Why do we rave on about Fibre? Any nutritionist will tell you that the inclusion of fibre in our horses ration needs to meet a bare minimum of 1% of body weight (ideally 1.5%) and that its inclusion should be no less than 50% of the total daily feed ration. We know that fibre intake can also benefit horses in dozens of other ways including assisting to create a healthy microbiome, reducing the risk of colic, better dental (teeth) wear, saliva and bicarbonate production to help prevent gastric ulcers.
Your horse will thank you for feeding ample fibre that’s for sure but for performance horses we must also take into consideration that fibre is relatively low in energy and will fail to provide ample mega joules, if fed alone, to meet energy expenditure. So how do we increase the energy density in your horse’s feed without the consequences of feeding too much grain? Well, this is where fermentable fibres come in..
Highly fermentable fibres are complex carbohydrates containing high levels of cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin which can readily be fermented by the hindgut microbes. They also contain high concentrations of non-starch polysaccharides (complex chains of sugars that are not digested in the small intestine, but are fermented in the hindgut) that produce large volumes of volatile fatty acids (VFA). VFA’s are the primary source of energy for a horse, not sugars. If we look at the evolution of horses, their digestive system is designed to provide most of its energy from the fermentation of fibre and production of VFA’s. The great thing about these VFA’s is that they are high-energy short-chain fats produced by microbes from fibre fermentation that travel safely through the blood – creating no insulin response (unlike sugars) and as we know fats contain up to 3-times the energy density of sugars! Win win!!
Hemp seed hulls are a great example of a highly fermentable fibre and a VFA producing machine! Containing roughly 30% crude fibre, virtually no sugars or starch, and often over 20% crude protein, hemp hulls are a quality horse feed and can simply be added to your feeding resume. They also give a great bang for their buck, having a high fat content combined with highly fermentable fibre, the Digestible Energy content of hemp hulls is about 20 MJ per kilogram of DM (nearly double that of oats without the sugar issues).
There are so many great benefits in feeding hemp hulls to your horse, including increased chewing and saliva production, gut health, low sugars and starch levels, high VFA production etc. When we look at horses that cannot tolerate high sugar and starch diets, particularly those prone to laminitis, Tying Up and PSSM, these horses also find relief when fed a low starch feed such that is high in fermentable fibre like hemp hulls.