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It’s a horse, of course – so feed it fodder!

Fodder for horsesToday’s post is brought to you by Kerry King, our Direct Media Specialist. Kerry is the team leader for the development of FodderSystems.com and has been working with our Fodder-Pro 2.0 Feed Systems product line for two years. With degrees in marketing and equine science, FarmTek and fodder have been a natural fit for her passions and skill set.

At FarmTek, we take your feedback seriously. So when Alyssa told me that you wanted to know more about the benefits of hydroponic fodder for horses, I jumped at the chance to write this post.

Horse grazing

The nature of the horse and today’s feeding practices

Horses are natural grazers. They are designed to eat small amounts of food and digest it over a long period of time. In the wild, horses would graze for up to 18 hours a day, sometimes traveling great distances to find adequate forage. Grazing is not only their preferred method of gathering food, but it also has many other physiological and psychological benefits that contribute to their overall health.

If you look at the average feed card in your barn, it will be very different from what nature prescribed for horses. While it’s impractical to think that we can exactly replicate what a horse was intended to eat and how they eat it (unless you only want some very large lawn ornaments!), we can do better than how we feed our horses today.

Most of the commercially available feeds for horses have been processed in some way. Processing takes feed that a horse would not naturally eat or be able to digest effectively and turns it into a feed that they can get nutrition from. Some commercial feeds do contain grasses and forage that a horse would eat, but the beneficial enzymes and bacteria that aid with digestion are eliminated during processing.

Fodder-Pro 2.0 Feed SystemA natural diet for your horse

We all want our horses to be happy and healthy, but for them to be at their best, we need to feed them in a way that simulates their natural feeding process. That doesn’t mean you need to have acres and acres of pasture available year round. All you need is some space in your barn, basement, garage or shed and you can use a Fodder-Pro 2.0 Feed System to grow all of the fresh, green feed you need with hydroponics.

Barley fodderHydroponic fodder is a living, green food source that is sprouted from grain seed, like barley. Fodder is completely natural and, under the right conditions, can even be considered organic. It is the most comparable feed to fresh pasture and is similar to the forages that the equine digestive system is designed to process. This is the first and most important benefit about fodder: it is a natural feed for your horse.

The health benefits of fodder for horses

Fodder, being a natural feed for your horses and close to what nature intended them to eat, opens the door to a whole slew of health benefits that can be seen from the tip of their ears down to their hooves.

Horse eating fodder

Digestibility – Sprouting grain turns starch into sugar which is much easier for a horse to digest. Fodder is also packed with beneficial enzymes that aid with digestion and nutrient absorption. Grain and concentrated feed can be very starchy. Starch takes a long time to digest and can make a horse feel full, so he won’t want to nibble on his hay all day. Because it takes so long to digest, it may not be completely broken down before it reaches the hindgut and this can lead to serious health problems, like colic and laminitis.

Nutrient availability – Because fodder is so digestible, horses are able to take full advantage of the naturally occurring nutrients. Fodder is packed with vitamins, minerals and enzymes that promote health and contribute to a nutritionally balanced diet.

Horse eating fodder

Increased hydration – Fodder has a high moisture content, which makes it very different from dry feeds. It can be up to 90% water, which will greatly improve hydration. Water is so important for health. It is vital for body functions and contributes to so many things that it would be impossible to list them all!

Higher energy levels – It takes less energy to digest fodder, and the sugar content converts to energy easily. Horses are able to redirect the energy they are not using for digestion and the added energy from the sugar all contribute to increased energy. Amino acids also provide a slow release of energy. Your horse will have consistently higher energy level on fodder (not too much energy, but enough to perk up and work with renewed vigor).

Horses eating fodderLess recovery time required after hard work –  Healing takes energy. With the energy gained from a fodder diet, your horse will be able to recover faster. The amino acids and essential fatty acids in fodder also help with building muscle tissue on top of the vitamins that contribute to natural healing and a boosted immune system. Increased hydration from fodder sprouts also aids in recovery by flushing toxins from the blood.

Reduced instance of colic, ulcers and inflammation – Colic and gastric ulcers are common in horses. These conditions can be caused by many factors, including what and how much a horse eats. Feeding fodder alleviates many of these causes. It all goes back to the digestibility and fodder being a feed that closely resembles what a horse would eat in the wild. Essential fatty acids and the increased hydration from fodder helps to clear inflammation and improve blood flow.

These are just a few of the health benefits for horses. A few others worth mentioning include; improved coat gloss and appearance, better behavior and temperament, stronger hooves, earlier and more consistent heat cycles. Fodder is also calming because it simulates their natural feeding process.

The old idiom ‘you are what you eat’ proves to be true. If you feed your horse natural, healthy feed, he will be healthy. I covered a good amount of the amazing benefits to feeding your horses fodder and hopefully I shed some light on what causes them. There are a lot of benefits that I didn’t cover about the cost savings, the environmental benefits and the benefits to you and your farm – there just wasn’t enough room in one post. If I didn’t cover something that you want to know more about, let us know in the comments!

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22 Comments Post a comment
  1. I am interested in doing the fodder system. I was wondering if there has to be a period of time before the horses can be put back on to grass in the spring. Right now, we feed hay over the winter and then in the spring we have to slowly put them back on grass.

    May 30, 2013
    • Thanks for your question. We do recommend slowly weaning your horses back on grass, or any feed if they haven’t had it in a period of time. Since they have somewhat sensitive digestive systems, it is always a good idea to take the safe route!

      June 11, 2013
  2. So I was wondering if there needs to a weaning back on to grass in the spring if you feed fodder. During the winter, we feed hay and then slowly wean the horses back on grass.

    May 30, 2013
  3. Nanette #

    I’m interested in how the cost of fodder compares to the alfalfa and perennial peanut hay I usually feed. They are on very little grain, and stay pig-fat on the expensive hay. I’d like to keep them munching throughout much of the day–that’s what they’re designed to do. Would fodder be a good choice for us economically, and to accomplish that “grazing goal?”
    Thanks!

    June 25, 2013
    • For many people fodder is an excellent option that saves money while providing a fresh live feed every day. We would love to chat with you personally and find out if this system would work for you! Contact Abigail, our Fodder Specialist, for more info at atobey@FarmTek.com.

      July 16, 2013
  4. Barb #

    What types of seed is able to be used in the fodder system for horses?

    June 25, 2013
    • The most popular seeds are barley, oats, triticale, rye, and red wheat. However, our customers commonly use blends for different benefits. In the equine industry, a 40:1 ratio of barley and black sunflower is very popular.

      July 16, 2013
  5. kelly #

    Is fodder a complete feed or do horses still need hay for roughage. This is so intriguing but I’m still researching.

    June 25, 2013
    • For horses we recommend 2% daily body weight in fodder and 1% in roughage. Here, the hay is not for nutrition thus does not have to be of high quality.

      July 16, 2013
  6. I was wondering about the incidence of founder/laminitis when feeding fodder, particularly due to the high sugar content you say is in fodder. We try to keep horses off new grass as the sugar content is high.

    June 25, 2013
    • The sugar contents in fodder will vary by seed and by each particular batch. One should avoid the high sugar grains and seek low sugar grains when sprouting fodder. You can download feed and forage reports on our website.

      July 16, 2013
  7. Gail Whitney #

    So good to see your comments. I have a quote but have not ordered my system yet I am trying out the fodder on all my animals- who all LOVE it. I have a tray system (grain in aluminum trays on my kitchen counter, ha!) but will order your system eventually. as is WAY too much work by hand. As word spreads more research is being conducted on college campuses by state extension agents. The answers I am getting include words like cost-prohibitive, labor-intensive and info sales-related. I am totally convinced this IS the way of the future, and not just for animal feed. PLEASE keep the timely info coming! Gail in Maryland.

    June 27, 2013
    • Thrilled to hear your animals are loving the fodder! We are constantly working to lead the industry with our Fodder-Pro 2.0 system. We will continue to update the fodder community through our blog as we find out new and exciting ways to improve fodder growth.

      July 16, 2013
  8. Suanne #

    I am interested in the fodder system. Currently, I feed grass hay and some oat, have minimal pasture, and, I supplement the pregnant mares and foals.

    I do not want my horses “hot”! What would I grow in a fodder system to cut back on my current feed bill?

    November 14, 2013
    • The most common types of fodder are barley and wheat. For horses, fodder is a grain and pellet replacement. We recommend feeding 2% of their body weight in fodder with 1% of their weight in hay daily. The hay can be of a lower quality as all of the nutrition they need will come from the fodder. The hay is needed to add roughage to their diet to slow down digestion.

      So you would be able to cut back on your feed bill in a few ways. You could eliminate the oats you are feeding, reduce the supplements and purchase less expensive hay.

      December 4, 2013
  9. Debbie Hutter #

    I am currently feeding my minis barley fodder mostly as a treat. Is there any reason I could not go completely to fodder to feed them?

    April 30, 2015
    • Hi Debbie,

      Feeding the barley as a treat is always a great idea, and we’re sure they absolutely love it! As for completely feeding fodder, we recommend feeding only 2% of the animals body weight in fodder. This is because fodder is highly digestible, so while the fodder is incredibly nutrient rich, it does not offer the complete and balanced nutrition that is needed for a healthy diet. Depending on how much you are feeding, you may be able to up the ration, but we do not recommend a complete diet of fodder. Reduce the grain or hay rations, but be sure to keep roughage in the diet.

      May 4, 2015
      • Debbie #

        Justin,
        Thanks for responding and I will certainly take your suggestions seriously and watch my animals closely as to their health and their roughage needs.

        May 4, 2015
  10. Alicia #

    HI. I’m in Australia and looking at growing fodder I currently my horses hard feed twice a day plus hay. I have tried to find out how much hard feed to reduce or can I completely cut it out and give them hay and their vitamin and mineral mix
    Thanks

    November 22, 2015
    • Hi Alicia,
      For fodder, we recommend feeding only 2% of the animals body weight in fodder. Fodder is highly digestible so you will still need to feed hay and roughage for a balanced diet. The fodder itself will only make up for a small amount of the animals diet, but the nutrient rich fodder will allow for a reduction in hay and other feed.

      December 29, 2015
  11. Erin Nantell #

    After 5 years of trying very hard to keep weight on my Connemara, we moved to a boarding facility that provides fodder on a daily basis! After one year there, he looks so good!! We think the enzymes in fodder are helping him actually absorb the nutrients of the hay and grain too. Needless to say, I’m a fan!

    March 12, 2017

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