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Are alfalfa (lucerne)/grass cubes acceptable for horses? My vet just left after treating my horse for serious colic. Should I feed cubes? Should I soak cubes? Should I add something to prevent colic? I have recently learned proprionic acid and bentonite are added to cubes. What are these?


Forage cubes or forage pellets are a great alternative forage source when good-quality hay is not available or a suitable feedstuff. Older horses may benefit from soaked forage cubes if dental issues limit their ability to chew hay, and horses with inflammatory airway disease are often offered forage in the form of cubes, pellets, or chaff to reduce the level of dust and mold that can be associated with hay. Forage cubes often have a higher digestible energy value than mature baled hay, as they are harvested at optimal maturity when digestible fiber (neutral detergent fiber) levels are greatest.

One disadvantage of feeding only forage cubes is the lack of long-stem fiber, which may lead to the horse seeking other sources of fiber to satisfy this need. As your horse is recovering from a colic episode, the most important thing is to provide high-quality forage as grass pasture, hay, cubes, or a combination of these.

Soaking the cubes can increase water consumption that may help prevent dehydration and act as a carrier for powdered supplements and medications. How long the cubes are soaked and the amount of water used depends somewhat on the horse’s preference. Generally, at least 20-30 minutes are needed with equal parts water to soften the cubes. Depending on the cause of the colic and the current diet, there may be other nutritional changes to consider to reduce the risk of colic in the future.

If the risk for recurrent colic is high, adding a digestive supplement such as RiteTrac or EquiShure, both developed by Kentucky Equine Research (KER), will likely help. These products work by buffering the stomach and hindgut (cecum and colon). Maintaining a stable digestive environment and reducing the damaging effects that excess acid production can have on both the stomach and hindgut can help reduce the incidence of colic when used in combination with the best nutrition and management practices. RiteTrac is not available in Australia, but other research-proven products are.

Propionic acid is the most commonly used preservative in feed manufacturing. Similar to vinegar, it works by slightly acidifying the forage or feed to preserve the product. The amount of this substance, which is generally recognized as safe, is likely minuscule; however, regulations require its use to be listed on the feed tag. Not all forage cube products will contain preservatives.

Bentonite is used as a binding product for pellets or cubes to improve product quality and reduce the number of fines associated with the final product. I could find no information regarding a relationship between bentonite-containing cubes and impaction. Nutritional Requirements of Horses, published in 2007 by the National Research Council, states that there is a regulated limit to the amount of bentonite that can be used.


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