Most of us understand the importance of having good quality forage for our horses. Hay or pasture should be the cornerstone of every horse’s diet, and should be fed at 1.5 – 2% of the horse’s body weight each day (in most cases).
Occasionally, a hay substitute is needed though. Whether you need to make a limited hay supply stretch over a longer period of time or you have an older horse that cannot chew or digest hay well, knowing a few good hay alternatives is important.
What you’re looking for in a hay alternative is something with high fiber and having long- stemmed fiber is a plus as it will provide adequate ‘chewing time’ that the horse needs . The nutritional value of the hay alternative is also important.
The following are several good hay alternatives for horses:
- Chopped Forage: This can be used to replace all of your horse’s hay ration, if necessary, but might be an expensive way to do so. Chopped forage is usually clean, mold-free, and has a high nutritional value making it a top choice for a hay replacer. It’s also very easy for horses to chew and digest, making it a good choice for senior horses.
- Hay Cubes (timothy or alfalfa): These are also high in fiber and can replace a horse’s entire hay ration, if needed. They should be fed soaked to prevent choke.
- Hay Pellets: While not quite as good of an option as hay cubes, hay pellets can also replace most or all of a horse’s hay ration. Pellets do not contain long-stem fiber though and therefore won’t provide the ‘chewing time’ that is ideal for promoting a healthy digestive system. You may want to soak pellets as well to lessen the risk of choke.
- Beet Pulp: Beet pulp is an excellent source of fiber and contains about 9% protein which is comparable to many grass hays. It should not replace a horse’s entire hay ration though as it is not balanced in minerals or vitamins (high in calcium, few vitamins) and does not provide ideal ‘chewing time’. Most beet pulp has added molasses, so rinsing, soaking, and rinsing it again is recommended for horses that are sensitive to sugar. Beet pulp can be fed dry, but you may want to soak it to increase palatability and reduce the risk of choke. According to this article, you should feed no more than 10 lbs. (dry weight) of beet pulp a day. (Read more about beet pulp in this post.)
- Soybean Hulls: Soybean hulls are high in fiber, contain no starch, and have about 12-14% protein. They can replace approximately 70% of hay ration, if needed, but do not provide ideal ‘chewing time’.
For older horses, you can also feed a ‘complete’ feed to replace hay, but many of them are high in sugar and starch. See this post for a complete feed recipe that you can make yourself. Remember to make any feed changes (including hay and hay alternatives) slowly of a course of 1-2 weeks to avoid the risk of digestive issues.
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