The Benefits Of Alfalfa For Livestock Species

The benefits of alfalfa for livestock species

Alfalfa is a commonly used ingredient in feeds for a wide variety of species including livestock, horses and pets such as rabbits. Whilst Dengie specialise in equine nutrition, their alfalfa based feeds are widely used for other livestock species. Here they share some of the key benefits of using alfalfa for other animals.

Alfalfa for Chickens

There are various ways that alfalfa can be of benefit to chickens. Highly compressed bales are used in commercial situations for hens to peck at to help alleviate stress. Any alfalfa they consume provides fibre for digestive health as well as a source of bio-available minerals.

Alfalfa is also used as a natural colourant in feeds for chickens to help create darker orange yolks. In studies using a concentrated alfalfa extract fed to hens, there was found to be 7 times more carotene in the eggs compared to those not supplemented with the extract.

Age takes its toll on the health of the chicken’s digestive tract. Increasing amounts of damage and the effects of high starch diets reduce the size of the villi and so reduce absorption rates of minerals and other nutrients. The demand for volatile fatty acids for the repair of the intestinal wall increases leaving less available to repair other areas such as the liver cells. These factors adversely affect the production of eggs and egg shell formation. It is therefore advisable to ensure sufficient fibre is included in the chicken’s diet. Although the oil content of alfalfa is low, what it does contain is higher in omega 3 than omega 6 which is in direct contrast to cereals. Alfalfa is often included to help improve the overall omega 3 profile of layers feeds.

Alfalfa for Dairy Cows

A recently published study showed that even pasture fed cows are short of beta carotene at some points in the breeding cycle. Researchers measured vitamin E and beta-carotene status of dairy cows from Belgium, Germany, Iberia and The Netherlands. These countries were selected to reflect differences in climate, forage type and feeding systems. The Netherlands was chosen because of the proportion of grazing dairy farms with high milk yield. Germany was selected as total mixed rations are commonly used there and Iberia was chosen because of its hotter climate, different forage bases, and a blend of non-grazing and grazing systems

Of all sampled cows, 44% were deficient in beta-carotene, meaning that their blood concentration was below 3.5 mg/l; the minimum recommended. Beta-carotene acts as an antioxidant for oocyte cells, while vitamin A which is produced from beta carotene, influences follicle development. The study showed that the 4 weeks around calving seemed to be a critical period for dairy cows to maintain their beta-carotene blood levels to support their health.

Poor forages which are a particular issue in hotter, drier climates such as Spain, had much lower levels of beta carotene and that was reflected in the cow’s status too. This principle can be applied to poor quality forages in the UK generally but even more so if longer periods of drier weather are experienced in the summer months such as happened in 2018. Although the beta carotene content of forage varies greatly due to numerous factors, green leafy materials such as alfalfa contain a lot more beta-carotene than alternatives such as cereals. This study provides the rationale for the inclusion of alfalfa in the rations of dairy cows at key times for those kept at pasture but more routinely for those off grass or on predominantly cereal based rations.

 Alfalfa for Sheep

When sheep are kept on smallholdings they are usually produced extensively for slow-grown meat with better taste and nutrition or to produce wool. Breeders may also be preparing their stock for showing or to sell as breeding stock and so often have pedigree or rare breeds. With all of these scenarios, putting better quality feedstuffs in, means getting more out.

Alfalfa for meat quality

Studies have shown that animals reared on forages such as alfalfa have better fatty acid profiles in their meat. This is because cereals are higher in omega 6 whereas forages contain a higher ratio of omega 3. It should be noted that forages are not high in oil but what they do contain is better quality than in cereals. When we consume the meat from animals reared on forage-based systems, we are getting the benefits of more omega 3 in our diets.

Alfalfa for wool and hoof quality 

Tissues such as wool and hoof horn contain keratin which is made up of amino acids or protein. Alfalfa is abundant in amino acids and is also a great source of highly bioavailable minerals such as calcium and sulphur which are known to help create strong hoof tissue. Whilst finer wool is produced from sheep in nutritionally deprived areas, too little nutrition can cause serious health issues and so it is important to strike a balance. Feeding sufficient but not too much is key.

How to include alfalfa in the ration 

250 grams per head per day will help to provide quality protein and other essential nutrients and is a practical level to feed to most sheep. If it is used to replace some of the cereal based feeds it also helps to reduce the risk of acidosis. When forage quality is poor, pregnant ewes are at greater risk of twin lamb disease and so adding up to 0.5kg per head per day to the ration can be beneficial. When ewes are heavily pregnant they can start to eat less as the lambs take up more space. Making every mouthful count helps to ensure nutrient requirements are met and so using better quality forages such as alfalfa becomes even more important. Adding some alfalfa 2 to 3 weeks before birth is usually beneficial.

Alfalfa is abundant in calcium and ewe’s milk is higher in calcium than cow’s milk. Supplying calcium in the ration is important to ensure the ewe doesn’t deplete her own reserves in order to pass the calcium on in her milk. Adding 0.25 to 0.5kg per head per day to milking sheep is our recommendation.

Alfalfa for Goats

Using higher quality forages that can contribute towards the animals’s fibre requirement and provide energy, protein and micro nutrients at the same time means less reliance on cereals which can help to keep costs down. There are other benefits for the health of the digestive tract too as it creates a less acidic rumen helping to maintain an environment in which microorganisms can flourish. This faciliates efficient fibre digestion and an healthy immune process.

Alfalfa is naturally abundant in calcium at about 1.5% as fed. A number of factors can increase a goats calcium requirement including genetic selection for faster growth rates and higher milk production and rapidly growing pasture that results in diluted calcium levels in the grass. Using straight cereals that are energy dense but low in calcium can disrupt the calcium to phosphorous ratios in the total diet if additional calcium isn’t provided. The source of calcium is also important as inorganic mineral sources such as limestone are less bioavailable than plant sources.

A mature dairy doe of 50kgs bodyweight yielding up to 1.5kgs approx would require 6g of calcium per day and a crude protein of about 190g per day. 1kgs of Alfalfa would provide 15g calcium and 140g of protein.

Vitamin D is closely connected to calcium status in the goat as it facilitates calcium absorption across the intestine wall. Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is formed by ultraviolet irradiation of plant material or the animal’s skin. You may already be aware that barn kept animals require supplemental vitamin D but if alternative forages such as straw are making a greater contribution to the animal’s requirements for fibre, the vitamin D intake is likely to be lower as straw contains less vitamin D than alfalfa or grass forages. Just adding some alfalfa to the ration will increase vitamin D intake.

Alfalfa for the Alpaca

There are similarities between the digestive system of the alpaca and the ruminant including the ability to eructate and chew the cud. However, the alpaca stomach only has three compartments compared to four in ruminants, which means that alpacas are often classed as pseudo-ruminants.

The first two compartments are basically fermentation chambers where simple carbohydrates such as sugars and starch and more complex carbohydrates such as fibre are broken down by a microbial population to produce volatile fatty acids (VFAs) which can be used as an energy source by the host animal. In contrast to ruminants, the first compartment of the stomach is not lined with papillae but with gastric pits that produce digestive enzymes and buffers to aid microbial fermentation. The third compartment, also referred to as the true stomach, is where enzymes and acids are produced for digestion of feed.

Fibre is fermented relatively slowly with highly lignified (woody) feeds such as straw, taking several days to break down. In contrast, sugars and starch are fermented very rapidly resulting in a sudden increase in VFAs, which increases the acidity in the stomach. This is known as acidosis and can impair the efficiency of, or kill certain beneficial bacteria in the stomach. The effect of this on the alpaca can be very serious ranging from loss of appetite to diarrhoea and in severe cases death.

The nutrient requirements for camelids including alpacas are largely unknown as limited research has been conducted. Most estimates are based on extrapolations for the nutrient requirements of ruminants particularly goats and sheep. Alpacas weigh between 45kg-80kg and can consume between 1.8%-2% dry matter of their bodyweight daily. For an alpaca that weighs 63kg this would equate to between 1.13kg-1.26kg dry matter daily. Alpacas have evolved to eat a fibre-based diet and their digestive system is most efficient and healthy when their ration is based on fibre.

The most common feeding strategy for alpacas is grazing supplemented with additional hay and at times of higher energy demand such as the winter months, during pregnancy and lactation, additional cereal concentrate rations are provided. Although cereal concentrates provide the extra calories needed, they may cause problems within the digestive system including gastric ulcers, colic and acidosis. Alternatives to using cereals include alfalfa, a quality source of fibre that is very low in starch.

Alfalfa is a member of the legume family that also includes soya, peas and beans. Legumes are known for being a good source of quality protein and alfalfa is no exception. It is also rich in naturally occurring vitamins and minerals but contains very little starch so is useful for avoiding digestive problems.

Dengie is the largest producer of alfalfa-based feeds in the UK and although they are marketed primarily for horses, they can and are used for a wide range of other animals including camelids. The Alfa-A range is based on pure alfalfa with different coatings whereas the Hi-Fi range combines alfalfa with other fibre sources such as straw and grass.

Generally, the Hi-Fi range with its lower energy values, are ideal for alpacas that maintain their weight with ease. For alpacas with increased energy requirements such as those that are kept for breeding, Alfa-A Original or Alfa-A Lite may be more appropriate. Alfalfa Pellets are also suitable for alpacas and are particularly convenient for feeding outside.

dengie alfa a range

Dengie is the largest producer of alfalfa-based feeds in the UK and although they are marketed primarily for horses, they can and are used for a wide range of other animals including camelids. The Alfa-A range is based on pure alfalfa with different coatings whereas the Hi-Fi range combines alfalfa with other fibre sources such as straw and grass.

Generally, the Hi-Fi range with its lower energy values, are ideal for alpacas that maintain their weight with ease. For alpacas with increased energy requirements such as those that are kept for breeding, Alfa-A Original or Alfa-A Lite may be more appropriate. Alfalfa Pellets are also suitable for alpacas and are particularly convenient for feeding outside.

BETA Feed Fact Fortnight – ReadiGrass


The majority of any horse or pony’s diet should be fibre and the most natural way to provide it is with natural grazing -grass! Other fibre sources are long stem forages such as hay or haylage and short chopped forages such as dried grass, straw and alfalfa (chaff).

When grazing becomes sparse, horses are stabled for long periods, or are travelling and staying away at competitions it can be beneficial to replace the grazing (grass) proportion of their diet with dried grass such as ReadiGrass. Grown, harvested and dried in Yorkshire – absolutely nothing is added. Water is removed gently from the grass in a low temperature drying process retaining the natural flavours, wonderful smell, colour and high nutrient value of fresh grass.

ReadiGrass offers a natural source of nutrients and is rich in digestible fibre essential for healthy gut function. It is suitable for a variety of horses, from those at rest to those in hard work. It can be used as a natural alternative to chaff, a partial hay replacer, and as a treat. ReadiGrass is also ideal for older horses, or those with poor dentition who struggle to chew long stem fibres. With BETA NOPS accreditation ReadiGrass is safe for use during competitions and racing.

BETA Feed Fact Fortnight – HorseHage and Mollichaff

Horsehage & Mollichaff

How much Chaff should I be feeding?

This will depend on your chaff.  If your chaff does not contain any additional vitamin and minerals, we would recommend adding them to ensure a balanced diet.  This can be done in a variety of ways such as including a balancer or a broad spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement.  Some chaffs have vitamins and minerals already added and some can be fed as a complete feed if fed at recommended levels so check your chaff!

For more spring feeding advice head to:

To try a free sample from the Mollichaff range head to

How much haylage should I feed?

As an absolute minimum you should feed the same weight of haylage as you would hay although to ensure that your horse or pony is receiving enough fibre you should look to feed more haylage.  Make sure you are providing a haylage that is nutritionally suitable for your individual horse or pony.

For more spring feeding advice head to:

Let’s talk ingredients…

If your horse is prone to laminitis you should ideally look for products that are low in sugar and starch with a combined level of less than 10%.  There are many chaffs available that have been formulated for those prone to laminitis and some contain vitamin and minerals essential for combating deficiencies that may occur as a result of a restricted diet. It is also important to ensure that your haylage is suitable and has low levels of starch and sugar. Look to purchase your haylage from a company that undertakes regular testing.

For more feeding advice request a call back here:

To try a free sample from the Mollichaff range head to

Time4Turn-Out: How To Improve Your Paddock

how to prepare your paddock

Correctly managing paddocks can make a big difference to the amount of grazing/hay available for your horse, and also help withstand the pressures from the multiple demands that are made from it. Alongside low productivity, poorly managed fields can be the source of many internal parasites and poisonous plants.

At least 80% of a horse’s diet should be forage, so the quality and content is very important. By getting the right mix of grass, the goal for your horse is to gain the majority of nutritional requirements from grazing, which of course is the most healthy and natural. To ensure paddocks have sufficient grazing all year round, the grass needs to include species that will complement each other throughout the growing season.


Common in equine pastures due to the nature of the hoof conformation. Compaction leads to stressed plants as the roots cannot access nutrients, water or air, all necessary to grow, leading to bare patches. Aerate the soil by sub soiling or using a soil slitter, avoid overstocking (1.5 acre/horse) and include species with deep roots that will help keep the soil aerated.

Pick up droppings, rotate grazing where possible and don’t graze grass right down to the ground. Look for bare spots that may be starting to develop that will allow weeds to start growing, especially Ragwort and Buttercups that are poisonous. Either spray or dig weeds out before they go to seed.

Remove all dead thatch in the base of the sward with a chain-harrow.  Overseed any bare patches. Roll paddocks to consolidate poached areas and loose soil. Shut up any paddocks that will be used for making hay. In gateway areas that are badly damaged, consider putting wood chip or gravel down.  Before buying fertiliser use the results from your soil test to understand which nutrients your soil needs for optimal health.  Delay nitrogen application if overseeding or reseeding, this will encourage the existing sward to outcompete out new seeds.

Continue to remove any weeds. Top the grass to remove stalky, rough areas (Don’t top Ragwort or Foxglove as these are palatable to horses when dried but also poisonous).

Keep an eye on drainage, ensuring paddocks don’t start to get waterlogged Continue to control Ragwort.

Rotate the paddocks if possible to avoid damage by poaching, using the best drained fields.  Carry out soil testing in Feb-March or Sept-Dec if its over 5 years since the last test.

You need to renovate the paddock when you have 30-50% weed species in the field, by either overseeding or reseeding. Keep a check on the soil status by testing it on average every 5 years: Target pH 6-6.5, Phosphorus (P) 2, Potassium (K) 2


Overseeding can be a very useful, low cost way of improving existing pasture,
which may have become thin and tired with age or damaged through overgrazing. However its worth remembering the existing grasses have a very well developed root system which is in direct competition with new seedlings trying to get established, competing for light, moisture and nutrients.
Avoid long, dry spells, best done April – May, July- August when the soil is warm but not too dry.

  • Cut or graze the field before overseeding and chain harrow to remove any dead thatch in the bottom. Make sure it’s quite bare to allow good seed to soil contact.
  • Broadcast the new seeds and roll to lock in moisture.
  • Once the seeds start to germinate don’t graze the area for 5-6 weeks, then give it a light graze before taking the horses out again to allow the seedlings to tiller out.

Don’t apply fertiliser at sowing because the new plants have no roots and are unable to take up nutrients. All you do is favour the existing sward and provide more competition to the new plants.


Ensure a soil test has been carried out to check the pH and key nutrients levels.

  • Plough up the existing sward then work the soil into a finer tilth to create a fine, firm seedbed.
  • Broadcast or drill the seed no more than 1cm deep, then roll well to lock in moisture and create good seed to soil contact.
  • Don’t allow the horses in for at least 6 weeks for a light grazing, to avoid damaging the new plants.
How To Prepare Your Paddock
Perennial Ryegrass 70%
Strong Creeping Red Fescue 16%
Meadow Fescue 8%
Timothy 6%


Reseed 0.7 acres, Overseed 1 acre


Hardwearing mixture designed to withstand the pressures of equestrian use and provide good quality grazing.

Contains varieties that have been specifically selected for roughage and low fructan content

  • Produces a good, springy, dense turf
  • The low fructan content reduces the risk of laminitis
  • Strong grass plant rooting system, making the sward dense, hard-wearing and persistent
Tall Fescue 25%
Strong Creeping Red Fescue 25%
Meadow Fescue 20%
Timothy 15%
Smooth Stalked Meadow Grass 15%


Reseed 0.7 acres, Overseed 1 acre

Ryegrass-free grass seed mixture, the healthiest pasture for your horse

Formulated to recreate the nutritional characteristics of a natural habitat. The mixture is ryegrass free and uses species with a less aggressive growth habit to aid diversity.

  • Varieties in this mixture are likely to be lower in fructans than a ryegrass sward, reducing the risk of laminitis
  • Effective fibre in your horse grass
  • The optimum grass seed for your horse meadow

Please contact us on with any queries.
CLICK HERE to download the Grass & Forage Seed Brochure 2022

grass catalogue
time 4 turn out


With winter behind us, the promise of warmer weather and longer days makes spring an eagerly anticipated season for horse owners.

Plan ahead now to avoid spring challenges and spend more time enjoying your horse.

Read More

Feeding For Breeding

feeding & breeding

Horslyx provides all breeding stock, including broodmares, foals and stallions, with optimum levels of vitamins, minerals and trace elements to balance the deficiencies in forage and grazing, whilst also including biotin, chelated zinc and methionine to encourage healthy hoof growth for the years ahead.

Foals and youngstock need the correct levels of protein to build up muscle mass, ensure a healthy immune system and support their growth. Horslyx provides the correct ratio of calcium to phosphorus and contains amino acids – the building blocks of protein – in the form of prairie meal which when combined with the fat from the mare’s milk – or when they are older high quality forage – provides the perfect foundation for healthy development.

Modern day forage and grazing does not always contain the ideal levels of vitamins and minerals, so supplementing a high fibre diet with free access to Horslyx helps ensure optimum amounts of magnesium, zinc, copper, iodine, selenium and vitamin E are incorporated. Horslyx includes copper and zinc in a chelated form – as they would be found in nature – making them more efficiently digested and the nutrient rich lick is weatherproof enabling it to be used all year round at grass or in the stable.

Offering inquisitive youngsters a palatable, easy to digest product such as Horslyx will help promote the natural trickle feeding pattern – aiding in encouraging a healthy digestive system and keep them out of trouble for longer periods of time! The high oil content ensures a healthy, glossy coat leaving them blooming with condition and ready to face the challenges that lie ahead.

Horslyx XL (40kg) and Horslyx XL+ (80kg) are very cost effective due to the larger size and ideal for feeding to herds in the field.  Horslyx XL is available in Original, Garlic and Pro Digest while Horslyx XL+ is available in Original and Garlic. The Horslyx XL will last one 500kg horse a massive 160 days when fed at recommended levels of 250g per day.  All Horslyx products are weatherproof and the smaller 5kg and 15kg sizes are also available in Mint, Mobility and Respiratory.

If you’re wondering which one to choose, then Garlic is an ideal choice for Spring to help repel those pesky flies, Pro Digest is great to support optimum gut health which can help to support milk production in mares and Original is a cost-effective option to ensure that all mares and youngstock get their vitamins and minerals.

Horslyx Balancers are available in 650g, 5kg, 15kg, 40kg and 80kg sizes.  For more information please visit

proud to be stocking horslyx
horslyx feeding for breeding

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Laminaze For Seasonal Support


Spring is on its way and the warmer temperatures together with springtime showers means one thing – grass growth! Great news for some, but for at-risk equines it can set alarm bells ringing. Not just our natives, but good do-ers of all types may be prone to weight gain, and the associated risks.

What can owners do?

  • If restricting turnout, trying grazing at night and bringing in during the day, as horses naturally graze less at night. Alternatively, a grazing muzzle works well for some – though take care not to leave on continually
  • Monitor Body Condition Score once a week, and keep a diary. Unfortunately weight gain is often the trigger for further problems, and sadly excess weight is well-recognised in our horses and ponies. For guidance on how see
  • Keep up exercise as much as possible, to burn those calories and maintain healthy circulation. Try lunging, or ‘ride and lead’, if time is tight.
  • Feed NAF Five Star Laminaze daily to give a natural spring in their step. Laminaze provides targeted nutrition, including live probiotics and digestive clay for essential gut support, working in synergy natural herbal support, magnesium for glucose metabolism and bioavailable sulphur from MSM, so important for maintaining the di-sulphide links within the essential laminae.
  • Five Star Laminaze should be fed daily throughout the season to those known to be at-risk, as part of an overall health and fitness regime.
laminaze products

Healthy Gut, Healthy Horse!

pro digest

Some people worry about how their horse will cope with winter, whereas for others it’s a chance to get that summer weight off.  Whether looking to maintain or gain weight then it’s vital that the gut is in optimum health.  If their digestive system is struggling, their coat is unlikely to gleam, their hooves can be in poor condition and weight loss, loose droppings and problems as wide ranging as laminitis, gastric ulcers and even colic can become a concern. These issues can often raise their head as winter drags on and the fresh grass and spring sun seems a long way off.

The horse has evolved to trickle feed for 16 – 18 hours a day on a variety of forages to provide themselves with enough nutrients to survive.  Unfortunately, modern feeding practices are unlikely to follow this pattern and winter routines can make it even more difficult to achieve this.  More typically they provide large irregular meals, based on cereals with restricted access to forages, and in certain circumstances long periods of time with no forages available. This can result in problems directly affecting the digestive system such as colic, digestive upsets such as loose droppings and gastric ulcers, but can include laminitis and EMS, stress, poor performance and stereotypies.

To help improve the digestive health of our equines the most important element of their diet is forage.  Basing the diet on a minimum forage intake of 1.5% of bodyweight, provides the optimum amount of fibre.

In addition to providing enough forage, the diet should be balanced with vitamins, minerals and trace elements and ingredients to support optimum gut health. Key ingredients to look out for include Mucilage, Prebiotics and Probiotics which all help to support the digestive system, read on to find out more…

Mucilage, or soluble fibre

Can be particularly beneficial in a horse with inflamed mucous membranes and absorbs moisture within the stomach and can form a soothing layer, reducing the effect of excess acid on the stomach wall which may reduce the risk of gastric ulcers.  Slippery Elm and Seaweed Meal are two sources of mucilage to look out for.

A prebiotic yeast extract (containing MOS, Mannanoligosaccharides)

Will help to flush pathogens out of the gut and Beta-glucans will help to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria resulting in a healthier balance of bacteria in the gut.

Probiotics are live yeasts based on Saccharomyces cerevisiae which are functional in the hindgut. They pass through the stomach and small intestine and help to maintain healthy hindgut function and reduce the risk of digestive discomfort.  They cannot colonise the hindgut and so need to be fed daily for sustained benefits.

Horslyx Pro Digest Balancer has been formulated to support optimum digestive health from the stomach to the hindgut and includes these key ingredients of mucilage (slippery elm and seaweed meal), prebiotics and probiotics.

Pro Digest Balancer will also balance the nutrient deficiencies in forage and grazing with an optimum level of vitamins, minerals and trace elements plus the above key ingredients in a single tub. The spiced apple flavouring encourages even the fussiest of feeders and the action of licking enhances saliva production which helps buffer stomach acidity. With increased magnesium levels and a low starch content, Pro Digest Balancer is suitable for any equine, but is especially suited for those prone to digestive upsets.  In addition, the free access lick encourages a natural trickle feeding pattern that allows the horse to self-regulate and consume Horslyx as and when they need it leading to better digestion, less stress and a happier, healthier horse.

Pro Digest Balancer is available from selected Carr’s Billington Country Stores in 650g, 5kg, 15kg and 40kg sizes.  For further information visit

Obesity – What’s The Problem?

Obesity – What’s The Problem

Katie Williams M.Sc. (Dist) R Nutr, Technical & Product Development Manager

Whilst there is still much to be learnt about the relationship between obesity and disease risk, it is generally accepted that being overweight predisposes an animal to disease. In the case of the horse, laminitis is one of the most serious repercussions of obesity but it isn’t just horses where levels of obesity are high and appear to be rising. Studies investigating obesity in pets as well as humans are reporting worrying levels of obesity but what is behind this trend?

In the spring of 2021, Dengie carried out an on-line survey about weight management in horses and over 650 people responded. We asked horse owners to tell us how they would describe their horse’s bodyweight and 44% described their horse or pony as overweight which reflects levels found in other studies including the European College of Equine Internal Medicine consensus statement on EMS*. Studies show that owners tend to underestimate their horse’s condition, particularly when compared to a professional’s assessment ** and so we thought it would be interesting to know how confident horse owners felt about their ability to assess their horse’s body condition status.

Half of respondents said they were completely confident that they could tell if their horse was overweight and 46% described themselves as fairly confident. 2% said they weren’t very confident and one person was honest enough to say they had no idea. Obviously a survey doesn’t allow us to explore whether the relatively high levels of confidence were misplaced or not but if horse owners are able to tell if their horses are overweight, something else is contributing to the high levels of obesity.

We asked horse owners to share the issues and challenges they have trying to keep their horses at a healthy weight. Not being able to exercise either because of injury or old age was a significant problem for many. This is an area worthy of further investigation as even very light exercise such as walking in hand may have potential benefits for issues such as insulin dysregulation and that level of exercise may be possible with more horses than is currently thought.

The biggest issue reported though, was trying to feed enough to avoid ulcers without resulting in too much weight piling on. Understandably, horse owners are increasingly worried about ulcers and it is known that long periods with insufficient pasture or forage is a risk factor but how do we find the balance between providing enough but not too much?

Obesity Whats the Problem

Around 20% of horse owners mentioned that they can’t limit access to pasture and a third of respondents said they didn’t want to stable for longer. The use of muzzles was also not an option for about a third of horse owners too, either because they didn’t like the idea of using one or they felt it wasn’t safe to do so with their horse or pony. It is an interesting dilemma; as horse owners we want our horses to be out in the paddock because we feel it is where they should be and yet it can present a risk to our horse’s health. One respondent highlighted this with the comment “the grass is lethal at the moment” and many indicated they find owning a good doer particularly stressful. As a nation of animal lovers, we are rightly appalled when an animal is malnourished or starved but we generally don’t consider letting an animal become obese to be quite as despicable. Perhaps it’s because we can empathise with how hard it is to keep weight off when food is often how we express our love and affection for our family and pets?

If we do limit our horse’s access to grass what do we replace it with? Grass hay or haylage can still be too much for some good doers especially if fed ad lib and so we have to restrict the amount we feed.

Achieving consensus and a clear directive on the minimal dry matter intake for maintaining optimal digestive health has been confused by different studies which can be open to interpretation and differ in the timeframe the advice is recommended for.  The work of Dugdale et al (2010) is regularly cited as they restricted intake to 1% of bodyweight in dry matter which achieved significant weight loss without adverse effects on the welfare of the horse. However, the criteria used to measure welfare related to behaviour and the time that ponies spent in three major behavioural categories (eating, resting and play). There is no reference in this study to the incidence of gastric ulcers for example. The study lasted 12 weeks and there have been no studies that investigated the effects of longer-term reductions in forage intake.

The frequency with which ulcers is being diagnosed is increasing and this may account for why the recommendations for minimal dry matter intake tend to increase in more recent studies. Morgan et al (2016) state they initially recommended 1.5% of bodyweight in fresh weight of hay but adjusted if necessary depending on response and Rendle et al (2020) cite 1.5% Dry Matter which is the level most equine nutritionists would work to for the long term management of good doers. The veterinary perspective of some of these studies may be to restrict intake in the acute scenario to deal with significant obesity, hyperinsulinaemia and acute laminitis but this is often getting lost in interpretation and communication. Clarity of communications both within the veterinary profession and to horse owners is an area that can be improved.

The general principle is that the lower calorie forage, the more can be fed which is why straw should not be dismissed. Straw often gets “bad press” in the context of gastric ulcers as one study by researchers in Denmark, found that a horse eating straw as the sole or predominant forage source was 4.5 times more likely to have gastric ulcers. What often gets lost when people read this research is the proportion of straw in the ration. In the UK, straw is rarely fed as the sole forage source to horses and, recognising that straw can be useful as a low-calorie forage source for good doers, a follow up study has been published investigating the safety of feeding 50% wheat straw. The research found no increased risk of ulcers from using 50% straw to replace haylage in the ration.

The recent study by Jansson et al (2021) used 50% wheat straw to replace haylage with no ill effects. The rate of consumption of straw mixed with haylage was slower than when fed haylage alone with the resulting effect being a lower plasma insulin response. Straw has a much lower water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) content than grass forages so a lower insulin response would be expected but when the rate of intake was slowest in the evening, the researchers found no significant increase at all in insulin levels. This suggests that using low WSC forages and slowing the rate of intake are both important strategies in managing horses with insulin dysregulation (ID) or the potential to develop ID due to being overweight or obese.

Some simple calculations show that if straw replaces 1/3 of the weight of an average hay, a reduction in energy intake of 16% is achieved. Obviously replacing half the haylage ration will achieve an even greater reduction. However, long chopped straw isn’t for everyone. If a horse has a history of impaction colic or has poor teeth, long chopped straw is not suitable and its hygienic quality can vary, so sourcing the right quality can be tricky. Some horses won’t eat straw, even if there is nothing else on offer. Whilst it might seem wasteful, mixing straw in with other forages can mean it still serves a purpose as it slows the horse down when eating as they have to sort the straw out from the other forage. The significance of rate of consumption of forages is a key area that requires more research but the results of the Jansson et al (2021) study provide an indication that slowing the rate of intake could have significant benefits for reducing insulinaemic responses.

 Monitoring your horse

Spotting if your horse is starting to gain weight early is key to nipping the problem in the bud.

There is so much advice available it can sometimes be overwhelming trying to work out where to start. We’ve tried to simplify the advice so you know what you should be aiming for and how often you should be doing things. Many of you will already be doing more than what the following guide suggests which is great, but the aim is to give everyone a realistic starting point on which to build if time, resources and circumstances allow.

Weigh tape – every 2 weeks

  • Use the same weigh tape each time you assess your horse
  • Make sure your horse is stood square on a flat surface when taking a measurement
  • Use the weigh tape at the same time of day
  • Track weight changes on a graph so you can spot changes early
  • Weight loss of 0.5-1% of bodyweight weekly is realistic. This equals 2.5-5kgs a week for a 500kg horse or 0.5 to 0.75kgs a day

Fat Score – at least every month – it is likely to take a month for a score to change by half a point on the 5 point scale if a realistic rate of weight loss is achieved

  • Choose a scale (0-5 or 1-9)
  • Score your horse in the key areas where fat is stored and then calculate an average
  • Use a pictorial guide to help you
  • Why not work with a friend and score each other’s horses to see how you compare?
  • For an average horse it is estimated that to change ½ a condition score (0-5 scale) requires weight losses of 20-30kg.


*Durham et al (2019) Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

ECEIM consensus statement on equine metabolic syndrome – Durham – 2019 – Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine – Wiley Online Library

** Morrison et al (2017) Journal of Equine Veterinary Medicine

Perceptions of Obesity and Management Practices in a UK Population of Leisure-Horse Owners and Managers – ScienceDirect

Dugdale et al (2010) Equine Veterinary Journal

Morgan et al (2016) Equine Veterinary Journal

Rendle et al (2020) Vet Times Equine

Jansson et al (2021) Animals

A Year In The Life Of A Hoof!

A year in the life of a hoof

Throughout the year hooves have to experience many conditions which can really stress hoof condition and certainly impede growth.

We all know here in the UK we experience four seasons each year, approximately 13 week periods make up each shift.  With climate change impacting how we live our lives, extremes of weather are commonly witnessed which can make the traditional approach to the seasons harder to gauge.  In these modern times the hoof is subjected to the variations in wet/dry conditions all year round.  With extremes seen in each season, from dry arid spells in summer to long wet spells in the winter months. 

year wheel

When exposed to wet conditions, the horn itself expands as the moisture molecules force their way between the essential bonds.  While the hoof may appear more ‘wholesome’ and to the naked eye give a smoother impression, the wet has actually weakened the overall integrity of the hoof itself.  Once dry periods and conditions occur, the horn shrinks as the moisture molecules evacuate the horn leaving plenty of gaps.  These gaps can lead to cracks forming and brittle horn itself, opening up these tracks for different bacteria to develop and play havoc with horn quality, and leaving our farriers with a difficult hoof to work with.

Lost work days and shortened shoeing/trimming cycles which leads to increased hoof care expenses can follow, this wet/dry cycle is one of the most common challenges faced by every horse and pony in the UK today. 

The Structural Impact


  • Water molecules can force their way into horn making it expand and weakening the overall structure
  • Weaker structural integrity can be more susceptible to damage; hoof is more pliable
  • Horn swells – the appearance can hide cracks and defects which can be falsely interpreted as healthy hooves


  • Horn is at its strongest at around 25% moisture content
  • Hooves drying out after a wet spell can lead to extensive cracking and brittle horn
  • Increased farriery visits

Has our Horse Management evolved?

Ben Benson AWCF Master Farrier and Team GBR Farrier believes farriers have witnessed a huge change in the way we manage our horses over the last 20 years.  With more horses stabled and schooled on manmade surfaces.  This if not managed pro-actively can have a negative impact on the health of our horse’s feet.  There is now an entire generation that has worked all its life on synthetic surfaces.  The standards of which are dramatically varied from deep rubber or wood chip to a high wax sand to modern fibre sand blend, each of these brings a different level of footing, resistance and energy absorption.   

We see more horses washed off each day rather than have the more traditional (and laborious) grooming routine they once had and we also have to take into account horses are now worked 12 months a year and to an older age, increasing the overall working life of the hoof.

Feet that may not be functional all year round

Andrew James AWCF Master Farrier explains that the shoeing routine tends to be on a 4-6 weekly basis – some go as long as 8 weeks.  However, most horses require specific routines to effectively maintain their hooves.  On average the horn grows around 6mm[1]/month dependent on the individual.  Some may grow plenty of horn but brittle and weak with little integrity to its overall structure, others, grow very slowly but strong, adaptable horn, trimming and shoeing can prove difficult on both accounts.  For the weak horn, simply trimming and perhaps shoeing can be difficult for the farrier to achieve the desired result.  For the strong horn, resultant paring down on trimmed hooves or re-shoeing can be difficult with little horn to work with despite the strong nature of the horn itself.

In both instances a hoof supplement can be highly effective, it should not be fed short term, and can take 3-6 months to typically see a difference and 9-12 months for the hoof to grow from coronet to toe!  It’s a long process that should not be taken lightly, “no foot, no horse” is a performance limitation which can lead to a possible welfare issue for the individual.

A good tell-tale sign of improvement is witnessing a ring that develops from the coronet band and grows downwards with the hoof, this depicts a dietary change and in many cases can be a positive.



[1] Kainer, R.A. (1987) Functional anatomy of equine locomotor organs. In: Ah’ Lameness in Horses, 4th edn, Ed: T. S. Stashak. Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia. pp 1-18

Winter Mobility Issues

Winter Mobility Issues

Winter can bring about issues for our horses which can be forced upon as management routines are altered due to worsening weather.

Colder weather results in increased stiffness and a reluctance to move and combined with enforced stabling due to wintry conditions results in feeling every little ache and pain as they cannot move effectively in a small area, especially when turnout and exercise may be limited due to field conditions, unfortunately it’s not just us as riders who can feel like we are stiffening up as the days get shorter.

So, what can we do to help our horses and ponies make it through the winter in comfort?  Ideally looking to keep them moving as much as possible is important.  If you can turnout, then keeping them out as much as possible is ideal, however this is not always possible when land is limited or the weather is very bad however it’s best to try to aim for some turnout every day. Keeping exercise regular and steady is best practice, aware of how the horse is coping with it is important. Keeping the horse appropriately rugged up is essential, if kept warm they are less likely to feel the cold and finally avoiding carrying excess weight will also help ease the load on joints.

Is there anything nutritionally that can help?

There are many products out there aimed at the mobility market, but what ingredients should you be looking for to provide support for hard working joints?

Glucosamine HCl is a glycoprotein present in joints and is an essential, natural component of ligaments, tendons, cartilage and synovial fluid, the liquid shock absorber which lubricates and cushions the joints during movement.

Methyl sulphonyl methane, or MSM, is a readily available source of organic sulphur, a key component of connective tissue, which is important for cartilage and joint support.  MSM works in synchrony with glucosamine to help contribute to the overall joint health, including mobility, flexibility and range of motion for comfortable movement.  MSM also possesses antioxidant properties.

Omega 3 Oils

Are essential fatty acids which cannot be manufactured by the equine so must be supplied by the diet, play a useful role in both supporting the immune system and healthy joint function.

Vitamin C

Is a key antioxidant within the equine body with a usual focus on the respiratory system, however, it has been identified as the principal non enzymatic antioxidant component of the synovial fluid, therefore beneficial in a joint supplement.

Looking for a product which combines these ingredients backed up by research is going to be helpful.

Horslyx Mobility Balancer can be used to help maintain healthy joints in all horses, of all ages and breeds, whether for a performance horse that requires support for hard working joints, or as an aid for older horses that may have suffered from wear and tear over the years.  The combination of glucosamine HCl, MSM, Vitamin C and the Omega 3 fatty acids support healthy joint function and provide optimum joint support alongside a high specification balancer package.  Research conducted at The University of Central Lancashire with Horslyx Mobility Balancer has demonstrated improved stride length of horses suffering with stiff joints demonstrating that the combinations of products within Horslyx Mobility Balancer offers a practical solution in maintaining normal healthy joint function.

Mobility Balancer is available from selected Carr’s Billington Country Stores in 650g, 5kg and 15kg. For further information visit