Chaff does not substitute for hay or grass with lots of roughage in it. And here’s why.
How the stomach works
As a horse chews the hay or grass with some dry bits in it, their teeth grind it up into long fibres that create a fibrous mat in the stomach.
This fibrous mat kind of catches the other food in the stomach and keeps it there long enough to draw out the nutrients, break it down with stomach juices and digest it properly. This fibrous mat is an essential part of the horse’s healthy digestive system.
The fibrous mat is pushed out of the stomach by the next lot of incoming roughage fibres and then there is a nice fresh fibrous mat to catch the next lot of food.
Most chaff is cut too short to be an effective fibrous mat. I have seen one chaff in Australia that is cut longer and I have seen longer chaff in New Zealand too – so maybe keep your eye out for that. I sooo… wish all chaff companies would change their cut!
The really bad drought year that we couldn’t buy grass hay for love or money, I bought export oaten hay – it was pretty crappy quality and specially squashed into being very flat for transport, but it did the roughage job and provided a fibrous mat for their stomachs, without being too rich. Oaten hay doesn’t have a lot of nutrient value but it does have good roughage value. And I made up the nutrients that they needed in their hard feeds.
Now here’s the warning about the main cause of stomach ulcers in horses.
The fibrous mat itself gets broken down by the stomach juices and if it stays in there for long enough, it starts rotting and this rotting produces higher than normal acid in the horse’s stomach. So if the NEXT lot of hay or dry grass isn’t in the stomach soon enough, more and more acid gets produced in the stomach, actually causing damage to the stomach itself.
Stomach ulcers are the direct result.
The most common cause of stomach ulcers are the direct result of a horse not fed enough roughage to keep replacing this fibrous mat.
Kentucky Equine Research centre put cameras down into the stomachs of a large number of healthy horses and identified that AT THE FOUR HOUR MARK from running out of hay, these stabled horses were showing signs of stomach ulcers developing – that is – it was only four hours of no hay before the stomach acid started producing stomach ulcers. This investigation was undertaken after the shocking discovery that 97% of racehorses had stomach ulcers. (This was back some 15 or so years ago, the situation has changed now as you’ll see in the anecdote below.)
I got the idea that these horses were all young, so between that and the stabling, they may have been stressed in other ways too. So that stress may intensify the action in the stomach. (We know this from human work too, stress WILL intensify acid in the stomach.) So the time may be more than four hours of no roughage for our paddocked horses and may be more for happy relaxed horses too. And of course in the paddock they will often have a bit of roughage available out there.
So, all of this information is why I fed out oaten hay when I couldn’t get grass hay and why the normal sized chaff just doesn’t do the job. In fact, I don’t even feed out chaff – it feels like a waste of money to me. I feed mountains of roughage in the form of hay or dry grass, that produces the warmth that horse needs in the winter and small hard feeds of whatever grains and additives I want them to have.
Just an interesting tidbit of information… Gai Waterhouse, the Sydney racehorse trainer, takes this hay / stomach ulcer thing VERY seriously. She has a rule in her stable that any strapper who is caught with a horse with no hay is INSTANTLY sacked. As I said – she takes it VERY seriously.
If you’re interested in expanding your relationship with your horse and gentle ways of doing things with this beautiful creature, I do these articles to capture your attention and promote our beautiful on line training programs, which includes the free lessons The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse that you can find here.
Photo credits: The stallion at the top of the page is one of Michelle Brannan’s photos from her Tunisian stallion series that she turned into a beautiful calendar. Keep your eye out for more of this lady’s gorgeous work at Finding Grace Photography.
And the stomach ulcer photo comes from Adelaide Hills Equine Vets. They describe the cause and treatment of stomach ulcers in horses from a different point of view.