If you think about the digestive process, digestion begins with chewing and the essential production of saliva.
Your horse feels with her whiskers; grasps, bites, chews and passes a moist bolus of food down the oesophagus. Slowly. If not, choke may occur.
In a horse, it can only go one way as there is a flap preventing food coming back up and so off to the stomach it goes! In the stomach the food is held for around 30 minutes. Horses produce more saliva when their head is low, and it is absolutely the best position for their neck and back, leading to more correct muscle development (as opposed to that which is created by pulling hay from a net). They also breathe less dust and mould into their lungs. With the challenges posed by the drought, the feeding of hay will prevent the build-up of sand, but try not to feed on sandy/dusty areas.
Feed off the ground and always have water available.
The stomach is made up of two parts; but for simplicity’s sake, all we need to know is that the PH level and its contents are crucial in order to avoid digestive upset or ulcers. The stomach is happiest with some food in it, but definitely no more than two/thirds full, which most people don’t realize. Ideally the majority of the food should be fibre, because if not it’s possible for food to pass into the small intestine before the enzymes have finished their work. This can lead to toxins passing into the blood stream.
Feed small feeds often, ideally consisting of 70% fibre or more.
Digestion continues in the 70ft long small intestine, but we want it S.L.O.W. else we run the risk of starch being passed to the hindgut which can cause digestion of sugar issues associated with laminitic horses, and can possibly cause colic.
Adding 50-100 mls of oil to every feed can improve digestion of essential nutrients and overall health. Feed only small quantities of grain.
All the good guys live in the hindgut – the happy little microbes that digest fibre, Amino Acids (protein) produce B-Vitamins and keep your horse happy and well. And, oh how horses need them! The feeding of oil has been shown to slow down the process of digestion and therefore increase absorption of essential nutrients and fat-soluble vitamins. Oats are easily digested, but grains benefit from cooking or micronising to aid absorption. Happy gut, happy horse.
In these challenging times of drought, if you can get hold of a round bale you will be doing the best thing possible for your horse. You can then just offer a small feed to carry your supplements and salt. The hay needn’t be the best, but make sure it’s mould free. A toxin binder can help if you’re concerned about the quality of the hay.
If your horse requires stabling, try one of the slow feeders on the market that mimic natural grazing, or spread hay rations throughout the night. It takes dedication to look after your horse’s gut. Using feeds like hemp, apple cider vinegar, acid buffers, kelp and probiotics will nourish the gut and promote good bacteria. Limit starch high feeds, feed B-Vitamins at times of illness, old age and stress and allow free access to hay/ grass particular to your horses’ needs, and your horse will be as healthy as possible, no matter the weather conditions.
Dawn Blackwell BHS II, Distributor Spectrum Animal Health. You can contact Dawn on 0411 819 968.