Fibers for horses

A diet rich in fiber is essential for horses: they have evolved to develop an excellent ability to assimilate them. They need :

  • permanent access,
  • to food rich in fiber,
  • in very large quantities,
  • in the form of various fodder.

Fiber for horses: in which fodder?

  • hay: whole plants (except roots), dried
    • grasses (50% cellulose),
    • and or legumes (+ protein and 2/3 cellulose),
    • with more or less flowers (often with medicinal virtues - often organic indicators)
  • straws: usually wheat - this is the stalk of the cereal once the grains have been harvested (especially cellulose),
  • trees: leaves, branches, bark. (you can go to the Equine Permaculture Facebook Group to read the article on the roles of trees)

What is crude fiber?

This is what will give us the fiber content of the forage. 

It is traditionally measured in% and corresponds to insoluble fiber: INRA estimates the "total" content at 2 or 4 times more because this neglects soluble fibers.

=> It's the digestibility of the fibers that will ultimately make the difference.

Cellulose + hemi-cellulose + lignin = insoluble fiber

Pectin (that of apples for example) + mucilages (in chia seeds, flax seeds, etc.), gums = soluble fibers

What is digestibility?

This is fermentability (remember that fibers are digested in the intestines and in particular the large intestine, by fermentation): it is inversely proportional to lignification (lignification is modification of the membranes of certain cells with lignin).

Soluble fiber ferments easily when it comes into contact with water in the intestines.

=> fermentation of volatile fatty acids is energy available for the whole day.

Forages: for what?


  • has a peristaltic role,
  • and a buffering power (this reduces ulcers),
  • il increases the production of saliva,
  • and help maintain the intestinal flora,
  • and it provides a lot of energy (about 1 UCF for 2 kg of hay).

What quantities of fodder should be provided? We estimate the needs (calculated with hay: a horse with access to fodder trees will not have the same needs)at about 3kg per 100kg of live weight.

=> What is satiety?This is when the horse is full and its needs are covered by feed intake in particular.

Hay / grass comparison

The herb contains:

  • more water than hay,
  • little fiber (especially young): risk of accelerated transit, little chewing (this will have consequences on tooth wear),
  • and a high proportion of insoluble fibers that are poorly digestible,
  • a lot of non-protein nitrogen (a constituent that is not in the form of proteins: urea, ammonia, nitrates, etc.),
  • a lot of fructans which will ferment in the large intestine and pose problems for the digestion of fibers: the rate of fructans varies according to the weather, the season, the floristic composition as well, of course,
  • great variability and mineral imbalance:
    • P: phosphorus drops with drought ...
    • Ca: calcium increases with the stage of growth and the advance of the season ...
    • K: potassium is more important at the start of growth and increases with drought….
    • Na: sodium increases at the end of the season ...

=> it is complicated and almost useless to refer to analyzes of the grass to supplement (which is different from hay which will remain bcp more stable in minerals). When we carry out an analysis of the hay we can have a more precise idea of the supplements to be given.

Note: Pelletized hay has shorter fibers so transit is accelerated.

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