Foreword… I do not presume to know a lot about horses, their dietary and other needs, but at the encouragement of a horse owner I have forayed into the equestrian world to expand on our fodder/forage and hedgerow information. Please feel free to share feedback or information you may have in regards to this topic.
Many of the recommendations on our Fodder and Forage page are for ruminant animals – cattle, sheep and goats. However, horses have a very different digestive process therefore need to be addressed separately. There are many different thoughts on how horse nutrition should be managed and I will not enter into these here. This article is to discuss a system, which is more our focus, of providing constant free choice forage feeding. On the advice of a horse owner I have been investigating the ‘Paddock Paradise’ system developed by Jaime Jackson. This system aims to mimic the natural grazing/foraging of horses in a fully natural environment, but within the confines of a smaller area. There are other terms for this method, creative pasturing and track grazing etc., but the effect is the same, allowing the horses more room to move without excess grass.
By fencing the outer edge of paddocks or pastures to create separate walking tracks and allowing limited access to pasture the ‘Paddock Paradise’ mimics how horses would forage in the wild, spending only brief spells on open grass land due to avoiding predators, often early morning or twilight when the grass sugars are low. Planting these tracks with various trees, shrubs, herbs and wildflowers gives the horses a more natural browse system and the ability to self-medicate. Strategically placed hay slow feeders and water encourage the horses to move around the tracks. In the wild horses would naturally roam many kilometers per day, but domesticated horses are often kept in smaller paddocks with easy access to food and water in close proximity. This can decrease the amount of voluntary exercise and therefore result in less burning of the calories consumed. Another point to consider is that exercise, especially voluntary exercise on pasture or tracks, is very important for the overall mental well-being of the horse, as is companionship.
Many of the articles I have referenced below are from other countries, there is limited information on this topic in regards to New Zealand so I have gone back through our fodder and forage lists in regards to horses. Including a diverse mix of plants around or in your horse paddock is beneficial no matter what method of grazing you use. Options for the planting and protection of these plants could include fencing off or hot-wiring part of your race/track or boundaries to create hedgerows. In paddocks, corners can be fenced off providing a cost-effective area to be planted or shade trees with under-planting through the center of paddocks, again with adequate protection. Consider soil, moisture and aspect when deciding placement of trees or hedgerows, observe where your problem winds come from and what areas need more shade or shelter, but also which areas you do not want shaded. All plants benefit from mulch to retain moisture and also eliminate competition from grasses as they become established. This could be wood chip (add nitrogen, e.g. manure, to eliminate nitrogen leaching if mulch is fresh), wet cardboard with added mulch on top, natural carpet, old silage, hay, straw or stable muck, or just green waste (make sure no pest weeds are in it).
The Fodder/Forage Hedgerow.
Fodder is feed that is harvested and taken to the animal, forage is browsed on by the animal while still on the land.
Tree Lucerne – Tagasaste – NZ research indicates digestibility of 82 per cent for plant tips, and 59 per cent for stems up to 8 mm thick. Figures for crude protein content varied from 18 per cent to 25 per cent for tips, and 8 per cent for stems.
Japanese Fodder willow – is highly palatable and contains salicylic acid which is the natural origin of aspirin. All willows are edible.
Basket Willow/Osier – is highly palatable and contains salicylic acid which is the natural origin of aspirin. All willows are edible.
Mulberries – considered high value forage/fodder in many countries. They do produce berries which are edible but may pay to be aware of if you need to limit sugar. Though in a fenced off hedgerow access to berries would be limited anyway.
Rugosa – Apple rose – highly palatable fodder/forage, also medicinal.
Hazel – the leaves and small branches have forage value, while the nuts, which are edible for horses, are high in protein and fat, in a fenced off hedgerow access to nuts would be limited.
Copper Beech – hedged – nontoxic, colourful hedgerow or addition. There is some discussion on whether the nuts are safe or not.
Wattle– Coppiced – Acacia sp. Are considered to have good forage value, are fast growing and nitrogen fixing.
Alder – Black or Italian – coppiced – Alnus sp. are considered to have good forage value, are fast growing and nitrogen fixing.
These are primarily smaller trees or shrubs or can be coppiced to keep lower. But there are also larger trees which can be used as shade and shelter within the paddocks or track areas.
Poplar sp – commonly used fodder tree in New Zealand.
Chestnut, sweet. – nuts are high in starch which could cause issues in some horses. But tree is non-toxic.
Linden – leaves are highly palatable.
Weeping Willow – is highly palatable and contains salicylic acid which is the natural origin of aspirin. All willows are edible. Excellent for wet areas.
Tortured/Corkscrew Willow – is highly palatable and contains salicylic acid which is the natural origin of aspirin. All willows are edible.
Birch, Ash, Liquidambar and London Plane tree are other options which are considered safe.
New Zealand Native Forageable Hedgerow
Flax and Karo are considered to be natural wormers.
Toe Toe, Cabbage Tree, Kohuhu, Lemonwood, Griselinia (highly palatable), Hebe, Ake Ake, Manuka are all classed as non-toxic and will be browsed by most animals.
Five Finger and Seven Finger are also considered non-toxic and browsed by animals, however there is some concern over the berries being toxic as they are both in the ivy plant family.
Fruit trees – Apple, Pear, Peach, Plum, apricot etc. These are not recommended as they can be toxic to horses.
Mulberries, Rugosa – Apple rose (or other rose species) and Hazel are mentioned in fodder and forage above.
These options are all considered non-toxic…
Hawthorn (medicinal also)
Berry brambles – Raspberry, Thorn-less Blackberry etc.
Herbs are also worth considering as many have medicinal properties, these herbs listed are considered safe for horses.
I would like to thank members of Homesteading New Zealand for contributing such beautiful photos of their horses.