feeding and care of horses

Roughage for horses

The ration for a horse consists for 70% to 100% of roughage: grass, hay, haylage, Lucerne or beet pulp. Roughage is, therefore, the most important part of a horse’s daily ration and makes sure that your horse stays healthy. You will find all sorts of information, tips and advices around the topic of roughage for horses on this website.

Watch these videos for tips and advice on roughage


What is the difference between hay and haylage?

The biggest difference between hay and haylage is caused by the duration of the drying on the field and whether or not it is being packed in foil. Often people think that hay has a higher portion of fibres and sugar and that haylage has a lower portion of fibres and sugar. Out of thousands of roughage analysis it has showed that there is hardly any difference between the two.

The age and the timing of the grass when it’s mowed is for hay and haylage both important for the nutritional values. There is often spoken about an ‘early’ and a ‘late’ cut.  When having a late cut, most of the sugar is already used up by the grass itself to grow. Horses that are sensitive to sugar are advised to get fed by late cut hay that is mowed in the morning.

Why is roughage so important for horses?

Chewing: a horse can only produce saliva when chewing. The fibres in hay make sure that a horse has to chew much longer than they chew on concentrated feed.

Saliva: not only does saliva play an important role as lubricant for feed, it also neutralizes the stomach acid. This prevents stomach problems, such as gastric ulcers.

Intestines: besides stimulating the chewing, the fibres also feed the bacteria inside the intestines and the gut. This is called fermentation and ensures a balanced intestinal flora.

Condition: especially for horses, who have problems with keeping their physical condition it is often more effective to give them additional roughage, instead of additional concentrated feed.

What is the difference between roughage and concentrated feed?

Horses are made to eat tiny bits the entire day. Roughage is the basis: every horse mostly eats roughage during the day for example grass, hay and haylage. Apart from hay, you may also feed concentrates, if you want to give your horse additional energy or proteins. When you horse has an intensive training schedule, it is not able to receive enough nutrients from only roughage. Concentrates is available as muesli and as pellets. Not every horse has the need of concentrates, however, you may never refrain your horse from roughage!

If you don’t feed much concentrates or very few concentrates, your horse will not receive its vitamins and minerals that it needs. If that occurs it is a good idea to give your horse a balancer, such as Pavo Vital. Your horse receives all its vitamins and minerals it needs within 100 grams of Pavo Vital, without receiving extra energy. Therefore, your horse won’t gain weight or will become hot.


How much roughage does a horse eat per day?

If you are talking about roughage for your horse, you will come across the words ‘dry matter’. Dry matter is the roughage that is left over, when the moisture is pulled out of the roughage. With the dry matter, we will calculate. The calculation goes as followed: a horse needs about 1,5% of its body weight of dry matter from roughage. The dry matter also varies between the kinds of roughage.

Average dry matter contents:

  • Grass: 20% to 25%
  • Haylage: 60% to 70%
  • Hay: 80% to 90%

Calculate in 5 steps how much roughage your horse needs

  • determine they dry matter in your roughage. Take the average content
    Example: 88% dry matter out of hay
  • determine the daily dry matter per day for your horse (+/- 1,5% of the body weight)
    Example: 9 kg for 600 kg body weight
  • multiply the advised daily dry matter per day with 100
    Example: 9 kg x 100 kg = 900 kg
  • divide this sum with the dry content percentage of your roughage
    Example: 900 kg : 88 = 10,2 kg
  • the solution is the minimal weight in kilograms roughage that your horse needs
    Example: 10,2 kg hay per day

How can you asses your hay quality?

Maybe you have asked yourself this question before: does my hay have a good or bad quality? You yourself can already judge a bit with help of your own senses (smell, colour and composition), whether or not you hay is good. However, this does not tell everything about the nutrients included in your hay. You cannot judge from the outside how much sugar your hay contains. If you really want to know what is contained in you hay, you should make a roughage analysis. When evaluating your hay, you should always watch out for mould, toxic plants, weeds and garbage.

Roughage replacements for horses

If your horse does not receive enough roughage, because it has troubles chewing, you don’t have the possibility to feed roughage yourself or you have a bad roughage quality, there is always an option to feed roughage replacements!

Do the decision tree

And find suitable roughage products

What is your roughage situation?

Step 1: click on your roughage situation

Feeding advice

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