Fiber Rich Forage
Forage and Fiber
High quality forage and the fiber it provides is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system. Fiber is the structural portion of the grass or legume plant and consists of lignin and cellulose. Both forms of fiber are critically important for supporting digestion. Lignin is indigestible fiber, and plays an important role in normal gut motility and creates a feeling of satisfaction in the animal. Cellulose is digestible fiber and is a rich source of protein, vitamins and slow-release energy.
Horses and Other Grazers Need Fiber
Horses are grazers and have a unique ability to take in large amounts of forage. Their teeth are uniquely designed to chew large amounts of fiber, and in the wild, horses can spend nearly 60% of their life grazing. This is why many horses can be maintained on a forage-only diet with no additional supplements or high-energy grains.
Fiber Reduces the Risk of High-Starch
Horses have a highly developed hind gut with large quantities of beneficial fiber-digesting bacteria that break down fiber through a fermentation process. This breakdown of forage produces volatile fatty acids (VFAs) that provide the horse with slow-release energy and during the winter season can help keep the horse warm.The fiber digestion of forage also regulates an optimal pH (acidity) balance in the gut that translates into optimal digestion and assimilation of nutrients. By contrast, if a horse is fed too much starch in a short period of time, the horse’s small intestine can become overwhelmed by its ability to digest and absorb starch. This starch then passes into the large intestine where it can easily upset the delicate pH balance of the hind gut. In turn, this promotes the growth of harmful pathogens over beneficial bacteria, releasing endotoxins into the blood stream. In such cases, the risk of colic and laminitis are greatly increased. By contrast, quality forage acts as a buffer against such shocks and supports the hydration and electrolyte balance throughout the digestive tract.
Another detrimental consequence of substituting too much cereal or grains for forage is that a horse may not produce enough saliva. A horse produces saliva only when it chews. In cases where too much cereal is fed, there may be insufficient saliva produced to neutralize the acidity of the stomach whose linings have very little protection against acid. Therefore, the risk of gastric ulcers also increases as a horse’s diet is shifted towards cereals/grains and away from fiber-rich forage.
More Benefits of Fiber-Rich Diets
In nature, horses are social, roaming animals that constantly graze. By contrast, most horses today are confined alone in stalls or paddocks with little to chew. To satisfy their physical and psychological needs, horses often resort to undesirable stable vices to cope. Over time, these vices can develop into habits detrimental to horses’ health, including cribbing, chewing wood, weaving, and stall walking, among others. In most cases, returning horses to pasture can reverse such behaviors; however, finding high quality pasture is not always practical. Therefore, the next-best alternative is to provide premier quality forage that the horse can consume over a longer period of time, using hay nets or other feed management methods.
For these reasons, we at Chaffhaye are committed to promoting the consumption of a fiber-based diet as the foundation for healthy horses and other grazers.