FIBRE is a key component of a horse’s diet and can supply between 30% and 70% of the horse’s daily digestible energy requirements. Fibre is essential for maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal tract, providing energy, calories and heat.
Most commonly known fibre sources in a horse’s diet include grass, hay, haylage and chaff. The fibre portion of a plant contains cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. As the plant matures or after harvesting, the lignin content begins to increase, making it less digestible and requires digestion by a process called microbial fermentation in the hindgut. The microbial population, consisting of fungi, bacteria and protozoa, live in a symbiotic relationship with the horse. The fibrous content of the food is broken down into volatile fatty acids that are absorbed into the bloodstream and transported around the body or stored as fat or glycogen.
What fibre sources are in horse feed products?
Fibre is often referred to as “crude fibre” on a horse feed label or product description; this provides the estimated percentage of fibre content determined by nutritional analysis. Often products classified as having a “high” fibre content are over 10%. Examples of high fibre products from Bluegrass Horse Feed include Bluegrass Re-Lite at 18% or Bluegrass Turmash at 20%.
Fibrous feedstuff commonly found in horse feed includes chaff, such as alfalfa and super fibres. Most high fibre horse feed products often have lower starch levels, mainly due to the replacement of cereals with super fibres, such as sugar beet pulp or soybean hulls. They can provide energy levels similar to oats and barley and are up to 30% more digestible than hay.
The most common super fibres found in horse feed are soybean hulls and sugar beet pulp. Soybean hulls are the outer layer of the soybean meal, which is separated during processing and sugar beet pulp is a by-product of the sugar industry, after the sugar has been extracted from the beets. Both increase the fibre content and energy levels of a feed, providing a slow-release energy source, which is ideal for anxious or stressy horses.
Why is fibre important?
Fibre should always be the main component of the horse’s diet, we recommend feeding a minimum of 1.5% of body weight in dry matter per day (based on a 500kg horse) in forage. Avoiding long periods without food and extending eating times of forage can help with the prevention and management of gastric ulcers, as saliva has a buffering effect on the acidic conditions of the stomach. So the more time they spend eating, the more saliva is produced and the larger the buffering effect.
Fibre is essential for maintaining a healthy microbial population to help enhance fibre digestion and nutrient absorption. A by-product of microbial fermentation is the production of heat, so on those colder winter evenings, giving an extra slice of hay will help to keep your horse warmer. By replacing cereals with super fibres and other fibre sources, the starch and sugar content of the diet can be reduced and the risk of undigested starch from large meals entering the large intestine can be minimised, ultimately helping to prevent conditions, such as hindgut acidosis or tying up.
For more information on high fibre products on the Bluegrass Horse Feed range, contact the nutritional helpline: +44 (0)28 3754 8276 or firstname.lastname@example.org