Feeding value of pastures for horses

Feeding value of pastures for horses
Peer reviewed

Abstract

The feeding value of fresh pasture grazed in situ is determined by animal performance or productivity and could be relatively easily established for growing and lactating horses. Despite this, there is a lack of published information on the relative feeding value of different pastures and forages grazed by horses in New Zealand and the world. In addition, for adult breeding or non-breeding and young or adult sport or performance horses, the definition of feeding value and its determination remain problematic.
Limited information suggests that the feeding value of perennial ryegrass-based pasture in New Zealand for young growing horses is high, and growth rates for Thoroughbred horses fed solely on pasture in New Zealand are similar to those reported from the Northern Hemisphere where grain-based supplements are fed in addition to pasture or other forages. Attempts to assess the ability of fresh pastures to meet the nutrient requirements of horses are hampered by problems associated with determination of feed intake by grazing horses and lack of knowledge of the digestibility and utilisation of digested nutrients, including the relative bioavailability of macro- and micro-minerals in pasture. A further challenge for future research is to determine the effect of herbage allowance and grazing behaviour, including pasture species preferences, on voluntary feed intake by grazing horses.
Grazing pasture has benefits for equine health and well-being including reduced risk of some nutrition-related disorders and reduced prevalence of stereotypic behaviour. Pastured horses have greater freedom for expression of natural behaviours including social interaction and exercise. However, grazing pasture is also associated with animal health problems, particularly parasitism and diseases related to pasture-associated toxins.
KEY WORDS: Equine, horse, pasture, feeding value, growth, health, minerals, protein, energy, mineral

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