What is it and How is it Made?
Dengie is just another name for chopped hay. The name Dengie is actually a brand of chopped hay, one of the original manufacturers. The company Dengie pioneered the use of high temperature drying to conserve forage for horses in the United Kingdom. When the Dengie company was founded, it was the only producer of high temperature dried alfalfa. As research on equine nutrition confirmed the benefits of a high fiber diet for horses, a bunch of other feed manufacturers followed suit.
Because of its origination some people refer to all chopped hay as “Dengie”. Kind of like how there are tons of search engines but everyone says “Just Google it” as if Google is the name for searching the web. I will discuss Dengie under the letter “D” even though it probably belongs in “C” for chopped hay or even “H” (hay) for that matter.
So with that clarified, how do they make Dengie? First, the hay is harvested at an early, immature, pre-bloom stage of growth.
Then the hay undergoes a unique drying process that “locks-in” the nutrients that can be lost during the traditional sun-curing process of drying hay. This high temperature drying process eliminates harmful mold spores that can lead to respiratory allergies (heaves).
After harvest the hay is then chopped into pieces two to three inches in length.
Next it is lightly misted with either molasses or soy oil which greatly reduces the dust factor and bumps up the fat and palatability (tastiness). It is then packed and compressed into air-tight bags at the peak of freshness. The bags weigh between 35-50 pounds depending on the manufacturer. Because all of this occurs within hours of harvest when the hay is at peak leafiness it is chock full of nutrients, highly palatability (tasty) and the digestibility is really great.
Dengie is used as a complement to your grain, as a supplemental fiber source, for a nutritious treat or to replace hay completely, but more about that later.
Why Types of Dengie are there?
All types of hay can be chopped to be used as Dengie but the most common ones sold commercially are Alfalfa, Timothy, and Orchard Grass or a combination of these. Additional options include chopped hay mixed with oat hay, beet pulp, or with a vitamin/mineral supplement. Almost all have added molasses and/or vegetable oil depending on the purpose of the formulation (is it for weight gain? Is it for a laminitic pony?) and some companies have a blend with chopped straw to boost up the fiber but I’m not crazy about that idea.
Different manufacturers have chopped hay blends for specific needs; for example Triple Crown Nutrition has a Safe Starch Forage that is formulated specifically for horses and ponies needing low starches and sugars. It is blended with vitamins and minerals and also soy oil and ricebran for added fat so it supplies the horse with its entire diet. The grass hay used in Triple Crown Safe Starch is specially selected for low NSC levels and to keep the NSCs low the product is molasses and grain free.
Lucerne Farms has a product that is targeted at the older horse or just maintenance needs. It is a blend of timothy, oat and alfalfa hay chopped really short for easier chewing and digestibility. It’s mixed with a little molasses to make it tasty and the fat is super low at 1.5% so the horse won’t gain too much weight.
Dengie, the original manufacture of chopped hay, has a Healthy Tummy product specifically designed for horses with gastric ulcers. It is chopped alfalfa (known to help ease stomach issues) with added prebiotics and live yeast for gut health. In addition they add an herbal blend that is full of powerful antioxidants to help improve the immune system.
As you can see there is quite a variety of Dengie out there and I’d be confident in saying there is one for every need.
What is the Nutritional Value?
As you all know, I am big on a fiber-based diet for horses to ensure they stay happy and healthy. Fiber is essential for the health and well-being of your horse’s digestive system and provides the horse with readily available form of energy.
Just as with baled hay the digestible energy (DE ) level varies between different types of Dengie. Some brands using alfalfa or a sugar beet mix can contain as much energy as a grain concentrate. Because the hay crop is harvested much earlier for Dengie it is more digestible and higher in energy and nutrients than other forms of hay.
Some brands add mannanoligosaccharides which stimulates the immune system as well as omega 3 fatty acids which can reduce inflammation of intestinal cells. In addition, L-Carnitine, an amino acid, is added to some chopped hay blends can help increase the metabolism of nutrients which will improve cellular repair.
As far as specific values you really should check the brand of chopped hay you are feeding but some general values are:
Why Feed it To Horses?
There are a bunch of different reasons to feed Dengie, all of them to help your horse in some fashion. Probably the number one reason is the supplemental use of adding fiber and energy to the diet.
In contrast to cereal grains, fiber provides slow release energy so your horse can get the energy without the grain “high”. Plus there is less chance of the starch overload in the hindgut associated with feeding a cereal grain based diet. With the high fat (6%) versions of Dengie you get the beneficial cool energy of the added oil combined with the slow release energy of fiber.
Another reason to feed Dengie as a supplement to your grain is that it takes the horse a lot longer to chew fiber so there is an increase in saliva production and that helps buffer the stomach. If you have a horse prone to ulcers this is a big plus. Many horse owners find adding the alfalfa chopped hay provides a buffering effect for horses during pharmacological treatments like anti-biotics or ulcer meds.
Chewing the fiber not only helps with digestion but it can help satisfies a horse’s psychological need to chew, keeping them occupied and happy. Less boredom generally results in less stress and destructive behavior too.
Some horse owners soak the Dengie and feed a bucket full of this mush to add extra water in the diet. While other horses might need a complete hay replacement due to respiratory or other medical issues.
Because the high temperature drying process eliminates harmful mold spores that can lead to respiratory allergies (heaves) many horse owners rely on Dengie to give these horses fiber without the risk of their horse breathing in dust and mold spores common in baled hay.
Another equine medical issue that can benefit from a diet of chopped hay are horses with metabolic issues, like Cushing’s or Insulin Resistance. Knowing the non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) value of the diet is super important to controlling these conditions. Dengie hay is tested and the NSC values are known therefore it can be fed as the sole ration to horses that require closely managed NSC levels, or it can be used as a supplement to lower the overall NSC % in the total diet. The Triple Crown Safe Starch forage is a great example of how to use chopped hay for these horses. In fact I recommend all my clients with miniature horses feed it for this reason.
So why feed Dengie? Well it is a high quality forage product that is easy to store, take with you when your travel, can result in less feeding waste, and reduce health problems associated with dust and molds in hay.
How Do You Feed It?
Chopped can be used to supplement the existing hay supply or totally replace the hay portion of the horse’s diet but you need to determine the proper amount according to the horse’s age, weight, temperament and work load.
Dengie can be fed in a bucket, in a corner feeder mixed with the daily grain ration or even outside in a feed tub. However you choose to feed it, please remember to calculate your feed by weight not volume and to introduce any changes slowly over a week or two.
As a guide, a 5 gallon water bucket packed full with chopped forage weighs approximately 5 pounds but if you are feeding it as a grain replacement, feed double the volume of the grain ration. For example, if you fed 3 pounds of grain you will need to feed 6 pounds of Dengie.
If you are feeding it as the sole forage ration or hay replacement, you would feed 1% – 1.5% of the horses bodyweight (BW) per day like you would baled hay so 10 lbs. to 15 lbs. on a 1000 lb. horse.
If you want to just boost your fiber quality you can feed 4 to 6 lbs. per day in addition to your regular grain and hay. Mixing it with the grain may help reduce rapid consumption (bolting) and slow the digestive passage through the gut to ease digestion and maximize nutrient absorption.
Are there any risks or concerns?
If your horse can eat hay and needs extra fiber then there should be no reason you cannot feed Dengie. With that being said you do need to make sure you are feeding the correct type of hay for your horse. For example, alfalfa is high in Calories and very energy dense so you would not need to feed that to an easy keeper. Alfalfa would be more suited for a performance horse or one with ulcers or a hard keeper.
One common concern I do hear from clients that have fed bagged forage is when the color or texture of the forage changes from bag to bag. I usually remind them that the visual appearance of the actual product will vary due to environmental conditions during growth and time of harvest.
Remember hay is a natural product like fruits and vegetables. All crops of tomatoes don’t look the same as environmental influences can affect the size, shape and color of the harvest. Hay is influenced by weather; wet and warm conditions producing green, leafy plants while dry and hot weather tends to result in browner material.
Another concern I hear is when a foreign object is found in the bag along with the hay. I think people assume that it is grown inside away from dirt, bugs and small creatures. In actuality it is grown like hay, outside, and occasionally something that doesn’t belong gets scooped up with the hay. What I like about chopped hay is that is goes through the chopping phase which usually involves screening therefore many things that might find their way into a bale of hay get discovered and removed in the process.
There might be a concern that chopped forage can increase the risk of esophageal choke. In reality any dry product can cause choke in your horse if they eat too fast. The fact that it is forage helps because they have to chew more, stimulating the saliva response which aids in reducing choke. You can always soak it a bit if you are worried about this. The fact that Dengie has added oil or even molasses reduces the dryness factor as well.
The only other concern I can think of is the cost. Bagged forages can run between $15-$20 for a 50 pound bag so if you need to use it as your sole source of fiber for your horse it could get quite expensive. Using it as a supplement or a treat is another story, it is well worth the cost for these purposes.
So as you can see Dengie, aka chopped hay, is a great way to bump up the quality of fiber in your horses diet, or to replace baled hay altogether. It is a must for a horse with heaves or for those you need to control NSCs in the diet. Check these links to find out more about the different brands and products available.
Peace and Good Feed,