to.
HAYLAGE IS REALLY RICH SO FEED LESS
It’s important to remember that haylage contains more water than hay – up to half of every net you give could be water, if your haylage is quite moist. This means the nutrients are more diluted than in hay, so restricting the amount of haylage you feed could mean your horse isn’t receiving enough fibre in his diet, which could lead to digestive upsets such as colic. It’s better to feed plenty of haylage and reduce the energy content of the concentrate ration if necessary.
STARVE PONIES PRONE TO LAMINITIS
Unfortunately, ponies prone to laminitis are of ten starved to try and prevent the disease re-occurring. This can really compromise their health and put him at risk of developing a potentially fatal disease called hyperlipaemia. This is where fat stores are broken down very rapidly and may clog up the liver causing it to fail. It’s extremely important that even over-weight ponies receive some food at regular intervals throughout the day. Small amounts of low nutritional value forages, such as oat straw or coarse, fibrous hay, are sufficient to maintain gut function but won’t result in laminitis.
HAY SHOULD BE SOAKED FOR AN HOUR
Hay is soaked to reduce the risk of respiratory-related problems. The longer it‘s soaked, the more nutrients are lost. Research indicates that soaking for between 20 and 30 minutes is the most effective length of time, where the benefits of soaking are achieved and the loss of nutrients is lowest.
ALWAYS DAMPEN A CONCENTRATE FEED
It’s not essential for concentrate feed to be damp. Your horse should produce enough saliva when chewing to naturally moisten his feed, making it easier to swallow. By dampening his feed you could simply be causing your horse to eat faster, which may make for less efficient digestion. Horses with poor dentition may benefit from having their feed dampened, but remember horses need to chew to wear down their teeth.
HORSES SHOULDN'T EAT STRAW
Yes straw isn’t very digestible and yes it has a low nutritional value. But straw can be treated to improve digestibility and then be included in high fibre, low energy feeds. Molassed chops and chaffs are often based on straw and oat straw and can be a very useful addition to the diets of ‘good doers’ who need fibre for gut function and who can put on weight from hay alone.
Illustrations by Patrick Latham