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Should Horses Have Constant Access to Hay?
You have purchased hay for your horses, but now what? Should you leave it somewhere your horses can access it at any time during the day, or should you mix in the hay with some of their meals? There are different opinions on that. Some people think that giving horses constant access to hay is good for their digestive health, while others believe that adding some flakes of hay to the feed is enough. So, should horses have constant access to hay? Let’s find out the best way to satisfy a horse’s diet.
What Is Important to Know when Feeding Horses?
Whether horses need constant access to hay or not largely depends on their age, diet, and digestive health. There are horse owners who believe that feeding their horses only at mealtime is enough, but others say that this might upset the gut health of a horse. When horses do not have access to an abundant amount of hay throughout the day, their digestion might suffer, leading to gastric ulcers. Giving horses grassor legume hay all day goes back to how horses behaved in their natural environments many years ago. Horses fed on forage, which was typically not rich in nutrition. Because of that, they had to eat frequently, which is why their digestive systems evolved as they are.
When it comes to the diets of your horses, you need to keep in mind their caloric needs. Does the current feed plan provide enough calories for the horses to maintain their health and performance? In the summer months, this might not create an issue, because horses get plenty of nutrients and calories from grazing. However, once the cold weather arrives and the grasses are not readily available, calorie intake might become insufficient to maintain optimal health and body weight. If you store your hay for the winter, you can prevent that. The best way to make sure your horses are at their optimal health and body condition is to keep an eye on their diets and how much hay they are eating. Adjust them depending on the season and their caloric and nutritional intake.
Why Should Horses Have Constant Access to Hay?
Many aspects of the overall health of your horses depend on the health of your digestive system. Since hay is said to promote gut health, “Should horses have constant access to hay?” is a relevant question. There are several reasons why, unlike people or some domestic animals, horses need to eat all the time and not just a few times a day. Firstly, that is because horses do not have a gallbladder. As the liver produces bile for digesting fats, gallbladder acts as a storage for it. Since horses do not have this organ, there is nowhere bile can be stored, so it always gets released into the digestive tract. When there is no food to digest, bile can accumulate in the blood and cause problems.
Another reason why they need food during the day is because a horse’s stomach produces acid throughout the day. Apart from that, they are very small. This means that horses cannot eat a large meal because their stomachs just won’t fit it. Eating small portions throughout the day so that the food can be digested properly, is the best option for horses to achieve and maintain optimal gut health. This is just how their digestive systems work. If you want to support the health of your animals, then make sure you understand their dietary and energy needs. This will help prevent digestive problems and a decline in performance and overall health.
Why Constant Access to Hay Is Good for Horses
By feeding your horses frequently during the day, you help their digestive systems work how they should. Constant access to hay means that the stomach and hindgut, the critical organs for digestion, will be occupied to avoid creating problems like ulcers. Feeding three or four times a day is already better than once or twice. Still, leaving hay somewhere the horse can access it is an even better option, as you can focus on your other tasks.
Unlike hay, the grain is harder to digest, and horses eat it much faster. As a result, if you give them constant access to grain, a big part of the feed might end up undigested. When horses do not digest grains properly, this causes a leak of sugars and starches into the gut. Thus, gut microbes, bile, and stomach acid cannot cope with the overload of things to digest. This could cause colic or laminitis in horses. Here are other feeding mistakes you should avoid.
How to Provide Constant Access
Now that you have learned about the benefits of giving horses constant access to hay, you will need to figure out how to provide that access to your animals. Typically, horses feed on the ground. But leaving hay like this could lead to waste, as horses could soil or step on good quality hay. Instead, you can use a hay rack or net. Soak hay in water for about two hours before placing it in the nets or racks to remove some of fungi and dust, which might have gotten caught in it.
Some horse owners feed their horses before they go to work in the morning, once during the day, and once more after work. This mealtime feeding model has been the most common for many years and still is. If this is what you were doing until now, then an excellent way to improve the feeding plan is to give your horse access to pasture during the day. This way, horses can eat when they need to during the daytime. At night, you can leave hay in the racks or nets. This way, horses could eat some of it as their digestive systems demand.
When you do not let your horses walk around without any forage, you are helping their digestive systems perform well. During the months when pasture is low quality or not available, add more hay to your horses’ diets. This will balance the intake of calories and nutrition to maintain the condition of your horses.