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Late harvested forage takes longer time for horses to eat

Late harvested forage takes longer time for horses to eat

The later the maturity stage of a plant when it’s harvested the larger the fibre proportion in the forage. How well horses can digest forage depends on the forages cell wall content. The cell wall can be more or less lignified and the later the stage of maturity of a plant the more lignified are the cell walls and the digestibility decreases. When digestibility decreases the nutritive value of the forage also decreases.

A study with twelve adult warm-blooded horses have also shown that the later the maturity stage (later harvest) of the forage the longer it takes for the horse to consume it. The horses were fed a first harvest of grass haylage from the same ley harvested at three different occasions: June, July and August. All horses got time to adapt to the three forages before the eating times were measured.

The results showed that the horses ate the haylage harvested in June faster (29 min/kg dry matter (DM)) than the haylages harvested in July and August (37 and 36 min/kg DM). This is probably due to the higher fibre fractions in the later harvested haylages and eating time was also correlated to the different fibre fractions and highest correlated to the fibre fraction NDF.

In conclusion, a later harvested forage can prolong eating time as it takes longer time to consume every kg DM, but a later harvested forage also have lower nutritive value and can therefore be fed in larger amounts. This can help horses that easily put on weight and are less exercised. Here you can read more about the right forage to the right horse and that also conservation method can affect the horses eating time.

Sara Muhonen, AgrD

Müller C. 2011. Equine ingestion of haylage harvested at different plant maturity stages. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 134, 144-151.

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