< Prev Next >

Extending Winter Forage

By Dr Tom Shurlock, Nutritional Consultant at British Horse Feeds

This year’s weather has been extreme. A cold, snowy end to winter, a wet spring and drought conditions over the summer has left an indelible impact on our grass and grazing – an impact that is two-fold

• Firstly, yields are down. The season’s first cut occurred at the start of the hot weather, but a second cut has been restricted. In June some growth was down by 50% and, although the rain is back, second cuts are low. The grass currently, although looking lush, is likely to be of poorer quality – high moisture, some reports of high protein, low energy – as the rain is not coinciding with the growth period.

• This leads to the second impact. Quality of the hay or haylage from either cut may be compromised, and this gives the possibility of either unavailability or poor quality forage. Either way the overall cost of feeding over winter will rise. 
Despite this, the feeding of forage should still remain the basis of winter feeding. Replacing with a hard feed is not the best option as the cereal based energy does not support optimal hind gut fermentation that provides continuous energy and generates heat to help maintain core body temperature, especially in the cold weather. Ideally, we should supplement the forage – of whatever condition, with a fibre feed that provides the same nutrient base but improves on it. By effectively providing a super version of the grass/hay/haylage we can extend or replace winter forage, giving a cost-effective alternative to over paying for dwindling stocks.

Speedi-Beet and Fibre-Beet were both developed with the principal of reducing the reliance on hard feeds and to optimise the nutrition of a fibre feed. Beet products have been shown to have a prebiotic effect on fibre digestibility and so can help improve the microbial fermentation of fibre in the hind gut. Feeding Speedi-Beet with hay/haylage will actually improve the overall output in the hind gut, extending dietary energy and increasing fermentative heat. In some cases, it will also lessen the impact of too high a protein intake – a factor in hind gut dysfunction. By feeding Speedi-Beet alongside a low quality hay, as may be the case for this season’s second cut, the feeding value will be improved, and forage shortage avoided. For example, a 1kg meal of soaked Speedi-Beet, costing £0.12 pence per kg, could extend 5kg of hay to give a higher quality feed. Saving ½ kg of hay at £0.23p*.
This second illustration can also be applied to Fibre-Beet. Although Fibre-Beet can also be used to extend forage, it’s role as a conditioning feed makes it ideal as a forage replacer. As with Speedi-Beet it can be added to improve the overall nutrition of forage, but it can replace up to 60% forage on a regular basis – up to 100% over short periods – whilst being fed at a lower rate. For example, 1kg of soaked Fibre-Beet can replace 1kg hay, whilst maintaining condition. Fibre-Beet at £0.18p per kg, and hay at £0.46p per kg* this can be an efficient use of resources to help over winter on this year’s forage. Your saving on your winter feed bill could be considerable!

Using warm mashes to keep the horse hydrated, all adds to the benefit of feeding Speedi-Beet or Fibre-Beet, without adding to the cost.

As a general rule of thumb; Speedi-Beet will improve the nutrition and extend the use of poor quality forage, whilst Fibre-Beet is a cost-effective replacer, when stocks of forage are low. Although both products can mix and match according to the dietary regime, both are ideal forage boosters that reduce the reliance on hard feed – less suitable for winter – and help the budget in times of soaring costs.