The horse’s digestive system has evolved to function best when it has a continuous supply of fibrous material. Chaff is a form of roughage and is produced by chopping up hay into smaller pieces. The principal advantage of chaff is that it can be mixed with the concentrate portion of a horses feed so that the horse consumes forage with the concentrate. This can increase chewing time and slow the intake of concentrate. The benefit of increasing chewing time is that concentrate then enters the digestive tract more slowly and in smaller amounts, this allows the simple carbohydrates to be fully absorbed in the small intestine. Chaff is also easier to digest than hay and so it is great for young and older horses.
It is important to consider the nutritional content of the chaff that you feed. There is a wide range of horse chaffs available that use different fibre sources, so the key is to find the right type/s of chaff for each individual horse. Even though chaff is usually fed in a small quantity; areas such as protein and sugar content may vary greatly between different brands of chaff and can influence your horse’s overall health. Additives such as molasses, oil, mint, and garlic are also sometimes added for various reasons, these additives may also impact your horse’s overall health and need to be considered.
Some of the common types of chaff for horses include:
Wheaten chaff is quite high in fibre and can be used as a low energy roughage. It is a very palatable feed source and can be an excellent source of roughage for horses. Although; if the wheaten chaff has been made from an early cut crop, the wheaten chaff may contain a lot of sugar, which can increase the energy content. A typical analysis of Wheaten chaff may indicate nutritional levels such as: Protein 4.00%, Calcium 0.27%, Phosphorus 0.07%, Crude Fibre 37.9%, Energy Mj/kg 6.20%.
Oaten chaff is high in fibre, it is often considered softer, sweeter, flatter and more palatable than wheaten chaff. Oaten chaff also often contains high sugar and starch levels and poor mineral levels. The higher sugar level can make oaten chaff very palatable and increases the energy content. A typical analysis of Oaten chaff may indicate nutritional levels such as: Protein 4.00%, Calcium 0.23%, Phosphorus 0.06%, Crude Fibre 35.00%, Energy Mj/kg 7.50%.
Lucerne chaff is very high in protein, calcium and many other vitamins and minerals. It often contains a lower level of starches and sugars than many cereal or grass chaffs. Lucerne chaff is also considered to have a highly digestible energy concentration. Depending on where it was grown, Lucerne chaff may vary in concentrations of phosphorus and other minerals. A typical analysis of Lucerne chaff may indicate nutritional levels such as: Protein 21.0%, Calcium 1.40%, Phosphorus 0.26%, Crude Fibre 25.2%, Energy 57.6%.
Meadow chaff varieties generally, contain a combination of all grass types harvested. Therefore, can have an unknown and varied level of minerals and protein. However, the later the grass (mature grass) was harvested the lower the protein and energy levels can be expected. There are some species-specific grass chaffs available. Timothy chaff is a variety of grass species, that is grown in New Zealand and Australia. It has lower protein and lower sugar levels than Lucerne, it is also low in non-structural carbohydrates, which is great for horses that are prone to metabolic issues such as laminitis or insulin resistance.
Because chaffs are a forage, not a complete feed, it is important to feed them as part of a complete diet. Depending on your horses’ overall diet you may choose to add a vitamin/ mineral supplement or Ration Balancer into your feeds to help provide a nutritionally balanced diet.