A study carried out at Writtle College to examine the horse’s preference for different types of fibre and the length of time taken to consume them has produced some fascinating results.
Student Jessica Hunt and her tutor, Rosa Verwijs, conducted the study to determine how long it took horses to eat a range of fibre - hay, chopped fibre feed and cubes – and whether any preference was demonstrated.
Horses of different types, aged between two and five, were fed 500g of hay, chaff and fibre cubes, each on a daily basis, consecutively, over a 15 day period and the time taken to eat it was recorded. The second part of the study saw the horses given all three forms of fibre at the same time, with preferences carefully noted.
Not surprisingly, hay took the longest to eat – about 20 minutes, on average, for 500g – and fibre cubes took the least time to eat, with an average time of seven minutes. Chaff had a mean intake time of eight-and-a-half minutes. This means that, for the same weight of fibre feed, the chaff takes 20 per cent longer to eat than fibre cubes.
The preference test was carried out twice, with five out of seven horses choosing fibre cubes and two selecting chaff in the first part of the study. In the second part, six out of seven horses chose fibre cubes and one opted for chaff.
Jessica and Rosa concluded: “The study shows that, when supplementary feed is required to accompany long-length forages, chopped fibre provides greater chew time compared with pelleted forms of fibre. This is important to promote gut health and allow the horse to demonstrate a natural behaviour pattern when stabled.”
Katie Williams, senior product manager at Dengie Horse Feeds, based in Maldon, Essex, backs this up: "At Dengie, we are firm believers in a high-fibre diet. The horse is a herbivore and has evolved to spend long periods of time eating vegetation that has a relatively low nutritional value. If the balance changes with either a reduction in the time spent eating or feeds offered being high in nutritional value, problems can occur."