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Horses eating straw

From: Eve

Dear Jessica:

Horse-sense is invaluable. On behalf of myself, my horses, and my horse-keeping friends, I thank you.

My question has to do with horses eating straw. I prefer to bed the horses' stalls with wheat straw during the winter months, as opposed to shavings. (Wheat straw is cheap and plentiful in this part of the country.) However, my horses do eat the straw--some eat more than others, but all the horses do ingest some. (My horses, all easy keepers, are primarily fed alfalfa with a small amount of bran and oats.)

Is eating straw dangerous?

I have read that straw, or other stemmy feeds, can cause colic. On the other hand, a very well-known and successful trainer in our area regularly feeds a flake of straw for roughage to supplement the alfalfa cubes he feeds to those horses in his charge. (He says he hasn't had a problem during the l5 years he's been doing this.) Further, I understand that the feeding of cereal straws to horses is common practice in Europe.

I'd appreciate any light you can shed on this dilemma.

Thank you.


Hi Eve! Your horses are very unlikely to have any problems as a result of eating clean wheat or oat straw. I don't know who told you that stemmy feeds can cause colic -- that information goes against all basic principles of horse-feeding. Horses are designed to consume low-protein, high-fiber food around the clock -- roughage, in other words. Many nutritionally-complete feeds, TizWhiz for example, are intended to be fed with stemmy hay as a source of roughage.

The trainer you mentioned -- the one who feeds straw to supplement alfalfa cubes -- may have had no problems in fifteen years precisely BECAUSE of his feeding practices! Many horses need more roughage than they get. Horses that keep roughage moving through their digestive systems most of the day are horses that are infinitely less likely to colic than horses that are given two or three daily feeds consisting of concentrates and a small flake of rich hay.

Talk to your veterinarian about feeding protocols and types of hay and straw; I'm sure you'll get good advice. And don't worry if your horses eat some of their bedding during the winter; what keeps horses warm in winter isn't extra grain, but extra roughage, and the warming effects of digesting that roughage.


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