Fibre/Roughage

The majority of the feeds in the REVERDY range are complementary to forage. They are mixtures of raw ingredients, vitamins and minerals of which the first objective is to provide the essential nutriments lacking in forage and so meet the individual nutritional requirements for different types of production (muscular efforts, growth, lactation etc.). Consequently, the aim of these feeds is not to supply fibres, which are already present in forage. This chapter on fibres is therefore dedicated to the different types of forage available (grass, hay etc.) rather than the range of REVERDY feeds.

Introduction

Horses have evolved over millions of years on vast grassy plains

Their digestive system has evolved by being in contact with this environment. A microbial flora has been progressively developed, which permits them to live on a high fibre diet.

Over time horses have developed the ability to digest high levels of forage to cover their nutritional needs.

Nowadays the feeding of high levels of cereals and complements with the aim of optimising growth and performance has led us to forget the importance of forage in the horses’ diet.

Differents types of fibre

Plant walls are constructed from fibre resistant to the digestive enzymes produced by the horse. We can distinguish two types:

  • Insoluble fibre: cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, found in REVERDY feeds in the form of Lucerne (alfalfa), oats, etc;
  • Soluble fibres: pectins, mucilages, gums etc. found in REVERDY feeds in the form of extruded linseed grain, dried chicory pulp (pectins) etc.
Structure and composition of a plant wall

« Crude cellulose »

A parameter expressed in % that characterises the “wall” value of feed or forage. It is determined using an analytical method over a hundred years old called the WEENDE method, which is now inadequate This method dissolves a part of the fibre therefore underestimating the level of vegetable wall present which in reality is 2 to 4 times greater (source: INRA 2004). Furthermore it does not distinguish between different types of fibre.

Result: it interprets the notion of insoluble fibre and neglects more or less totally the notion of soluble fibre.

Forage

The majority of plants included within the bounds of forage fed to horses fall in one of two categories:

  • Grass (rye grass, timothy, meadow fescue etc.) of which the leaves are rich in fibre,
  • Legume (Lucerne, clover, etc.): The stem of which is ligneous and resembles a tree trunk.

Attention: At equal development stages, legumes have higher levels of protein, energy and calcium than grass. Thus the amount provided must be rationed.

Interest

Mental Well-Being

The horse is a nervous animal that psychologically needs to feel satisfied. So feeding is an occupational and tranquilising factor.

A stabled horse can suffer from boredom for a good part of the day. This is a major cause of psychological disorders and trouble in feeding behaviour.

Feeding forage is a very good way of combatting boredom especially when placed in a net. Haynets make the horse consume the hay more slowly, which prolongs the digestion time and as a result keeps the horse occupied.

Bulk

Inversely proportional to the digestibility (or the ferment ability) of fibres.

Undigestible fibres increase the volume of digestive contents and thus stimulate the intestinal peristalsis (motility) and limit the risk of displacement or even twisting of the numerous intestinal loops.

It is therefore a primaryl factor in digestive hygiene assuring the prevention of digestive disorders.

The buffer effect of forage: a key element in the prevention of gastric ulcers

Acid is continually secreted in the stomach of horses regardless of whether they are being fed or not.

The high intrinsic buffer ability of forage associated with the considerable production of saliva that their ingestion provides, neutralises the acid.

Grass or hay produces twice as much saliva than a feed of cereals (Source: Meyer et al., 1985).

« Feed a horse - Feed his flora »

The horse is a non-ruminant herbivore or fermenter in the large intestine.

The large intestine has a capacity of about 125 litres and shelters millions of bacteria and protozoa producing enzymes which contribute to the digestion (fermentation) of fibres. These microbes are absolutely indispensable to the horse as he cannot produce these enzymes without them. As a result , the digestion of fibre by the horse is indispensable to the hind gut micro-organisms.

Furthermore providing fibre allows the maintenance of a beneficial bacterial population which prevents the proliferation of other bacteria which is potentially dangerous to the horse.

Result: forage feeds the digestive flora which has a benrfial result on the overall health of the horse.

Provision of Energy

The nutritive value of forage is determined by:

  • its’ fibre content,
  • the digestibility of the fibre.

The horse is able to digest practically all of the cell content of forage while bacterial fermentation can only digest 50% or less of the cell walls.

Forage is often a neglected source of energy in horse nutrition, Yet from the point of view of energy 2kg of good hay = about 1 kg of barley. This is possible because remember that the microbial flora in the hind gut is capable of producing volatile fatty acids by fermenting large quantities of fibre. These are able to be used as energy sources throughout the day as fermenting reactions continue a considerable time after the digestion of a feed.

Grass is not the panacea (Source Wolter, 1999)

Quantitive aspect

Grass production is very unequal and adjusts badly to the requirements of the horse.

In spring it is too abundant, even for mares with foals at foot. In summer it is insufficient, and risks accelerating the drop in milk production in mares which can cause a shortage of nourishment for young foals.

Qualitive aspect

It constantly evolves and passes by a transient optimum.

Young spring grass can be a problem at several levels:

  • the very high water content fills the stomach and leads to the horse feeling « full up ». This limits the total consumption of dry matter, which increases the risk of the horse appearing to be underfed.
  • the excess of non-complex nitrogen (non-protein) associated with mineral inbalances (excess potassium, deficiencies in magnesium and sodium) and an absence of a fibrous (cellulose) structure reduces mastication and can lead to diarrhoea at turn out. This is the origin of high sodium and trace element (notably copper) faecal losses,
  • richness in fructose, complex sugars made from units of fructose that are not digested in the small intestine (absence of suitable enzymes) but fermented in the large intestine. They lead to the production of large quantities of volatile fatty acids and lactic acid. The consequences are the same as those associated with an excess of undigested starch arriving in the large intestine (diarrhoea, weight loss, laminitis, etc.).

Consequences

It is not surprising that in regions where young grass generously unites these elements (for example the Pays d’Auge valley (Normandy, France) that horses lose condition when first turned out.

It is therefore strongly recommended to continue to provide ad-lib hay (or straw) at the beginning of spring even if the grass is lush. This practice will cover the horse’s requirement of fibre without overloading elsewhere in nitrogen, fructose or potassium for example.

Alternatively very mature grass is rich in insoluble fibres, so less digestible, whilst also being largely impoverished in protein, phosphorus, trace elements, carotene etc.

At the most desirable stage of grass growth (full maturuty) the composition of the grass is tributary to its botanical nature, the climate, and the quality of the soil. But systematically it appears deficient in at least sodium, zinc, copper, if not in iodine and selenium. Thus frequent alterations in the fertility of mares; the growth of youngsters etc. are not surprising.

Supply recommendations

As we have explained, fermentation takes place in the large intestine of the horse. Therefore any feeding programme that neglects fibre will carry undesirable consequences.

Furthermore those receiving rations deficient in fibre may possibly become crib biters.

Theoretical recommendations

Normally, fibre requirements are expressed in Crude fibre. Daily requirements are estimated at 15 – 18 % of the total ration (concentrates +forage).

Practical recommendations

Ideally, for stabled horses forage must be distributed ad-lib in the form of hay. If this is not possible we suggest the following:

Use clean dust and mould free straw as bedding. This practice allows the avoidance of fibre deficiency with the consequences that this can cause. NB: Apart from a few cases of horses suffering from chronic digestive disorders (adhesions, perturbed microbial flora with aerophagia, ballooning, etc.), straw is readily accepted by horses if they have it constantly. Otherwise if they only receive straw periodically they can go at it with voracity and get colic, caused by an impaction of straw in one of the loops of the colon.

Add hay following the indicated quantities.

QUANTITY OF HAY (in kg/100 kg liveweight/day). Source Wolter (1999) and Pagan (1998)
Maintenance1 to 2
Gestation1 to 2
Lactation (beginning)1 to 2.5
Lactation (later)1 to 2
Weaned foal (6-12 months old)1 to 2.5
Yearling (12-24 month old)1 to 2.5
Work1 à 2

The use of fibrous by-products from grain (pods, shells, husks, etc.)

Fibrous by-products increase the crude fibre content of feed, but their use in feeds complementary to forage is not coherent because forage is already rich in fibre.

Furthermore their fibre content diminishes the overall digestibility of the ration thus reducing the nutritive value of the feed.

Finally their incorporation dilutes the important nutriments of the feed. Certainly it decreases the price per kilo of the feed but nevertheless it is necessary to feed more.

Result: It is therefore important to look at the daily cost of the ration, and not the price of the feed per bag!

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