Feeding Horses When You’re Riding in the Wilderness

“When planning to camp with your horse on publicly managed land, find out whether restrictions apply in that area. You do not want to find out on arrival that the feed you’ve brought isn’t allowed.”

By Clair Thunes, PhD

Protecting Public Lands From Noxious Weeds

Our public lands are threatened by nonnative plant species brought in through various means, such as migrating wildlife, clothing, vehicles, and livestock. Such plants find an environment where typically no natural means exist to keep them in check and, as a result, many thousands of acres can become impacted. As such, state and federal public land management agencies spend considerable time and money trying to eradicate these noxious weeds through various means such as chemical herbicides or physically removing them. It’s no surprise then that some agencies require horse owners riding and camping in public lands to pack and use certified weed-free feed as a means of reducing the introduction of noxious weed seeds.

When planning to go camping with your horse on publicaly managed land, find out ahead of time whether restrictions apply in that area. You do not want to find out on arrival that the feed you’ve brought with you isn’t allowed. Note: Under the U.S. Wilderness Act of 1964, lands designated as “wilderness areas” automatically require weed free feed to be fed.

If some or all of the areas you’re visiting require weed-free feed, you’ll need to do some homework. Ideally you’ll find a weed-free version of the forage you currently feed your horse so no major dietary changes are required. You might also be able to find certified weed-free hay. Try searching online for “certified weed-free hay,” plus the name of your state or county.

Some states or county agricultural commissions keep a list of hay that they have certified as free of weeds. This means that the hay contains none of the noxious weeds as designated by that state or county. Farmers have to harvest hay from an inspected field within a set time period post-inspection to ensure that no weeds have since grown. Keep in mind that hay certified in one area might not pass muster in another, because different areas consider different weeds to be noxious. Certified weed-free compression bales (tightly baled hay meant for shipping) are available, which can be handy if you’re going on an extended trip, because they take up less space. Don’t be fooled by their small size however: They weigh just the same as a full-size bale!

If you can’t find hay bales, then hay pellets are an option. In fact, in some areas pellets are required. To be weed-free pellets must have been processed at a high enough temperature and ground to a fine enough particle size that no weed seed would be able to survive and germinate. For this reason cubes are typically not acceptable—they’re not processed at a high enough temperature and the particles have not been ground to a fine enough size. Try to find a pelleted version of the same type of hay your horse normally receives (e.g., Timothy pellets if you feed Timothy hay) to reduce dietary changes and their impact on horses’ digestive tracts.

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AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
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