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23 november 2023 Reading time 2 minutes

Sugar content in roughage is skyrocketing - Roughage analysis is becoming increasingly important

Pavo, together with Eurofins, has once again carried out thousands of roughage analyses in the past year. Last year we already saw a huge increase in the sugar content of roughage. Unfortunately, this has not levelled off but has increased even more. This is a disturbing development. What does this mean for you as a horse owner? 

Nowadays, more and more horse owners are having their roughage tested. "A good development", if you ask Rob Krabbenborg, Product Manager at Pavo. "An adult horse can easily eat 10-12 kilos of hay or silage per day. In order to offer a complete and tailored ration, you must at least know how much energy, protein and sugar your horse gets from this mountain of roughage. The roughage quality that you ultimately aim for differs per horse. For example, a lactating mare needs more protein than a recreational horse." 

Protein content in roughage is historically low and has significant differences 

The protein content of the roughage samples examined showed large differences: from very low to some very high values. But whereas two years ago 49% of the samples had a low to very low protein value, this year it is no less than 64%. Krabbenborg: "This means that the protein levels are historically low. If roughage falls into the 'very low protein content' category, then for most horses it contains a protein content that is lower than the maintenance requirement. In that case, to keep your horse healthy, you should supplement the roughage with a protein-rich concentrate, or a special protein supplement." 

Sugar content in roughage is skyrocketing 

The sugar content in the roughage samples also shows a worrying development. In 2021, 33% of forage samples had a high to very high sugar content. Last year this rose to more than 40%, but this year that increase continues to even 58%. "This is a worrying development. This means that more than half of the hay samples are not suitable for horses that are sensitive to sugar. In that case, as an owner, you have to look for a more suitable roughage", advises Krabbenborg. For sport horses and lactating mares, a higher sugar content is less of a problem. In addition to looking for a more suitable roughage, it is also possible to replace part of your roughage with roughage substitutes that are low-sugar. For example, Pavo SpeediBeet (fast-soaking desugared beet pulp), Pavo FibreBeet (mix of fast-soaking desugared beet pulp and alfalfa) or Pavo FibreNuggets (spicy grass chunks). You have to soak these products in water before you feed them to your horse." 

Slightly lower energy value 

In 2022, 58% of all roughage samples examined had a low to very low energy content. This has remained stable compared to last year. Two years ago, this was still 51%. "We see slightly more roughage batches with lower energy values so it is especially important for sport horses to supplement this sufficiently. This is very easy to solve with the right concentrates." 

Roughage quality statement 

The values in the roughage have everything to do with weather influences, soil quality, harvesting conditions, the types of grass in the meadow and the time of mowing. An important factor that determines the level of sugar content is the time of mowing. Under "normal" circumstances, the earlier you mow in the morning, the lower the sugar content. Longer periods of drought can also cause higher sugar levels: the grass does not grow much when it is dry and sugar accumulates in the grass plant. Finally, moderate (or no) fertilization often results in higher sugar levels because the grass cannot grow sufficiently. 

Importance of Testing 

The importance of forage testing is increasing with the current changes in levels. The following applies to all types of horses and ponies: your horse's ration consists of 70-100% roughage. To put together a healthy ration, it is important to know the quality and nutritional value of your roughage. This, in combination with the purpose of use, or the special needs of your horse, ensures that you can feed your horse as well and effectively as possible.  Once you improve the quality of your roughage, you can supplement in a very targeted way. In this way, your horse will not be short of anything and you will avoid overfeeding.