Do Hay Pellets Alone Provide Horses Enough Fiber?

Our nutritionist looks at whether all-pellet diets are good for horses.
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Do Hay Pellets Alone Provide Horses Enough Fiber?
Fiber is a measure of these specific carbohydrate fractions that exist in pellets as they do in long stem hay. So yes, it is possible to meet a horse’s need for fiber feeding hay pellets. | Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Q.  I am considering moving my horse to a new barn for the winter because it has a covered arena. However, the barn managers feed hay pellets instead of long-stem hay, and I’m worried my horse will not get enough fiber. Can hay pellets provide enough fiber?

A. Fiber is a vital component of the forages we feed to horses and is necessary for maintaining a healthy hindgut bacterial population. Often considered “filler” thanks to the way fiber is often portrayed in human nutrition, in the horse fiber  is vital for digestive tract health because it’s a necessary source of nutrients for the hindgut bacterial population.

If you search for the definition of fiber, you’ll find that it is a term used to describe a collection of carbohydrates such as cellulose, pectin, and lignin, which are resistant to enzymatic digestion in the small intestine. Because humans don’t have an extensive population of fiber-utilizing bacteria in our large colons, these carbohydrate fractions aren’t as well digested in our digestive tracts as they are in horses’ gastrointestinal tracts—hence the commonly held belief that fiber is just filler. Even in human nutrition we’re learning about fiber’s role in our large colons, its impact on the bacteria that live there, and the far reaching health consequences it might have

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Written by:

Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Clarity Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

3 Responses

  1. COMMENTHi,
    Have you thought of putting long stemmed hay through a garden shredder.
    It is like chaff.
    Just Google Garden Shredder.

  2. Interesting article. In Ohio My issue is a little different. I have one horse that is 24+ years old. She eats grass and her senior grain well but cannot effectively chew long stem hay. I am looking at alternatives for the winter. Her partner has no trouble with hay. He would however “help” her eat anything I set out for her. Knowing that foraging is a major part of a horse’s life I wonder what to do when the snow is on the ground and she cannot get to any field grass. I am currently looking at a couple of alternatives. I have feed alapha cubes(wet). Looking at two different types of hay extenders (packaged) they are in the neighborhood of $25.00 per 50# bag. Ouch ! Any suggestions. My farrier suggested running hay threw a chipper to create shorter pieces. At a loss here any suggestions?

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