Horses should be able to eat small portions throughout the day. Too much concentrated feed, but also roughage that does not match the needs or leads to problems.
Horses primarily eat roughage, but they are not ruminants. They have a small stomach but a large intestine, especially the large colon, which is necessary for the digestion of crude fiber.
“This is where bacterial digestion begins,” confirms Connie Herholz, veterinarian and lecturer in equine sciences at the Bern University of Applied Sciences HAFL, at a workshop organized by the Swiss Animal Welfare Society STS.
Roughage as a basis
The forage remains in the horse’s large intestine for about two days and needs to be constantly replenished. So horses must be able to eat food distributed throughout the day, that is, in intervals: breaks from eating should not last more than three to five hours. Nutritionists calculate a minimum of 1.5 kg of dry matter (TS) bran per 100 kg of body weight, which is at least 9 kg of dry matter (TS) for a horse weighing 600 kg, which is equivalent to about 10 kg of fresh hay .
It is quite possible to feed horses hay only if you supplement with salt, vitamins and minerals. Many fear that feeding silage or hail, accumulated old grass, will lead to acidification of the large intestine.
The measurements show that there are no differences in the pH value whether you are feeding silage, hay or hay, Herholz explains. The situation is different with excessive feeding of cereals. Although horses chew oats as much as they chew hay, they produce less saliva, which is necessary to isolate acid in the stomach.
Water is an important factor
Oats should be used for heavy physical work, a maximum of 1 kg per 100 kg of body weight and divided into several servings. If you feed a lot of grains with an unfavorable calcium/phosphorous ratio, such as oats, over a long period of time, it can lead to bone damage due to a disturbed calcium/phosphorous ratio.
Water requirements are also an important factor in nutrition. Varies by nutrition, performance and ambient temperature. A horse weighing 600 kg drinks about 35 to 60 liters of water in the pasture in the summer. It is best to serve the water in a well basin where there is sufficient water.
Horses are prone to stomach ulcers
Nutrition has a significant impact on stomach ulcers. In the glandular part of the stomach, hydrochloric acid and the enzyme pepsin are released to digest protein. The equine scientist notes that the most common changes in the gastric mucosa are observed in the region of the glandless mucosa when acidic gastric fluid and pepsin act directly and continuously on the mucosa. Saliva can partially neutralize both if it is produced in sufficient quantities.
A horse needs about 40 minutes to eat a kilo of hay, but only 10 minutes for the same amount of concentrated feed. As a result, the horse produces more than twice as much saliva as the first. In simple terms, it can be said that feeding highly concentrated rations with little to no hay poses a high risk of developing stomach ulcers. Concentrated feed should always be fed after giving hay.
Other risk factors are stress, such as transportation, hospital stay, and use of so-called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Mother mares with foot foals and horses that undergo particularly intense training are also often affected by stomach ulcers. “Ulcers really hurt animals,” Herholz asserts.
Donkeys and mules get fat easily
Although donkeys and mules have the same gut as horses and ponies, there are still significant differences. Donkeys can better digest hard-to-digest, high-fiber forage. It only requires 50-75% of the energy requirements of a foal of comparable body mass. “Be careful, they get fat easily,” warns Connie Herholz.
They also require less protein because they recycle urea more efficiently than other equids. Donkeys and mules gain weight if they are fed very nutritious food and thus become more susceptible to disease. Herholz notes that donkeys often appear to be in pain quite late, in the advanced stages of the disease, and even tend to pretend to eat when they are sick. This makes it difficult for the owner to recognize diseases in donkeys early and respond to them in a timely manner.