Hay Replacers: Options When Your Horse Can’t Manage Forage


Maintaining your horse’s health is essential, and the horse food you provide them with is extremely important. Sometimes your horse won’t be able to manage forages due to a wide range of differing reasons, so what can be done? Thankfully, there are a multitude of different options available if your horse can’t manage forage, so they can continue to live the healthy and happy life they deserve, regardless of what life throws at them. Read on to find out about some appropriate alternatives, so you can make an informed decision when opting for a forage replacer for your horse.

When To Use Forage Replacers

Reasons your horse might choose a forage replacer include:

Poor Dentition

Conditions such as diastema, or gaps in-between the teeth will mean your horse cannot handle forage. To maintain an adequate fibre intake, horses with less than perfect dentition require a forage replacer to make chewing easier. Good forage replacers for horses with poor dentition can include chopped fibre feed in the short term, or an entirely soaked hay replacer if their teeth are in really bad condition.

Issues Acquiring Forage

Whether it is due to a lack of forage, or due to the available forage being of a poor quality, it’s important to find a replacement to ensure your horse gets the fibre it needs. Availability issues are often due to the unpredictability of the British weather, both prolonged drought or very wet summers can cause problems and the ensuing shortages result in alternatives such as forage replacers becoming the norm for many people to use for their horses.

Variety Of Diet

Offering your horse chopped fibre forage replacers alongside their usual forage ration can prove to be beneficial in keeping your horse interested, encouraging foraging behaviour when they are stabled. This can be really helpful for horses with a poor appetite or with fussy feeding tendencies as by offering a variety of fibre sources that they can pick and choose from in a cafeteria style, they tend to consume more overall.

Feeding Forage Replacers: What You Need To Know

It’s important to understand that not all horse feed can be used as a forage replacer. Hay replacers must be of a high fibre and low starch ratio while having a nutritionally comparable analysis to traditional forage.

If you feed your horse an insufficient forage replacer, the lack of fibre can result in digestive issues such as colic, loose droppings, and inevitably, weight loss. It is advisable to provide your horse with a minimum of 1.5% of their body weight on a dry matter basis when using a forage ration. There are lots of buckets, troughs and toys now available to try and slow the rate of intake of forage replacers but if you want to keep things simple, a wide bottomed bucket cane be used with some large smooth pebbles that are too big for the horse to accidentally pick up, on top to reduce the surface area. This means the horse has to work harder to eat the chop and the weight of the pebbles helps to reduce the chance of the horse kicking the bucket over to gain easier access!

Choosing The Best Hay Replacer

The best hay replacer should initially be short-chopped fibred if possible as it still promotes chewing and takes a while to consume – remember a horse naturally spends 16-18 hours a day eating and we need to replicate this if possible. If chops aren’t manageable for your horse, feeds that you are able to soak to create a mash are your next best option. Products including sugar beet, ‘pure’ alfalfa pellets or chaffs are only suitable as a partial hay replacer and grass-based products should be avoided or used in moderation for laminitis prone horses. You should also check that your hay replacer contains adequate levels of vitamins and minerals to make sure your horse’s diet is well-balanced – straw for example contains far fewer vitamins and minerals than grass forages. However, it is also important you don’t feed too high levels of vitamins and minerals as some can cause toxicity issues in the horse. If you are in any doubt, seek the advice of a nutritionist.

As with all dietary additions or changes, you should gradually introduce forage replacements over a period of a few weeks. Once this has been introduced appropriately, you may leave larger amounts of forage replacer within your horse’s bucket. Within the winter months, you may also want to consider supplementing your horse with additional hay replacer. This is essential if there are any clinical conditions hindering your horse’s ability to feed adequately.

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