Can Fodder be Included in a Horse’s Feeding Program?
Q. I would like to learn more about barley fodder, which in essence is the same as barley sprouts for human consumption. No soil involved—just trays, seeds, and water—and seven days later you have feed. All the sites that advertise ready-made setups to grow your own fodder for your animals don’t really talk about the sugar contents; they only say it is good for your animals, cuts your feed bill by one-third to one-half, and increases nutrition for your horses. I have geriatric ponies, and I am concerned about laminitis. What can you tell us horse owners about this grow-your-own fodder for horses?

Donna Scarpa, via e-mail

A. Feeding fodder to horses and other livestock classes is not a new idea but one that has gained interest recently. Fodder is commonly comprised of cereal grains that are grown hydroponically (in nutrient solutions rather than soil), and when the plant sprouts the forage material is harvested and fed to the animal(s). It takes seven to 10 days for the material to grow, depending on the system and the plant material used. As mentioned, cereal grains such as barley or oats are most commonly used, but in some cases legumes such as alfalfa or clover may be grown.

The fodder produced has a high average moisture content of 90%. This is somewhat like lush spring grass. This moisture content can affect a horse’s nutrient intake due to significant water consumption while eating the fodder. While water intake is a good thing, it does limit the intake of other nutrients. For example, if a horse ate 10 pounds of fodder he would really be consuming 1 pound of dry matter and 9 pounds of water. The nutrients in that 1 pound of dry matter will vary depending on the crop. In the analysis reports I have seen, the crude protein generally ranges from 18-28% for cereal grains and more than 30% for legumes such as alfalfa. The other nutrient values and sugar levels (an overabundance of which can lead to laminitis) are similar to those of other forages.

How fodder can fit into a feeding program depends on the individual horse’s nutrient needs, the other feeds available to him, and the fodder’s nutrient content. If considering feeding fodder to older ponies, you need to consider that these ponies have lower nutrient needs and factor your concern about founder into your feeding decision. This feed might not be the best choice for this group of horses.

As for the cost of the feed, you need to consider the expense of the grow unit, any added utility costs, and the labor required to grow and harvest the feed in a timely manner. Include your horse’s needs and the costs to supply the feed into your decision of whether or not to incorporate fodder into your feeding program.