Category Archives: Fodder and Forage

Fodder and Forage for Horses – a Natural System

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.

Rebecca Stewart.

Photo credit – Cecilia Fisher

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.

Photo credit – Tanaya Jade

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.

Photo credit – Melissa Mence

Edible/food-forest Hedgerow

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…


Photo credit – Tanaya Jade

Hawthorn (medicinal also)






Globe artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes


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.


Photo credit – Sarah Harding










Photo credit – Mandy Thompson

Chamomile Flowers

Lemon Balm

Goldenseal Leaf

Meadowsweet Herb









I would like to thank members of Homesteading New Zealand for contributing such beautiful photos of their horses.

Further reading…







Seedling Fruit and Nut Trees

Drive down most rural roads and you will see naturalized fruit and nut trees along the roadsides and fence lines. These are scattered here and there by the toss of a core or stone from a passing car or spread by bird, possum or rodent. Left to develop, these natural plantings can evolve into wilding hedgerows or thickets, providing shelter, erosion control and food. Traditional hedgerows would, typically, have regenerated themselves with this same process, fallen or bird-spread seed would have sprouted to fill the gaps left by dead or damaged trees and shrubs. This creates a continually changing and varied landscape, full of plants which are naturally adapted and suited to their local environment. Your location and what grows well there will dictate which edible plants establish in these sites, for us, in the upper Manawatu it is Apples, Plums, Hawthorns, Elders, Blackberry and Walnuts which thrive in these wilding areas (though walnuts due to their production of juglone, which is toxic to some plants, tend to be isolated specimens). While some of these plants are now considered pest species there is still value in their existence. Hawthorns are a valuable medicinal plant with edible young leaves and fruit, and are also a spring nectar source. Elders are sort after for their edible flowers and the ripe berries which are often made into cordials and wine. While harvesting wild blackberries is a common summer past time for many New Zealanders. It is these simple acts of seed dispersal which have resulted in a diverse collection of food, ripe for the taking, be it for human foragers or animal.  

Wilding Apples and Elder grow together along a fence line


In the home garden many of the fruit and nut trees are grafted, this allows the purchaser to be sure of what the tree produces and how it grows. But these trees also have a significant cost if you are looking at planting an edible, fodder/forage hedgerow or food forest and may not be suited to a mixed planting. They have been bred for an orchard or stand-alone type planting not for robustness to compete with other vigorous plants, though some vigorous heritage varieties may do well. It is in these situations where growing your own or purchasing cheaper seedling trees can not only allow for a larger planting at a low-cost but also assist in creating a truly diverse landscape. 


Cherry seedlings

Many fruiting and nut plants can be grown from seed and produce true to type (apricots, peaches etc) while other others result in variations of the parent plant. Apples and Pears are less likely to produce plants similar to the parent but that does not mean the trees are without use. Planted in a hedgerow or similar they can provide fruit and edible leaves for the livestock, a diversion for the birds away from your main orchard, fruit for cider or cider vinegar or pollen for the bees. Sometimes the fruit can be nicer than the parent, many of the common and heritage fruit trees today are the result of a chance seedling, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Gravenstein and  Braeburn are good examples of this. Others have been bred through controlled cross-pollination, but the result is the same, many seedlings with only a handful selected to develop further. So many trees would be discarded, but that does not mean they didn’t produce, it simply means they didn’t have the characteristics that particular grower was looking for mass production. Seedling nut trees also can produce variable results not necessarily true to the parent plant. But if you have grown a seedling which is vigorous and healthy in your soil and climate then you have the option of grafting on to it. Scion wood can be easily sourced from trees you know produce the fruit or nut you want or purchased online.  


We have many wild sown apple trees along the roads in our area, one of which produces large ‘Granny smith’ like apples which are brilliant for cooking, another usually carries masses of ‘Gala’ like apples. Both of these trees grow in difficult areas and yet thrive, while in the home orchard we can have no end of problems with the grafted fruit trees. Our favourite peach is from a tree growing in semi-shade on the bank of a creek, it was not a big tree but had large tasty white flesh peaches each year. Someone threw one of these peach stones into the garden near our front gate at the time. A couple of years later a small peach tree had grown, we only lived there for four years and yet when we left this little peach tree was bigger than the grafted plums we had planted near-by and had been covered in fruit that summer. We still have the off-spring of the original tree and though our climate now is not the best for peaches the trees have grown well in their new home. 

Three to four year old seedling peach tree in a mixed planting.

While it is said that grafted trees produce fruit much faster than seedling, this is not always the case and you must remember that these grafted trees are already several years old. The act of grafting and often bare-rooting the plant for sale can set it back and removal of fruit is often encouraged to allow it to develop good root structure. While a seedling tree, allowed to grow en-situ or planted young, can put on rapid growth and when it reaches fruit production stage it is well able to handle the load as its roots are fully established.  

So, in the small garden or orchard, grafted apple and pear trees allow you certainty about your trees, but seedling stone fruit are worth considering. In the larger garden, orchard or hedgerow situation you have the space to really experiment and develop a truly unique collection of fruit and nut trees which, if locally sourced, are well adapted to your area and climate.