FEEDING  ROUGHAGE TO HORSES

Roughage is a feed that contains a lot of crude fibre. Two common roughages for horses are hay and chaff.

Hay
There are three types of hay, namely cereal, legume and pasture.

Legume hay included Lucerne, peas and beans. Cereal hay includes oaten and wheaten hay. Pasture hay consists of various grasses/legume mixtures. Green fodders include oats, wheat and barley in the growing stage, and pasture grasses.

Cereal and Legume
These are specially grown. Oats and Lucerne can be grown in rotation with other crops, or left as a permanent pasture. Fertilizer should be added to the paddock to ensure growing grass receives adequate nutrition. It is often necessary to irrigate pasture to allow the grass to grow to its maximum. Oaten and lucerne hays are the most expensive hay because of the costs involved in making them.

Pasture
This is hay made from the pasture (not planted) grown naturally in the field. It consists of a mixture of grasses and herbs. Some, but not all of the species will be nutritious, depending on the soils on which the hay grows and the rainfall it receives, and the stage of growth.

Lucerne hay is fed to horses in hard work, because of its higher protein level. Some horses do well on pasture but the majority find cultivated hay more palatable.

All hay should have as few weeds as possible, although pasture will have more weed than oaten or lucerne hay.

Making Hay
To produce the finest possible quality of hay, the crop should be cut when 1/10 to 1/6 of crop is in flower. This will happen before seeding. With a crop that is made up of several grasses, cutting should be done when the majority of grasses have just flowered. In mild or warm climates it is often possible to cut a second crop. The first cut is usually at the late spring or early summer, and a second crop being cut in late summer or early autumn. Once the seed has formed, the stem becomes woody and less nutritious than before. Growers will sometimes cut late so that their pasture benefits from well formed seed falling on to it. When buying hay, ask for the first cut as it will have more protein.

The process of drying, carrying and stacking hay is called "saving". Well cured hay has been rapidly dried without being rained on and is, therefore, of superior feeding value. Rain dissolves the nutrients out of the hay stalks, and encourages the growth of mould. Meadow hay is easier to save than oaten or lucerne hay which have a large proportion of heavy, succulent herbage. After cutting, the grass loses three quarters of its weight by evaporation. The cut stalks are left to dry on the land. They are turned regularly to encourage evaporation. The heat of the sunshine acts on the starch in the hay so that it slowly changes to sugar. Once the hay is dry enough it is baled.

The amount of heat allowed to develop must be carefully controlled. Too much heat produces acetic acid, which makes the hay unpalatable and sour. It causes bales to turn black. If bales are stacked closely together in a shed at this stage, there is a danger that heat will build up so much that a fire will begin.

Once the bales have finished this stage, they should be carefully stored so that they are protected from rain and sunshine. The best place is a well aired barn, or hay shed as it provides shade and shelter. In this country, bales are often stored in a paddock under a tarpaulin.

Buying Hay
It is important to find a regular supplier of good hay. Good feed merchants will pride themselves on the quality of hay they sell. Bad hay, apart from being of little feeding value, can cause digestive and respiratory problems in horses.

Hay can also be bought straight off the farm. The advantages of doing this include a saving in price, and a chance to check how the hay is grown and saved. The disadvantage is that the current season's hay should be stored for six months before feeding. You will have to have somewhere to store hay for this period so that it does not become damaged. Some farms will deliver large loads to you at an extra cost, while others will ask you to arrange your own delivery. The cost of transport may reduce the initial saving drastically.

When buying hay, always open one bale from the middle of the load before accepting it. Things to look out for include:

1. Does the hay smell sweet? Meadow hay and lucerne hay will be sweeter than oaten hay.
2. Does the hay feel crisp and dry? Damp hay is not properly cured.
3. Good hay is light green to golden. Black hay is very unpalatable and very green hay is very new and needs to be stored for six months more before use.
4. There must be no mould (ie. white dusty powder).
5. There should be no debris (eg. paper, wire or plastic).
6. There should be few weeds.
7. The hay should not smell dusty. Dusty hay can cause respiratory problems in horses.
8. Tousled hay suggests that the hay was rained on and had to be turned many times before it was dried. Good hay will tend to have the strands lying in one direction.


Learn more about Animal feeding in our Animal Feed and Nutrition Course -click for details