Feeding horses wheat...is it ok?

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Feeding horses wheat...is it ok?

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  • 1 Post By loosie

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    08-17-2011, 10:17 PM
Feeding horses wheat...is it ok?

Is it okay to feed horses wheat grass? The man my family buys hay from has a bunch of round bales of wheat with a little clover that he is having trouble selling so he is giving them to us. We have fed our horses bales of mixture grasses before, one batch that was about one-fourth wheat, but we haven't fed straight or mostly straight wheat before. Is there a risk of colic?, Even though the horses have had some of it before? Does it have any nutritional value to it? Our horses seem to really like it and we would like to make use of this generous gift(about 15-20 bales!). Also our hay man is always growing/selling us different types of hay so our horses have quite a varied diet.
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    08-17-2011, 10:43 PM
Super Moderator
Is this 'wheat grass' or is it 'wheat'? They are hugely different.

Wheat has grain heads with wheat in them. It has sharp beards and lots of grain that is high in starch and gluten and IS NOT good for horses. Cattle do well on it and horses colic or founder and can die on it.

Wheat grass is a kind of grass (actually there are several of them) and they are a kind of grass that has tiny grass seeds rather than grain and make very good hay. I have fed both 'Crested Wheat Grass' and 'Intermediate Wheat Grass' and love both of them.

If the man does not know which it is, I would take some of it to your County Agent and ask him if it is wheat or wheat grass.

There is also much confusion about 'Rye' and 'Rye Grass'. Again, Rye is not good for horses if it has mature seed heads (with rye grain in them) and rye grass is great. We have it over-planted in every field and it provides great grass pasture for 2 months before our other grass is green.

Winter Wheat is great forage for horses in the winter before it heads out. Once it has heads on it with grain in the milk or dough stage, you have to get horses off of it.
    08-18-2011, 12:53 AM

Wheatgrass, as with rye & oaten grass is generally very high NSC, so NOT good for horses. Rye & oaten hay for eg is around 20-22% NSC and I'm not absolutely sure(can't find figures either right now) but I think wheat grass is even higher. If any of these grasses have seed heads/grain, that will make it far higher still. If I had no choice but to feed this type of hay I'd be soaking it first to remove some of the sugars.
    08-18-2011, 08:29 AM
Super Moderator
Please tell me why hays high in NSC are bad for 'NORMAL' horses -- that are not obese, are not IR and are not foundered or laminitic?????

I think you mislead many people by telling them that all hay and grains the are high in starch and/or sugar are bad for all horses. That quite simply is not true. Most horses do very well on on these feeds and forages. I have 60 horses and have 1 that cannot be fed high NSC feeds. As a matter of fact, I have planted and grazed winter wheat, winter hardy oats, winter rye and rye grass nearly every winter for more than 30 years and have yet to have one problem on it. I buy oat hay every chance I get. All but one of my horses is fed this way and I have no problems at all. That one horse became IR and laminitic while at a trainer that let him get way too fat -- over my objections. I should have fired the trainer and brought him home before he went lame. My bad. And consequently, I still cannot feed him grain or hay high in NSC and this is 5 years later.

So, to the OP, if your horse has none of the above problems and is not obese, cresty necked or sore footed, wheat hay is great feed and free is even better as long as it is not moldy or dusty. If it is wheat, don't touch it.
    08-18-2011, 08:54 PM
Originally Posted by Cherie    
Please tell me why hays high in NSC are bad for 'NORMAL' horses -- that are not obese, are not IR and are not foundered or laminitic?????

I think you mislead many people by telling them that all hay and grains the are high in starch and/or sugar are bad for all horses. That quite simply is not true.
OK, that's your opinion. IMO what you say is 'quite simply not true'. While it does definitely depend on how much horses get, how little & often - or otherwise - they get it, how they're managed, how sensitive they are, how much exercise, etc, etc. I also do not say 'all hay & grain... for all horses' - it's a generalisation. But it is a very common problem & one that is only reasonably recently becoming understood better.

Basically it's like asking why - or denying that - lollies or other foods high in sugar are bad for humans. I don't think occasional junk food is generally a problem for people either - unless they're already IR, Cushings, etc - but if they live on it, it's not good for them & commonly causes a range of problems. Of course there are those that can seem to live on it, without obvious health probs, as you say your horses do(tho it appears that it's long term unhealthy diets that have the most effect on IR & Cushings, which is why many horses appear to 'do well' for many years before suffering), and there are those who's highly active lifestyles allow them to get by on more junk, but *generally speaking* living on high NSC diet is no better for horses as for people.

Horse's digestive systems are also built & work a lot different to ours, and 'hind gut acidosis' can also result from too sugary/starchy diets. Again it does depend on the hows & how muches of feeding, but basically horses aren't built to process high levels well. So you'll notice I generally say things like generally - but seeing so many common issues these days relating to too much & too rich feed, I tend to like to err on the side of caution.
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    08-18-2011, 10:11 PM
I don't know if the hay is wheat or wheat grass, I didn't know those were different things. It is a golden color, has thick stalks, and has seeds/grains that fall out of the pods when shook.

My horses are not obese and have never had colic or foundered or really anything, they are quite healthy, but if this it is wheat, what should I do? I have no way to move the hay out of the pasture and have no other pasture to move my horses to, and they have already eaten over half the bale. What are the first signs of colic? Also how long does it take for colic to occur?, the horses have had and eaten the hay for a little over 2 days. Could I maybe help my horses by giving them oils or something to get the hay to pass through them before it becomes an obstruction? Some advice would be really helpful as iv'e never had a horse colic and I want to prevent it!
    08-18-2011, 10:43 PM
Super Moderator
Well, I stand by what I said. I'd say that when 59 out of 60 horses at my house can eat hays high in NSC 24/7 free-choice in round bale feeders that it cannot be a great problem if horses are not kept in obese condition. I feed grass hay free choice, feed a good mineral supplement that also supplies essential Vitamins and feed no grain or concentrate to horses that are not working for a living or growing.

I am not ignorant of the research on the connection between NSC and IR horses and laminitis. I also have experience with laminitic horses that have very low thyroid output and are obese on almost no feed. When there is more than just an occasional horse with a problem with IR, colic, laminitis and founder, total management needs to be looked at and not just the feeding program. Most people or places that have more than an occasional problem usually have obese, over-fed horses.

I have been called in to set up management programs for literally dozens of big breeding farms, boarding stables and training stables as well as by individual horse owners with very good success. Most have seen a marked decrease in cases of colic, founder and dietary problems and have seen a reduction in overall costs at the same time while their horses looked better and performed better.

So to me, it is foolish and not good overall management to ignore cost and convenience and purposely make a feeding program an expensive and time consuming nightmare when the horses involved do not need an exotic feeding program. Trying to condition and show or work an IR horse or a horse with PSSM is indeed a nightmare. But, there is absolutely no reason to suffer that nightmare or expense with healthy, 'normal' horses that are not in obese condition and not suffering from bad management and over-feeding.
    08-18-2011, 10:49 PM
Super Moderator
It sounds like it is wheat and is not good for them to be eating it. The grain is very high in gluten and starch and is the most dangerous grain to feed a horse -- much worse than corn. I have known of horses foundering on just the shattered wheat that has fallen from a combine.

If it were me, I would lock them away from the hay until someone like a county agent can look at it. If it is wheat and you cannot move it or move the horses, I would pour a little diesel on it and burn it.


Wheat hay with mature or nearly mature wheat in the heads IS NOT safe to feed horses.
    08-19-2011, 01:22 AM
Originally Posted by Cherie    
So to me, it is foolish and not good overall management to ignore cost and convenience and purposely make a feeding program an expensive and time consuming nightmare
Cherie, as I said, I agree it's a management/amount problem - you obviously are on top of that, unlike so many - but re your comment above, perhaps it's just a matter of where we both are & what's available in our areas, because (apart from the fact that to leave horses on improved pasture in this neck of the woods generally does mean they become obese) sticking to low-carb diet IS what is generally most cost- and convenience-effective. I don't know what is hard about it at all, unless it's very difficult or expensive to find low NSC grasses in your area. Prevention is much easier & cheaper than treatment too over here.

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