Dumb question: Ponies preferring straw to hay!

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My mares are currently out full time with hay and hard feed; they seem happy. Except for one thing. And that is that they seem to much prefer pulling the tarpaulin off the straw and eating that, whilst leaving their hay. Giving less hay seems to make no difference: it just means less is wasted! But I'm concerned that they won't be getting the nutrients and calories they need, not to mention that it's wasting a lot of hay and means there's a risk of running out of straw, which was purchased as bedding.


So why might they be doing this, and what can I do about it? Or should I not worry, seeing as how they do have the choice of both hay and grass!

(Yes, it shouldn't have been stored in the field, I know, but these are the big bales and it was sort of assumed a nightblind horse wouldn't be able to open 2 securely tied tarps at night - Diva decided to prove me wrong!)
 

Polos Mum

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Mine just likes the taste of straw, maybe it's a change for them, maybe the hay is a bit iffy if it's on the ground/ trampled. Mine old eventer would stand in a field of spring grass and eat sections of straw (I know because I tried it one year!).
Some people are very anti feeding straw but most horses with a straw bed pick at it a bit so I'd imagine yours are used to it.
Are they so thin calories make a difference?
could they be a bit bored in this poor weather and they are playing around with something unusual in the field

All you can really do is move it so they can't reach it - but if that's a mission then I can't really see much harm being done.
 

Ladyinred

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I am afraid we have given up to the extent that our girls now have an 'eating pile' of fresh straw as well as their beds and hay. It does stop them digging up their bed in search of tasty morsels. Yet, when we spent an awful lot of cash sourcing and buying oat straw specially for them, they refused to touch it and the whole (expensive) 150 bales ended up as bedding. Rough old wheat straw and they love it!

I guess some horses never read the textbooks.
 

honetpot

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So much hay now is made from very few species of grasses, usually high yield commercial brands. We have a local hay supplier that make hay and haylage commercially, the hay is green and smells good, but I got a second lot of hay for the fatties from someone who made just 400 bales which is not as green and looks finer hay they prefer the cheaper non commercial hay.
I have fed barley straw for about 25yrs, and feed it in summer if there is no grass. The best of both worlds is weedy barley straw, but I find really they will eat any straw. I think they just like the change in taste and chewing is something horses like to do, or else why would they chew wood? If we cut down a tree we put the trunk in the paddock so they can strip the bark.
 
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Mine just likes the taste of straw, maybe it's a change for them, maybe the hay is a bit iffy if it's on the ground/ trampled. Mine old eventer would stand in a field of spring grass and eat sections of straw (I know because I tried it one year!).
Some people are very anti feeding straw but most horses with a straw bed pick at it a bit so I'd imagine yours are used to it.
Are they so thin calories make a difference?
could they be a bit bored in this poor weather and they are playing around with something unusual in the field

All you can really do is move it so they can't reach it - but if that's a mission then I can't really see much harm being done.
They were decent weights end of summer, maybe even too ribby for some people, but they are native sorts with barrels as round as globes, who get fat off thin air. It probably wouldn't hurt them to go into spring a little lean tbh...aI think the bigger of the two mares likes playing with the tarp, too.
 

Berpisc

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I have fed straw as part of a sensibly balanced diet for years. Sometimes in a bad hay year it has been a lifesaver. Sometimes, as you have found, the horse has made their own choice. The good thing is there is a constant supply of fibre, it is a case of using common sense to balance any nutritional needs and going with what your horse/s need. Not to be seen as a cheap option, as has been said above, horses don't read textbooks :)
 

Misty05

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I have two mini shetlands, they have hay nets and straw nets. They go from one to the other as they want. Quite often the straw net is finished first. Perhaps they need the extra roughage. They have not read the books either as it is wheat straw. Putting the straw in a net means it is clean straw they are eating. I rarely have to put bedding down as they do that for me.
 

JFTDWS

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Mine also all choose to eat straw - one will stand in a field of decent grass and eat wheat straw, but all of them choose to eat it when in, sometimes in preference to hay or haylage (even though the haylage is actually decent quality). Wouldn't touch oat or barley straw, but will actively seek out wheat straw. I presumed it was just my ponies being institutionalised by my regime, but the mare's the same. Weird.
 

Hipo

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My Exmoor eats a fair bit of her straw, although she has ad lib hay. Highland eats the odd bit. A vet recently came to visit someone’s horse on the yard and they were talking about horses eating their straw beds. The vet was not happy that any horse would be eating straw at all and advised they moved on to shavings?? I’ve always been happy for them to eat a bit of straw.
 

Shady

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Honetpot you make a good point there regarding the quality of hay now.
I always feed a mix of untreated prairie ( meadow?) and straw, whenever i have had to buy high yield hay the horses hate it and i think it smells wrong. They pick through it , throw it around and sulk! put a nice new bed of straw in and they are happy bunnies. I'm not saying everybody should give straw but i have 2 barefoot good doers who came from Australia and Spain and neither of them do well on rich grass/hay.
 

little_critter

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Sadly my good doer pony will not touch the lovely soft sweet smelling meadow hay I want her to eat. She would rather eat her bed. In the end I caved and got some spiky looking rye hay and she much prefers that. I have no idea what was so wrong with the meadow hay but she would not touch it, even with no other option. (all hay is soaked anyway so I hope the rye won't be too fattening for her)
 

DD

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I am afraid we have given up to the extent that our girls now have an 'eating pile' of fresh straw as well as their beds and hay. It does stop them digging up their bed in search of tasty morsels. Yet, when we spent an awful lot of cash sourcing and buying oat straw specially for them, they refused to touch it and the whole (expensive) 150 bales ended up as bedding. Rough old wheat straw and they love it!

I guess some horses never read the textbooks.
ha ha arnt horses great lol
 
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Thank you everyone. Think I'll just accept that they're going to eat the straw; might invest in a big bale to put in the field for them too, imagine that'd make them pretty happy, lol. :)
 

joosie

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I was a groom in southern Portugal. It's perfectly normal to feed straw there instead of hay, it's cheaper and easier to get hold of. Same in Spain i believe. When we did get hold of nice hay the horses still preferred the straw.
 

laura_nash

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A vet recently came to visit someone’s horse on the yard and they were talking about horses eating their straw beds. The vet was not happy that any horse would be eating straw at all and advised they moved on to shavings?? I’ve always been happy for them to eat a bit of straw.
Maybe they were concerned about them eating bedding, i.e. it might be dirty or contaminated? Otherwise I have no idea, obviously it would be a concern with some horses (bad teeth, history of colic etc) but in general, no. I give mine quite a bit of barley straw (very good doers), when I first started feeding it I did a fair bit of research and I'm not aware of any evidence that it causes a problem in moderation - I wouldn't feed it as the sole forage but go up to about 50%.
 

Mike007

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This proves what I have long suspected .Horses know far more about what is good hay than their owners. If your horse prefers straw to the hay you are offering : A. Your hay is rubbish . and B. You dont know what type of straw you are feeding. . These days ,most farmers use straw choppers on the combine to get rid of the straw. Wheat straw has a very limited niche market as horse bedding and is of far less value than spring Barley straw so is almost invariably chopped up. As a result the straw that comes on the market is the rather more yummy (from a horses perspective)Barley straw. Hay is another matter . You will find that hay regularly sells at auction for less than the best straw .And I am not talking about the crap that your local cowboy hay supplier sells. Your horse might at least nosh on this stuff . The hay I regularly see being delivered to many DIY Yards is basically no better nutritionally ,than wheat straw. Dusty late cut Lignified rubbish.
 
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This proves what I have long suspected .Horses know far more about what is good hay than their owners. If your horse prefers straw to the hay you are offering : A. Your hay is rubbish . and B. You dont know what type of straw you are feeding. . These days ,most farmers use straw choppers on the combine to get rid of the straw. Wheat straw has a very limited niche market as horse bedding and is of far less value than spring Barley straw so is almost invariably chopped up. As a result the straw that comes on the market is the rather more yummy (from a horses perspective)Barley straw. Hay is another matter . You will find that hay regularly sells at auction for less than the best straw .And I am not talking about the crap that your local cowboy hay supplier sells. Your horse might at least nosh on this stuff . The hay I regularly see being delivered to many DIY Yards is basically no better nutritionally ,than wheat straw. Dusty late cut Lignified rubbish.
Who auctions hay!?
 

Cortez

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I've been feeding straw (alongside hay or haylage) for 25 years, vets are always horrified as they are taught that it causes impaction colic but I've never had a problem. Good straw is much better than poor hay, and horses always know the difference. Quite often what looks and smells like lovely hay to us is not palatable for horses, and vice versa. I would always trust the horses to know what's good.
 

Fjord

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When I had my (very) good doer on straw my RI told me they used to bed the skinny horses on straw so they could pick at their bed and help keep their weight up. It might have explained why despite soaking and restricting her hay, my fjord was still tubby!
 
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