Forage; what’s the Alternative?

Horse eating HayArticle last updated: 19th December 2023

Forage Replacers

Not all feeds can be used to replace forage. To fit the bill as an alternative to forage the product must be fibre based with a similar nutritional quality to hay and have low levels of starch. Ideally the product should also encourage plenty of chewing, unless the horse has dental issues in which case a soaked forage replacement is more suited. Soaked feeds are the best hay replacer for veteran horses with bad teeth.

If you know forage supply may be an issue then starting by ‘extending’ your forage ration can be a useful way of managing costs and making a gradual transition before a total forage replacement is required. Many of the Dengie horse feeds can in essence be used as partial forage replacers as even Alfa-A Original can be fed up to 3kg daily for a large horse meaning you can reduce your forage by 3kgs per day. This can be particularly useful if forage quality is poor as Alfa-A is much more nutritious than grass forages and contains sufficient energy to reduce reliance on concentrate feeds too.

If you need to completely replace your forage ration then check whether a feed can partially or totally replace the forage ration. In the Dengie range of fibre feeds those that are suitable as complete forage replacers contain a larger proportion of fibre sources other than alfalfa. Hi-Fi Senior for example contains approximately two thirds high temperature dried grasses and one third alfalfa.

Dengie Forage Replacers

Product Energy MJ/kg Digestible EnergySugar %Starch %Max amount per 100kg bodyweightSoaked Feed?Molasses Free?
Meadow Lite with Herbs530.5Ad-libYes
Hi-Fi Lite7.571.5Ad-libNo
Hi-Fi Molasses Free8.52.51.5Up to 1kg*Yes
Hi-Fi Senior8.5101.6Ad-libNo
Grass Pellets10122Ad-libYesYes
Pure Grass10122Ad-libYes
Alfa-Beet10.552Up to 1kg*YesYes
Meadow Grass with Herbs11.5122Up to 1kg*Yes
Performance Fibre12121.5Up to 1kg*No

*for specific guidance contact the Feedline

dengie forage replacers

How Much Forage Should a Horse Have?

When it comes to feeding forage replacer, horses and ponies should have at minimum 1.5% of their bodyweight on a dry matter basis daily. For a 600kg horse this equates to 9kg of dry matter in a 24 hour period. If your horse is out on reasonably good grass then this will account for part of this daily intake. It is practically impossible to know how much a horse consumes when out at grass and so at best we have to use a rough estimate based on time. For example, assuming the above horse was stabled for 12 hours then we would use at minimum half of the recommended amount. If the horse is not overweight and doesn’t put on weight easily then ideally all forage and forage replacers should be fed ad-lib.

How to Feed a Forage Replacer

One of the first concerns many horse owners have about feeding forage replacers is meal size. It is appropriate to leave large meals of fibre based feeds for your horse to eat just as you would a net of forage. It is only concentrate feeds that provide larger amounts of starch from cereal grains that need to be fed in restricted amounts. Ideally introduce all new feeds and forages into the ration gradually by slowly increasing the amount fed over the period of a couple of weeks.

Forage replacers can’t be fed in a net, but instead should be offered in several rubber trug buckets in the field or stable to encourage foraging activity. Try to increase eating time by dividing the forage replacer up into smaller meals where practical. Intake can also be slowed by the use of very large smooth pebbles, which are too big to be consumed and won’t cause harm, that have to be manipulated out of the way for the horse to eat. Soaked feeds should be made morning for night and vice versa to keep them fresh and any hay replacer not consumed within the day should be discarded.

Forage replacers for those with poor dentition

It is not just a problem for older horses and ponies as diastemas, the abnormal gaps between teeth, are increasingly being diagnosed in horses of any age. If the horse can still manage a short chop then one that can be used as a complete forage replacer is a good starting point. Examples include Dengie Pure Grass or Hi-Fi Senior which can be fed to horses of any age and combines grass and alfalfa. They should be fed on a weight for weight basis to replace hay. If the horse can no longer manage any chopped fibre then Dengie Grass Pellets can be soaked and fed as a mash alongside other soaked feeds such as Dengie Alfa-Beet.

Eating bucket

Alternatives when there is a lack of forage

The British weather is increasingly unpredictable. Over recent years there have been frequent occasions when forage is in short supply and subsequent price rises. A forage replacer can help to make the usual hay ration last longer. Using a couple of kgs of a chopped fibre feed everyday to make up the horse’s total forage requirement means you don’t have to make a sudden or complete change to your horse’s diet when you run out of forage completely and is often easier to manage financially. If the hay replacer is higher in energy it may mean you can reduce the rest of the bucket ration and just use a balancer or supplement alongside the forage which will help to make things more cost effective too.

When your horse’s forage is just too good

Sometimes the forage provided as part of your livery package or what you’ve made yourself, is just too good for your horse or pony which is often the case with a good doer. Using a low calorie chopped fibre feed can help to reduce the overall calories provided by the forage. Dengie Hi-Fi Lite or Meadow Lite with Herbs are ideal as a low-calorie hay replacers as they doesn’t contain any pellets and so there are more chews in every scoop!

Hi-Fi Lite fed as a forage replacer

When your horse’s forage is not good enough!

At the other end of the spectrum, late cut forages are likely to be less nutritious and for horses with increased nutritional requirements such as young, old and those in work, it may well not be enough. Using a higher calorie chopped fibre feed is a relatively safe way to provide extra calories without having to use more cereal based feeds which is particularly useful for those prone to laminitis. Dengie Meadow Grass with Herbs & Oil or Alfa-A Molasses Free or Alfa-A Oil can be fed up to 3kgs per day as partial forage replacers.

Variety is the spice of life

Offering a bucket or two of chopped fibre alongside the usual forage ration is a great way to keep your horse interested and encourage foraging behaviour especially when stabled for longer periods in the winter months. This is beneficial for all horses and ponies but may be particularly useful for those with limited appetites or fussy feeders where offering a variety of fibre sources may help to increase the overall intake. You can hide some chopped apples and carrots in the bucket too for extra foraging!

Pony eating Hay Horse Food

Feeding Forage Replacers: What you need to know

  • Not all feeds can be used as a forage replacer for horses – they must be high fibre and low starch, as well as being nutritionally comparable to forage to be suitable
  • Feeding insufficient forage replacer, and therefore fibre, increases the risk of digestive issues including colic and loose droppings. Make sure you weigh a forage replacer to ensure you are feeding enough
  • A minimum of 1.5% of bodyweight on a dry matter basis should be provided daily when totally replacing the usual forage ration. For a 500kg horse this is 7.5kg dry matter and given that many forage replacers are around 90% dry matter this equates as 8.3kg of forage replacer as fed (7.5/0.9)
  • Forage replacers for horses can’t be fed in a net and instead should be fed in a large wide bottomed bucket. Putting a football or some large, smooth pebbles on top of the bucket can help to slow the rate of intake
  • Like all dietary changes a forage replacer should be introduced gradually into the ration over the period of at least a couple of weeks. Once a forage replacer has been gradually introduced it is appropriate to leave larger amounts, as you would a haynet.

For feeding advice contact the Dengie Feedline 01621 841188 or complete our feeding advice form.