Roughage Ingredients in Horse Feed

If you were to take your horse’s digestive tract and stretch it out, it would measure nearly 100 feet from end to end. That is a long trip for the nutrients in feed to make! We feed roughage to our horses to provide a source of bulk and fiber to the diet, and this roughage helps to carry nutrients through that long digestive tract. Roughage consists primarily of bulky, coarse plant parts with high fiber contents. Most sources of roughage are things like hulls, husks or pulp – this type of ingredient provides the fiber and bulk needed for proper digestion, and keeps the horse’s gut functioning as it should. Roughage sources can include things like rice hulls, dried citrus meal, rye mill run, etc., but some of the most common forms of roughage are listed and explained below:

  • Beet Pulp: this is a by-product of the sugar beet industry. It is the dried residue that has been extracted in the process of manufacturing sugar from sugar beets. Beet pulp has long been fed as a way to put weight on horses.
    • It is high in digestible fiber and digestible energy and is low in starch, which makes it fairly safe to feed.
    • Beet pulp pellets are usually soaked when fed; this can also help increase water intake.
    • However, beet pulp by itself is not a balanced product. It can fit very well into a feeding program, either as a supplement or as an ingredient in a commercial feed, but if fed by itself the horse will be missing essential minerals, amino acids and protein.
  • Soy Hulls: these are the outer covering of the soybean. These hulls are removed before soybeans are crushed for oil, and are an excellent ingredient that is mainly used in pelleted feeds.
    • They provide a good source of energy and are an easily digested fiber source.
  • Oat Hulls: these are the outer covering of the oat kernel.
    • They are high in fiber, low in energy, and low in protein.
    • Because of their high fiber content they make a good source of roughage.

These are a few of the most common sources of roughage. Depending on where you live, there may be other more prevelant sources of roughage available. No matter what the specific ingredient is, the main function of roughage in the diet is to provide bulky fiber that helps pull the contents of the digestive tract along and assist in keeping the gut functioning.

3 Replies to “Roughage Ingredients in Horse Feed”

  1. We keep 55 horses at our farm. We recently stopped feeding a particular commercially made feed product because of colics. We have spent in excess of 20k on colics, surgery,and euthanized a horse Dec.27,2014. This product is touted to be a colic free and tying up free food source, as well as a total ration, should all hay become unavailable. Our problem is that our horses have become full of rock chips, that are identical in all 4 horses that have coliced severely enough to require vet intervention. Pica was suggested, as was iron deficiency, leading to pica. These rocks appear to be limestone, we live on blackland prairie , there’s no limestone for horses to eat on our land, caliche road, but no horses are eating or licking that. Our hypothesis is this: the horse feed in question contains ground limestone as well as roughage products(19%), that are not identified as such on the feed label. The limestone and whatever roughage is combining with the digestive liquids in the horse to create a coating on the gut wall. At some point this coating is becoming thick and hard enough to break away, in chips, from the gut wall due to peristaltic motion. The chips then continue down the digestive tract to the distal end of the right colon, where they are collecting because they are too heavy to exit the system. If you add water to limestone, then add grass, hay, leaves, etc. and stir and put in a rectangular mold, you have created bricks. This is how the first German settlers built their homes in New Braunfels, Texas! We were able to collect a bag of these stones from the necropsied horse on Dec.27. His stone load was the size of 1 1/2 basketballs. His gut had twisted due to the weight of the rocks! So far we’ve had one impaction colic, resolved with treatment over 4 days at the vet clinic. Two surgical interventions, one sand colic, the other a heat cycle colic, but due to rocks flipped her colon over. Then the last twisted with copious rocks,had spent a week at the vet,and was euthanized(not a surgical candidate). At this point, we have 55 head sitting here as time bombs as they have been on this feed for approximately 14-18 months. Currently we are daily dosing with apple cider vinegar to try to dissolve the chips in the hind gut. We need to find someplace to analyze the chip sample that we have, any ideas? Our vets have said there is no way to diagnostically verify that our horses are rock free. Also, not all of these horses are ours, 20 or so are boarders. What a mess! We’ve been in this business since 1978, and have never encountered such a catastrophe. So far the affected horses have all been ours. All four are/ were kept in separate and different living accommodations. And as we said before, the rock chips found in each animal were identical. We do have some horses that are passing these chips daily. More so now with the addition of the apple cider vinegar. As we see it, if a horse here colics, for whatever reason, were practically guaranteed a twisted gut due to the rock chips harbored in the colon. Yes, we will be discussing this with an attorney! Thanks for listening, any ideas about the chip analysis would be greatly appreciated. C.

    1. Hello Carrie, Interesting situation. What is being described here sounds like enteroliths formed in the gastrointestinal tract. These are stones that form in the intestinal tract that can grow to fist or softball size. They are most commonly associated with alfalfa hay which is quite high in calcium and magnesium, and are much more prevalent on the west coast and in some locations in the SE. Enteroliths are found in all breeds, but seems to be more common in Arabians and Thoroughbreds. However, they are not common in horses fed most grass hay diets and grain.

      Commercial feeds normally contain less calcium and magnesium than alfalfa. The gut pH of horses with enteroliths seems to be more alkaline and have higher mineral concentration. Also some implications that horses fed on sandy ground ingest some particles which form the tiny central object that the enterolith forms around. The process by which they are formed is referred to as enterolithiasis.

      Normal recommendations are to go to a feeding program that does not have as much alfalfa and evaluate total feeding program for mineral balance. The apple cider vinegar addition has been used with mixed results.

      Good luck ~ Roy J.

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