Hay for horses: Should you feed hay first or grain first?

Hay for horses: You’ve probably been told that good horse care means always feeding hay before feeding grain. Usually, two reasons are given. The first is that it slows down digestion of the grain and reduces the chance of colic and founder. The second is that it reduces the chance that your horse will choke. But are these true?

Does feeding hay first really slow down digestion? No, this is false.

According to recent research, eating hay before grain does not slow the grain's passage through horse’s digestive tract. Instead, it flushes grain through faster. This is because horses tend to drink more water when eating hay than when eating grain. This means that the starch from the grain ends up in the hind gut faster, not slower. The only way to avoid this is to separate hay and grain feedings by several hours. This usually isn’t practical. The good news, though is that unless half your horse’s diet consists of grain (say, greater than 8 lbs daily), it doesn’t seem to make that much difference on the horse’s actual health.

Now the second reason for feeding hay for horses before grain: Reducing the chance of that your horse will choke. This is true.

Horses prefer grain to hay, so if given a choice, they will eat grain first. If they are very hungry (or just really like their grain), the chances of their bolting down the grain fast enough to choke is a genuine concern. Choke in horses is not the same as choke in humans. This is because the larynx (voice box) is much lower in the throat in humans. When food gets lodged there, it shuts off our air supply, putting us at risk of suffocation. When food gets lodged in a horse’s throat, it makes it difficult for them to swallow, but they can still breathe. The horse will drool excessively and struggle to swallow. If you suspect your horse is choking, call your veterinarian immediately.

So the bottom line is that feeding horses grain first may increase his risk of choke. By feeding him hay for horses first, he is more likely to feel less hungry and hence be less likely to bolt his grain.

For more information see http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/hrs3243 http://www.esc.rutgers.edu/ask_expert/ate_nuto.htm#hbg

Copyright Denise Cummins, PhD

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