Hydroponic Fodder for Horses

Learn about the benefits and drawbacks of adding hydroponic fodder to a horse’s diet in this article from the Fall 2023 issue of The Horse.
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The benefits and drawbacks of this next-gen feeding option

hydroponic fodder system
Hydroponic fodder systems allow you to grow grain shoots in reusable plastic trays to boost your horse’s fresh forage intake.

Imagine having acres upon acres of lush pastures for your horses to graze. Access to abundant grazing is likely a luxury for many horse owners and a bucket-list dream (unless you’re managing a horse with metabolic issues).

Fresh pasture is the most nutritious diet for a horse, says equine nutritionist Juliet M. Getty, PhD, owner of Getty Equine Nutrition LLC, in Denton, Texas. Unfortunately, with rising land prices and development pressures in rural areas, it’s not a reality for many equestrians.

But there is an alternative to buying land to increase the amount of fresh forage in a horse’s diet. Seed shoots sprouted in ­water—no soil needed—inside a greenhouse or an artificially lighted system in an enclosed box can boost fresh forage intake.

Known as hydroponic fodder systems, these setups allow you to grow barley, wheat, oats, and sometimes corn in reusable plastic trays. It takes about a week to produce 4 to 8 inches of green shoot growth. You can feed the entire plant or mat, including the leaves, roots, and any seeds that did not sprout, to your horse.

Research on these systems remains limited, with the most recent study, “The Effects of Hydroponic Wheat Fodder on Fecal Metabolites in Equines,” published in 2018. So, we asked three equine nutritionists to share their perspectives on the benefits and drawbacks of adding hydroponic fodder to a horse’s diet.

Nutrient Availability

Hydroponically grown fodder is not a new feeding option, but it is one that has recently sparked increased interest among horse owners. As with any feeding program, it’s important to understand the nutrients it provides—and doesn’t provide—and the implications for each horse.

“Fresh pasture grasses are highly nutritious, providing vitamins such as vitamins E, C, D, and beta carotene, which is used for producing vitamin A, as well as essential fatty acids omega-3s and -6s in their right proportion,” says Getty. “Once grasses are cut and dried to make hay, they lose these valuable nutrients. But fodder is just as plentiful as feeding a healthy pasture without needing all the acreage.”

“Once you dry forage, you also increase the nondigestible fibers,” says Kathleen Crandell, PhD, a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research. “I like that fodder is so full of water. It helps sneak water into the horse, and that helps the digestive tract function better, so they have a healthy gut microbiome

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We at The Horse work to provide you with the latest and most reliable news and information on equine health, care, management, and welfare through our magazine and TheHorse.com. Our explanatory journalism provides an understandable resource on important and sometimes complex health issues. Your subscription will help The Horse continue to offer this vital resource to horse owners of all breeds, disciplines, and experience levels.

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Written by:

Katie Navarra has worked as a freelance writer since 2001. A lifelong horse lover, she owns and enjoys competing a dun Quarter Horse mare.

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