Performance horse without feed concentrate - Our path to healthy horse feed
Karen Küfe and her husband Harald have discovered their calling. They tell us about their ever changing daily routine: “For about 30 years we have been operating our “Osterheidehof” in picturesque Lower Saxony. As an agricultural and equestrian business, we have moulded ourselves passionately to nature, to the animals and to agriculture.
My husband Harald has completed a classical farming education. I found my calling through pedagogic training in “Equine-assisted therapy”. After further education and additional training I have specialised in therapy for horses with particular injuries and metabolic problems. At the start, my husband and I ran the farm part-time and had two to three boarding horses. Our equestrian business grew bit by bit so that today we have no fewer than 70 horses permanently in our stables. As the number of horses continuously grew, we also fed concentrates and haylage. It had been our dream to grow horse-appropriate grasses for a long time, to be able to harvest and prepare really healthy horse hay. Harald, in the meantime, became a full-time farmer but by then we were still unable to produce the large amounts of hay ourselves.
For both of us, regular training is part of our self-concept; we are convinced that this is the best way for us to improve our knowledge and experience. During one of these further training courses in 2008, we heard about an artificial hay drying process in neighbouring Austria. Naturally we were very curious and when we decided to visit selected model farms in Austria in 2010, we were immediately impressed. Drying round bales was by no means perfected at this point; however we recognised the new possibilities, as the hay did not need to be dried loose anymore. And then in just over a year, we started running innovative technology of Josef Reindl’s hay drying company HSR. We were completely convinced by the excellent system with its intelligent control technology. Thus, my husband Harald has transformed our dream and focussed on the production of high-quality horse feed.
How does this special drying work?
This particular method of drying hay works using a circulation process with warm, dehumidified air – as is also used in herb-drying. During this gentle procedure, the feed is never heated above 40 °C, which means that all the proteins and essential oils remain in the hay. As the hay is only worked twice or three-times after cutting, all the valuable herbage of the plants also remains unaltered. Immediately afterwards the hay is pressed into round bales and brought in for drying. We already dried a large proportion of our magnificent 2012 harvest using this technology. Since then we are able to say happily: Our roughage is made exclusively from the hay produced on our own farm. Additionally, all the horses received a proven cereal blend as feed concentrate. We were thrilled with the changes we could see in the animals. The coats of the animals were much shinier. Their musculature was visibly and tangibly firmer, at the same time the elasticity of the muscles increased. Particularly surprising was the fact that despite the longer feeding periods, the weight problems of some animals receded. In combination with sufficient exercise, many animals finally achieved their ideal weight. Also pleasing was the reduction in susceptibility to feed-related faecal water. The horses seemed to be much happier and the previously existing bloating was reduced – which had a positive effect on the rideability of the animal.
How did the conversion take place?
To begin with, we fed the animals the usual three portions per day. But as we felt that this was not natural for the horses, we quickly converted the stables and allowed the animals free access to the roughage (“ad libitum”). Naturally, some horses exploited the new situation and constantly stood in the hay. The result: They quickly gained weight. They were used to only receiving a certain amount and ate as if there were no tomorrow. An astonishing effect was seen after a few weeks: The horses understood that they had unlimited access to their favoured roughage and that there was enough hay for everyone. The feed envy disappeared just as quickly as the extra kilos. This occurred of course faster in the warm-bloods and thoroughbreds than in the Haflinger and riding ponies (the hardy horses). The large horses required a feed volume of around 1.5 to 3 kg per 100 kg body weight. Bit by bit we reduced the energy-rich feed concentrate portions over the period of one year. Now we feed our charges two 100 g portions of black oats per day in stalls. This cereal serves as a mineral feed portion and lures the horses back into the stable from the freedom of the pasture. All the horses living in groups and open barns receive their minerals via the proven mineral lick.
What do the boarding clients say about this?
For many of our boarding clients, who often have many years of experience in the correct handling of horses, it is difficult to imagine that their horses receive enough energy and minerals without feed concentrate. We’ve heard questions like “Can I even ride it then?” or “Does it receive enough calories?” on more than one occasion. But after only a short time almost all the boarding clients agree: With this natural diet, their horse is developing better than ever. The riding requirements are completely fulfilled up to the (German) upper L-competition level, and the animals ooze power and vitality. We often hear of horses, whose energy requirement is not covered by hay. We can say from experience: The energy density of the hay is determined through the quality, and only the best hay, which has been gently dried, can properly fulfil the horses’ high demand.
In times requiring increased performance, for example during intensive training, training for use or regular events, we feed the animals particularly energy-rich hay. Also during moulting, horses can have a higher energy demand, which can be covered particularly well by an energy-rich hay. The very soft, energy-rich hay from the second or third cut is particularly special, and is especially good for old or very old horses that have a constant battle with tooth problems.
Which grasses make quality hay?
It is a special blessing for us that we are able to observe and attend to the development of the grass from the seed, to the fresh grasses, to the high-quality horse hay. We only seed our paddocks and hay meadows, as well as the pastures with slender grasses which are especially suitable for horses. We avoid the popular sowing of performances grasses with a high sugar content as far as possible. However, this is difficult for two reasons: on the one hand, there are hardly any ready-made seed mixtures without these grasses. On the other hand, the seeds from neighbouring meadows also land on our ground. The hay differs not only according to the varieties of grasses, but also by the cutting time. We feed very sensitive horses with a very late first cut, which occurs considerably after the first flowers. In this way we also allow the grasses we prefer to propagate over our meadows, and this hay is characterised by a low energy content and a high proportion of crude fibre. We feed the hay from the first or second cut, which is cut during or shortly after flowering to our normally feeding animals. We give a softer, early mown second cut (or if possible a fertilised third cut) as a feed concentrate replacement, something for our older horses and generally where there is an increased energy requirement.
What must one pay attention to during pasture maintenance?
My husband Harald is a passionate farmer. The near natural management of the cultivation area is just as important to him as the end products: The high-quality fodder hay and the healthy meadows. This always poses particular challenges for him. Just as much knowledge and experience are needed for healthy grass land and pastures. At the same time, he pays particular attention to which grass is suitable for our animals in terms of intensity and type of use. The classical permanent meadows with their tried and tested varieties, such as tall oat-grass, meadow fescue and yellow oat-grass are suitable for three cuts. High-performance grasses such as cock’s-foot or even perennial rye-grass can be mown four or five times with intensive fertilisation. But this is not our way of doing things. We pay attention to quality rather than quantity, and always choose biodiversity when selecting varieties.
How do we constantly guarantee the high quality?
Better safe than sorry. True to this motto, we have our hay varieties checked regularly and precisely analysed. Only this way can we obtain exact information about the nutritional values, and we receive the facts black on white. Especially interesting: The energy content of the late cut is 10.2 MJ/kg dry matter, and 143 g/kg raw protein/kg dry matter. This is already quite similar to the energy value for fodder oats, which is 11.52 MJ/kg dry matter according to the DLG tabulated value.
A tip for those still in doubt:
We advise riders who are (still) not confident, to feed their dear horses with this near-natural and sustainable healthy diet. Try it out – this method is proved by its success! The health and vitality of your darlings will benefit from it!
After many years of experience with a wide range of horses, from pony to Haflinger to sport warm-bloods and the spirited thoroughbreds, we can claim with pride that we feed our animals the best feed for their individual requirements.
The quality of the hay is priority for us, and we offer the best horse hay for ideal energy provision with the knowledge we have collected, the findings of recent years, and sustainable management together with regular analyses. Through feeding different hay varieties we also guarantee a near-natural feed. Furthermore, free access to it conforms more to the natural feeding habit than does regular hay provision (about three times a day at set times and in set amounts). With the additional uptake of meadow grass, the individual nutrient and fibre demand for the respective performance requirements of the animal are appropriately covered. In addition to generally more content horses, apparent benefits of our therapy were increased performance and a reduction in losses due to illness in the horses.
More information about Osterheidehof from Familie Küfe can be found on the internet: www.osterheidehof.de