Barley Straw Can Aid Equine Weight Loss

obese horses, obese pony, overweight pony, overweight horse, equine laminitis

By Mark Andrews

Feeding a mixture of barley straw and hay is a safe and cost-effective way of promoting weight loss in grazing ponies over winter, according to recent research.

Obesity is a widespread problem in pleasure horses and ponies. In the past, it was accepted that horses and ponies would lose weight over the winter, and then gain weight in the spring when grazing quality improved. Nowadays, horses are fed to maintain condition over the winter, and at the same time they may be doing less work.

Obese horses and ponies are at higher risk of laminitis; but shedding that weight is often quite a challenge.

A study conducted by Dr. Miranda Dosi and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh Royal School of Veterinary Studies and the Redwings horse sanctuary in Norfolk UK, looked at whether feeding a mixture of straw and hay could be used for reducing weight in grazing ponies over the winter.

A report of the work is published in the Veterinary Record.

The study involved native type ponies maintained in groups at grass over winter. They were fed supplementary roughage – either hay alone, or an equal mixture of hay and barley straw.

The research team weighed the horses regularly during the four-month long study.

They found that, over the study period, all animals in the hay/straw-fed group lost weight. In the hay only group, three horses lost weight, but overall, horses in that group gained weight.

One concern of feeding straw is that it might lead to digestive problems such as impaction. However, in this study, there were no reports of colic in either group. Neither were there any reports of laminitis.

An advantage of the higher fibre barley straw is that it may prolong the time spent eating and may reduce behavioural problems such as aggression.

The researchers conclude: “Straw is a cost-effective and low-energy roughage, which may be a useful alternative to hay alone when trying to induce weight loss in grazing equids over winter.”

Published with the kind permission of Mark Andrews, Equine Science Update.

Photo: Canstock/Xilius