Chopped Hay for Senior Horses

Do you have a senior horse (or two) in your herd? Ever have trouble getting them to eat hay, or to eat at all? Then this article is for you! There are many alternative types of “forage” that you can feed your senior horses, instead of feeding them dry hay. Let’s talk about chopped hay for senior horses.

Some of these include hay cubes, soaked hay cubes, grass, and chopped hay.  Chopped hay, in particular, is an ideal alternative for normal hay, if you have a senior horse that can still chew and digest it regularly.

In this article, I’ll be discussing the need for alternative forages and the ways in which chopped hay can help your senior horses’ diets!

Chopped Hay for Senior Horses: Forage Alternatives

Importance of Forage

All horses should have forage in their diets.  Forage even makes up the entirety of some horses’ diets! Forage is essentially any natural food source that a horse could find in the wild.  The most common sources of forage are hay and grass.

Forage has many health benefits for horses.  Unlike when horses chew their soft grain or oats, chewing forage is more physical work and causes horses to salivate.  This saliva then helps control gastric health and the overall health of a horse’s intestines.

Gastric health is important to a horse’s overall wellbeing, and it helps prevent things like colic, cribbing, and pain-induced behavioral outbursts. Please note though that lack of forage is not the only thing that causes gastric unwellness;  there are many things that can contribute to a horse’s gastric issues and the salivation that comes from eating forage simply something that helps encourage gastric health.

Forage Alternatives

So, as you can see, forage plays a very important role in a horse’s diet.  So what if your senior horse has trouble chewing his hay? Or isn’t interested in the grass anymore? Thankfully, there are several forage alternatives.

Many of these alternatives create a forage option that is softer for senior horses to chew.  Some can substitute a senior horse’s forage intake completely, others are intended to supplement a horse’s typical forage intake.

Some forage alternatives include hay cubes, hay pellets, beet pulp, soybean hulls, and chopped hay.

Chopped Hay for Senior Horses:  Other Alternatives

Hay Cubes

A popular forage alternative is hay cubes.  Hay cubes are essentially dehydrated hay that has been compacted into small rectangles.  These cubes are then soaked in warm water to create almost a “mash” of hay. Hay cubes can be a complete substitute for hay.

Hay Pellets

Hay Pellets are very similar to hay cubes.  They are also dehydrated hay, but they come in the form of pellets, not cubes.  Some believe that hay pellets take more of the nutrients out of the hay than hay cubes do, but it is all dependent on what brands of each you purchase.

chopped hay for senior horses Hay Pellets

Hay pellets can be used as a complete replacement for your horse’s forage intake, but it is probably the least popular alternative forage to do so.

Beet Pulp

The Practical Horseman describes Beet Pulp with the following words: “A great source of highly digestible fiber, it provides about 9 percent protein, similar to some grass hays. But it has a high calcium content (more than alfalfa) and few vitamins, and it won’t satisfy the urge to chew. It may need soaking before feeding to reduce dust and increase palatability.”

So, it’s a great alternative, but probably shouldn’t be used as a complete replacement for your horse’s normal forage intake. 

Soybean Hulls

Horses don’t need to eat the beans themselves, but horses can get fiber from eating soybean hulls.  Horses generally like soybean hulls, but they will definitely not be able to eat them as a full substitute for their normal forage intake.  Soybean hulls should be fed primarily as a snack or a supplement in comparison to their normal diet.

Chopped Hay

One of the most popular alternative forages is chopped hay.  Chopped hay can be a complete substitute for your horse’s forage intake, and it is as close to normal hay as you are going to get.  Chopped hay is exactly what you would think; hay chopped up into smaller bits and compressed into a bag.

chopped hay for senior horses Chopped Hay

Chopped Hay for Senior Horses: Benefits

Because it comes in much smaller pieces, a horse doesn’t need to put as much effort into chewing chopped hay.  But, eating chopped hay should still cause a horse to salivate enough for him to maintain his gastric health.

Chopped Hay for Senior Horses: Where To Find It

Chopped hay is pricey, but it’s not hard to find.  You can find chopped hay at your local feed stores, and at commercial farming supply stores like Tractor Supply Co. and Family Farm and Home.  

You can also purchase Chopped Hay from distributors online, and in doing so, have it shipped directly to your home or farm. Some people even try to make their own chopped hay from their normal hay bales, but this can be extremely time-consuming.  And, typically the hay from normal bales is going to be thicker and tougher than the hay that is used to make commercial chopped hay.

The best way to find chopped hay near you is to simply do an internet search.  Or, do some face-to-face research! If you live in a farm-country, there might be someone right down the road from you who makes their own.

Conclusion

Forage is an essential part of a horse’s diet, even for senior horses! So, what can be done when senior horses are no longer interested in the grass and have difficulties chewing hay? Thankfully, today there are many forage alternatives.

One of the best forage alternatives is chopped hay.  While still encouraging the horse to salivate to maintain gastric health, chopped hay is easy to chew, easy to swallow alternative to normal hay.  It’s easy to find, easy to eat, and can be a complete substitute for your horse’s forage intake.

I hope you enjoyed this article, and I hope it helped you learn more about chopped hay as a forage alternative.  If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences feeding chopped hay or other forage alternatives!

FAQs

Does chopped hay need to be soaked?

Hay does not need to be soaked. However, soaking chopped hay may provide senior horses with extra nutrition and hydration that they might need; this would depend on your horse's individual needs and preferences.
Hay is often soaked in the field before feeding because it will soften and expand in that way, becoming easier for horses to eat.
If you choose to soak hay, be aware that there are risks involved, including the risk of impaction colic if an excessive amount of water is consumed at once. It may also increase your horse's risk of developing botulism.

Are pellets better than hay for senior horses?

Pellets are often promoted as being "better than hay" for horses. There is no doubt that pellets are convenient, palatable and consistent in nutritional value, but there is no evidence to suggest they are advantageous over hay when it comes to senior horses.
Pellets can be quite high in starch which may cause problems with senior horses in the long run, including laminitis. Pellets are also often high in fat, which senior horses may find difficult to digest.
On the other hand, hay is nutritionally complete, meaning that it contains all the protein, vitamins and minerals senior horses need. Hay provides horses with long fiber, which helps keep their mouths healthy by removing plaque on the teeth as they eat. Another point worth considering is that hay is also more cost-effective than pellets.
However, the best senior horse feed combines hay and pellets together in order to get the most out of senior horses' eating ability.

What do you feed an old skinny horse?

Senior horses may tend to eat less and rest more due to their weakened state. As a result, they may not be getting the nutrition needed for good health and weight gain.
Weight gain can be achieved most effectively by feeding them senior feed, with extra protein, vitamins and minerals added in. Senior feeds are also higher in long fiber which is very beneficial for senior horses' teeth health.
It is important to ensure that senior horses always have fresh water available. Senior horses may not be able to drink as much as younger horses, so the best option is usually a water bag suspended above ground for easy access.
These measures can help your older horse put on weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

What is senior feed?

Senior feed is specially formulated horse feed to meet the needs of senior horses by providing additional calories and nutrients.
Senior horse feed serves as a primary source of nutrients, especially during times when their appetite may be decreased due to pain or other illnesses. They can also be used when horses are recovering from surgery.
Senior feed is typically high in fiber, protein and fat to promote good weight gain. Senior feeds may also contain vitamins and minerals like calcium and glucosamine that older horses might need during the ageing process.

How much hay does a senior horse need?

A senior horse only needs about 1-2 cups of chopped hay per day. This amount may vary depending on your senior horse's weight, health and temperament. Ask your veterinarian for advice if you are not sure how much is best to feed your senior horse.
It is important that senior horses always have access to hay or senior feed, as eating stimulates saliva production which can help combat dental problems caused by wearing down teeth.

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