Can Horses Eat Straw?
Straw is one of the most preferred traditional horse beddings. Since horses usually spend most of their time eating ( up to 20 hours a day), you may have concerns about your tall four-legged friend consuming their bedding.
So can horses eat straw? Well, your horse will eat anything and everything vaguely edible, and straw falls on that list for most breeds, especially when on a restricted diet. But is it safe to consume straw?
According to Dr Shannon E. Pratt-Philips, equine nutritionist, eating straw shouldn’t cause any concerns as long as your horses can access water whenever they need it. Also, you must ensure the teeth are in good shape to handle the straw coarseness (Source 1).
You may find it shocking to learn that straw is becoming a more popular solution for overweight horses. Read on to learn more on this subject.
Benefits Of Straw for Horses
Before we talk about the benefits, let’s introduce the straw properties of interest regarding this post.
Straw provides low nutritional value. But unlike other forage sources, straw is loaded with fiber and boasts a low-calorie composition. The fiber content contains more lignin, which is an indigestible material.
Mature grass hay has about 62% fiber with 5.8% lignin content. On the other hand, straw contains 73% fiber with a lignin content of 7.5% (Source 2).
What’s the significance of the above straw features?
If your horse is obese or overweight, you can control its calorie consumption while satisfying its forage needs with straw. And since straw occupies the horses for an extended period, it can be a good heat source during the cold season.
These benefits are research-backed.
A team of researchers at the University of Edinburg recently published a study focused on feeding 50% straw and 50% hay to obese horses. According to the findings, horses on a straw and hay diet showed significant weight loss results than those that consume only typical hay supplements (Source 3, 4).
The researchers also noted that there were no colic or laminitis cases recorded.
Horses on a straw/hay diet are more likely to have better gastric health. Wondering how, considering the buffering capacity of straw is negligible? The fact that it encourages more chewing time means it indirectly promotes digestive health.
The more the horses chew, the more saliva they produce. Saliva contains water, mucus, electrolytes, and enzymes. But as these elements flow into the collecting ducts, their compositions get altered. Large amounts of bicarbonate get secreted in the process.
Secretion of bicarbonate provides a buffer that helps with neutralizing acids produced in the horse’s gut.
Are There Any Potential Side Effects Of Horses Feeding On Straw?
There are two circumstances where straw can pose a safety risk to your horse:
· Feeding on moldy or dusty straw
· Consuming a large volume of straw
Let’s explain in detail.
The problem with straw is that it can trap a lot of dust or encourage mold growth when used primarily for bedding purposes. If ponies consume such straw, they may develop respiratory issues. Keep in mind that any moldy bedding or forage source would cause the same problems to your horses.
As we mentioned earlier, the nutritional value of straw is low. Therefore, that’s one reason why you should never replace hay with straw. If you aim to help your horse shed some pounds, be careful not to feed it a large volume of straw. It’s because the indigestible nature of straw can lead to the accumulation of significant lignin fiber in the horse’s digestive system.
Based on one study conducted by Denmark researchers, ponies are 4.5 times more likely to develop colic or gastric issues when their diet is mainly or solely straw (Source 5).
If you can keep the straw ratio low and ensure the horses have access to water all time, there’s less risk of developing any health complications. We would recommend seeking a personalized ratio plan from a licensed equine nutritionist, though.
Well-fed horses usually don’t consume a large amount of straw. If your ponies are fed limited volumes of hay mixed with straw for weight-loss reasons, you may want to use a different type of bedding material apart from straw. This will give you more control over the amount of straw they eat. Moderate eating will unlikely present problems.