Why soak forage pellets?

22 October 2020

Back in the day, we were told that all feeds should be well dampened with water. Then along came muesli mixes with molasses and oil coatings, promoted as ready to feed, and we all got out of the habit of watering feeds. Right from the start however, when pelleted compound feeds were introduced in the 1960s, it was acknowledged that these feeds carried a slightly increased risk of choke. Horses choke on their feed due usually to not chewing it sufficiently, and it gets stuck in the oesophagus, causing distress and spasms in the neck muscles. With massage and walking, this can clear in under half an hour – if not, it is a task for the vet to sort out. There are many reasons why horses don’t chew properly – dental issues are right up there, along with greed.

We always suggest any forage pellet is soaked. This goes for all types of grass pellets, lucerne and sainfoin. Most of us accept that beet pulp needs to be soaked, but we jib at soaking the others. Soaking is good because:
• It restores the natural hydration of the forage;
• It increases the volume of the feed, so slows eating rate;
• The water added further dilutes stomach acid, important if the horse is prone to ulcers;
• Soaked feeds are more easily digested;
• Soaking feed avoids making the horse thirsty and aids the horse’s hydration;
• And yes, it reduces risk of choke.

Most forage pellets absorb 2 – 2.5 times their volume of water. Speed of soaking is very much temperature dependent. In summer or in warm water, it is around half an hour. In winter when it is cold, it is safe to soak for up to half a day. Do not soak for longer than necessary as you do not want the feed to start to spoil. When the pellets/cubes/nuts have absorbed the water and no hard bits left, it is ready to feed.

Soaking feed is not difficult but may involve some adjustments to your routine. It has to be worth it for the benefits to your horse!

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