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  • November 09, 2023 5 min read

    When Hay Runs Low: Forage Alternatives

    Hay yields will differ from year to year: some years the rain comes at the right time, and so there is a bumper season, but in other years, the weather is drier, and so hay may not be as readily available. When this occurs, hay prices rise, and adding to this the increase to the cost of living, sourcingand buying hay feels like an uphill battle. Luckily, there are forage alternatives, some may not be as cost friendly as others, but there is a solution to ensure that your horse receives adequate forage that it needs to remain happy and healthy. In this article, we will have a look at why forage is so important for your horse, as well as some substitute fibre products.

    The Importance of Fibre

    Horses have evolved to eat grass and other plant based fibres (such as trees, shrubs, bark etc), and so their digestive systems work best when full with fibre. Horses require between 1.5% to 2% of their bodyweight in forage (hay and grass) per day. Fibre plays a number of rolls to maintain the health of the horses digestive system such as:

    • Providing Gut Fill - Horses digestive systems need to be kept full, in fact horses should not go longer than 4 hours without eating! Feeding lots of fibre to a horse will ensure that its digestive system is kept full, which will keep the microbiome and ultimately the horse, happy and healthy.
    • Fibre is a really good source of energy. The microbiome in the hindgut breaks down the fibre, which in turn is then passed to the horse to use as energy. The bacterial fermentation also produces biotin, vitamins B1 and K!
    • Fibre soaks up and holds water in the horses gut, which acts as a reserve for the horse for when it needs it. 

    If a horse does not receive enough fibre in its diet, then this can lead to many health issues such as colic, gastric ulcers, dehydration or diarrhea. Hence, fibre is essential for horses to maintain optimal health and wellbeing. If fibre in the form of hay, cannot be sourced, then there are alternative forage sources, which are highlighted below.

    Alternate Forage Sources

    Roughage Cubes 

    Roughage cubes are a pelleted form of roughage, usually a mix of straw and some cereal grains. These cubes contain a good source of fibre, and are also designed to provide a source of protein and energy. The cubes can generally be soaked, so for horses that have difficulty chewing hay or for aged horses, these cubes make an excellent alternative. Roughage cubes can also be fed to horses needing to gain weight, alongside their typical forage requirements, and are also ideal as a supplement to forage, where hay is expensive or scarce. 

    Roughage cubes are not a complete feed and must be fed as part of a balanced diet. 

    If you are interested in feeding roughage cubes, some products available on the market include; Milne Easyway Hay and Chaff replacer and Prydes EasiFibre. 

    Beet Pulp 

    Beet pulp is a by-product of the sugar industry and is often classed as a super fibre. This is because beet pulp is high in digestible fibre, even more so than chaff! Beet pulp is a low sugar and low starch feed and is excellent for horses needing to gain weight, for those that have dental issues or need their feed to be soaked. Beet pulp must be soaked before feeding. It can be fed as a chaff replacer or replace part of the chaff in the horse's hard feed. The biggest downside to beet pulp is the price. It is an imported product, so this has a significant impact on the price and also, sometimes, the availability. 

    If you would like to give beet pulp a go, the two products available on the Australian market are Hygain Micrbeet and Speedibeet. 

    Lupin Hulls 

    Lupin hulls are again classed as another super fibre. Lupin hulls are the outer husk of the lupin and are low in sugar and starch and high in digestible fibre. Similarly to beet pulp, they can be fed in small amounts to assist with the consumption of vitamins and minerals. Lupin hulls should be soaked before feeding, and so are great for horses with dental issues that need to eat a mash. They can also be fed to horses needing to gain weight or to those that are a little on the heavier side (just feed less!). 

    Thompson and Redwood are the makers of Lupin Fibre Cubes if you want to add lupin hulls to your horse's diet.

    Soybean Hulls 

    Soybean Hulls are also considered to be another super fibre. A grain-free, low starch, low sugar, and highly digestible fibre, soybean hulls could be an excellent addition to your horse's feed. Soybean hulls can be fed wet or dry, so they are suitable for horses that need a mash type of feed. They are also great for weight gain but can be fed for weight loss when fed in small amounts. Soybean hulls will also need to be fed as part of a balanced diet, as it is not a complete feed. 

    If you would like to include soybean hulls in your horse's diet, then Maxisoy is a good product to start with. Benchmark Feeds also make up complete feeds based on soybean hulls.

    Oaten Hulls 

    Oaten hulls are high in crude fibre, which is an indigestible fibre. Due to the high crude fibre content, they can be good to use as a roughage extender. Oaten Hulls can be mixed with other super fibres (beet pulp, lupin, and soybean hulls) or it can be fed as part of the horse's normal diet. Once again, oaten hulls will need to be fed as part of a balanced diet.

    Morton's Golden Fibre is a oaten hull based product, sprayed with oil to keep the dust content down (as oat hulls can naturally be dusty!). 

    Super Fibre Chaff Replacer 

    If you have looking for a product that combines the above mentioned super fibres of beet pulp, lupin hulls and soya hulls, then Hygain Fibreessentials may be something to consider. It is a low starch, low sugar and high fibre product that can be fed wet or dry. So, again it is suitable for horses that have dental issues and also great for those that need to gain some weight. This product can be fed in full replacement of chaff as well, but it isn't a complete feed so it will need to be fed as part of a balanced diet. 


    If you have access to pasture, then this will be the ultimate source of fibre for your horse when hay supplies are low. Good quality pasture is an excellent source of fibre and horses can consume between 0.45 to 0.9 kg of pasture per hour! Best of all, pasture is free (or almost!). 

    The best sources of fibre for your horse is hay and pasture. However, if hay has become scarce, or expensive, then there are other sources of fibre that can be introduced to your horse (but keep some hay in the diet!). As always, we recommend consulting with your vet or equine nutritionist before changing your horse's diet to ensure it is balanced and suitable for them.

    As always, we are here to help! If you need any advice on which product to select, please visit us in store or online!

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