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Research into the quality of roughage

Fifty percent of roughage is of bad quality

You would like to give your horse a tasty and healthy snack. During the winter months of 2007/2008 it was difficult to find good quality roughage. What can we do about this? What is the actual quality of the roughage we feed our horses? Pavo asked the BLGG laboratory in Oosterbeek (NL) to investigate the roughage currently available on the market.


The main characteristic of 2007 was the dry and early spring. April was warm and dry, followed by three wet months. This weather was responsible for a big inconsistency in the quality of hay and haylage. The result was a significant price increase for hard feed and straw. Horse owners did feel the pinch and looked for possibilities to save some money. In principle you can give your horse less hard feed, but only in combination with excellent roughage. And that is exactly where the problem lies, because, is the quality of roughage that good?


During December 2007 roughage samples have been collected from over 100 stable yards. The BLGG has thoroughly investigated those samples.
To determine the quality of hay and haylage, the protein content (Digestible Crude Protein, DCP) and the energy value (Digestible Energy, DE, in MJ/kg) have to be determined. If the hay or haylage contain less than 34 grammes DCP per kilo of dry matter (or 3,4%), then the quality is bad. An energy value of less than 7,5 MJ/kg DE also indicates that the quality is too low.

The investigations showed the following results: 

  Very bad  Doubtful Good
Protein content 23% 29% 48%
Energy value 23% 26% 51%
Soil in the roughage - 3% 97%

 Also the minerals were looked at:


  Good Bad
Calcium 65% 35% (good is > 3,5 gr/kg dry matter)
Phosphorus 88% 12% (good is > 2,1 gr/kg dry matter) 
Magnesium 62% 38% (good is > 1,6 gr/kg dry matter)


The investigations show that the quality of more than half of the samples was doubtful to very bad. That means the roughage contains less protein and energy than we expected. That does not have to be a problem, as long as you know it and you do something about it. That is why it is very important to check your roughage at regular intervals. Only when you know what the contents are, are you able to tune your hard feed in relation to your roughage. That way you can compose a balanced diet for your horse.