DENGIE, aka Chopped Hay


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.

Dengie2Because 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.

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The Equine Digestive System


I know, I know, there are many places that already have really great descriptions and information on the equine Digestive system. But the ABCs of Equine Nutrition will be a book when we are done and a book on equine nutrition would not be complete without a review of the Digestive system and how it works. Plus it begins with the letter “D”. So if you are well versed in equine Digestion and how it works then you can wait for our next topic for the letter “D” and that’s Dengie. If not, let’s go!

To keep it simple (and I’m all about that) Digestion is basically the process of making food absorbable by the body to use as energy. It does this by dissolving it and breaking it down into simpler chemical compounds. In the horse this is done through the action of enzymes in the foregut (stomach and small intestine) and fermentation in the hind gut (cecum and large intestine).

When Digestion works properly the nutrients from the broken down feed can be absorbed and provide the fats, carbohydrates, amino acids (protein), vitamin and minerals for the horse to use to live, grow, work, etc. These nutrients can be used right away or stored for future demands.

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Digestible Energy in the Equine Diet

ENN_DE-digestible energy_cover
Have you seen the term Digestible Energy or DE used to describe the value of your horse feed? Do you understand why they use this term in horse nutrition? Well, if you aren’t quite sure join the club! Many of my nutrition consults include an explanation of this concept.

Even though Digestible Energy (DE) is the most common method for measuring horse feed most horse owners still rely on the basics percentages of protein, fat & fiber to decide on what diet they feed. It’s really not that hard to understand if you keep it simple.

There are two concepts you need to look at; Energy and Digestibility.

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DRY MATTER in Equine Nutrition


Trying to figure out your horse’s diet can be confusing. How do you compare the protein value of your hay to the protein in your pasture? If the grain bag recommends 5 lbs. on an “as fed” basis what does that mean exactly? These are some typical questions I get from clients when helping them develop the correct diet for their horses.

The answers are found when they understand Dry matter and Dry matter conversions. If you are like most horse owners you understand enough about equine nutrition to read a feed tag or to follow along with an article in a magazine. You might even be able to have a decent conversation with a fellow horse owner about the features and benefits of a certain ration. I have found in working with my clients that there are areas of equine nutrition that can get complicated but are still very important to understand; “Dry matter” versus “as fed” is one of these. Dry matter is an important way to be sure that you are comparing “apples to apples” in your horse’s diet.

Happy Horse Healthy Planet_Apples-to-Apples

Basically, feeds are composed of two components – 1) water and 2) Dry matter. All feeds contain some water and the amount of moisture in any feed or forage directly affects its nutrient content. As you know water is essential to horse health but the nutrients (energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins) are found in the Dry matter portion, therefore it’s imoprtant know what percentage of the feed is Dry matter.

EcoEquine_Dry Matter

If we want to compare the nutritive value of feeds that have different moisture content, we need to look at it on a moisture free (or Dry) basis. For example green grass is much higher in moisture than hay so you must calculate the grass without the water content to be comparing apples to apples as far as nutrient value.

HappyHorseHealthyPlanet_CompareDry matter includes everything contained in a feed sample except the water; protein, fiber, fat, minerals, etc., so pretty much what your horse eats. Dry matter provides the energy in a horse ration and make up ninety percent of the dry weight of a diet.

Some feeds, including pasture grass and fresh forage, contain significant amounts of water. Others, like cereal grains that look completely dry can still contain 10-12 percent water. When feedstuff is air dried, most feeds will retain about 10 percent moisture. Nutrient percentages on feed tags are shown on an air-dry basis.

Hay Stretcher

When we calculate it,  Dry matter is the total weight of feed minus the weight of water in the feed, expressed as a percentage of the original sample:
DM % = DM / sample weight x 100

Dry matter content of a feedstuff is important because it reveals the actual amounts (in percentages) of various nutrients available to the horse consuming it.  In contrast, “as fed” basis represents the feed or forage as it is fed to the animal including the moisture content. While “as fed” is an accurate representation of the amount feed being consumed , it does not provide the percentage of the nutrients in the feed, particularly when the moisture content is high. To meet a horse’s nutrient demands requires knowledge of the actual nutrient content of the grains, forages, and supplements it consumes, not just the amount of intake.

HappyHOrseHealthyPlanet_Chestnut horse with a blaze eating his dinner in a black rubber feeder

This is where I usually see my client’s eyes start to glaze over but stick with me. If we use Dry matter percentage of the nutrients in feeds we need to remember that the physical quantity (amount) of nutrients will NOT change when water is added or removed. However, the percentage of nutrient present in the feed will change if water is added or removed because the water either DILUTES (water added) or it becomes more CONCENTRATED (water removed).

Okay, you know I love to use human analogies to help horse owners understand so here goes. Let’s take a can of frozen orange juice and compare what’s in it (nutrients)  to the same can plus 4 cans of water. The mixture would still have the same nutrients found in the single can but without the water they are CONCENTRATED (higher percentage). You would have to drink all of the mixture to equal the same nutrients as the single concentrated can of orange juice.

Happy Horse Healthy Planet_OJ Concentrate

Happy Horse Healthy planet_OJ Diluted

For an equine example, if a horse consumes 10 lbs. of hay at 90% Dry matter, it consumes 9 lbs. of Dry matter (10 x .90). If pasture at 20% Dry matter is substituted for the hay, it would have to consume 45 lbs. of pasture (9/.20) to receive the same amount of dry matter nutrients. Remember, the Dry matter is where the nutrients are.

Brown horse on pastureHorses consume feed to meet their daily needs for various nutrients and therefore, it is important to establish the amount of feed potentially consumed.  As we know now, because it is the Dry matter that contains all of the nutrients horses will have to consume more of a wetter feed to receive the same amount of Dry matter as they would from a drier feed.
Let’s look at the question in the first paragraph and see how you can compare protein in hay versus pasture:

% nutrient (as fed) = % nutrient (as fed)
% DM % DM

So let’s look at the question at the beginning of this:

% Protein in Hay 15 % (as fed) = % Protein in Pasture 7% (as fed)
% DM 85% % DM 20%

15/.85 =17.64% DM 7/.20 = 35% DM

The hay has a 17. 64 % protein on a DM basis but the pasture has 35% protein on a DM basis. Of course you don’t feed pasture on a Dry matter basis but this illustrates how much the nutrient is diluted with the addition of moisture.

Dry Matter

As all equine feedstuffs contain different levels of energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins you can find out what the nutrient profile is from feed tags on grain mixes, feedstuff tables online, from professional nutritionists, or through chemical analyses. Once actual Dry matter percentages of different feeds are known, reliable nutritional comparisons can be conducted and rations properly evaluated.

Here are the Dry matter values for some common forages:

Dry Matter Content of Common Forages
Most hay and grain mixes are assumed to be 90% Dry matter. So the label or test results information can be easily converted to a Dry matter basis by dividing the values by 0.9. For example, the crude protein content of a feed equals 12% “as fed” then:
12.0/0.9 = 13.3% protein on a Dry matter basis.

Dry matter intake is the amount of dry matter consumed by the animal and it is a central concept to any discussion of animal nutrition. Most horses will voluntary intake a daily Dry matter range of two to three percent of body weight.  Dry matter will influence the amount your horse consumes and generally the higher the quality of a feedstuff then higher the Dry matter intake potential.

To determine the daily dry matter intake for a particular horse we use the following sequence:

Lbs. Dry matter intake = Body Weight x (% Dry Matter Intake/100)

Example: An 1100 lb. horse consumes about 1.8% of its body weight per day.

Lbs. Dry matter intake = 1100 x (1.8/100) = 19.8 Lbs.
We’ll say this horse’s diet is approximately 65% forage and 35% grain to meet daily energy needs.
Lbs. Forage Dry matter = 19.8 x (65/100) = 12.87 Lbs.
Lbs. Grain Dry matter = 19.8 x (35/100) = 6.93 Lbs.

While it is beneficial to compare nutrient profiles on a Dry matter basis, in reality we must work with and mix feed on an as-fed basis. For example, a ration may be formulated on a Dry matter basis, but the actual feed ingredients must be mixed on an as-fed basis.

After you determine the recommended nutrient demands for your horse formulated on a Dry-matter basis, the values can be converted to an as-is basis (using the moisture content of the feed) to determine the actual amount of feed (as-is) that should be fed. Converting Dry matter nutrient values to an as-fed basis multiply nutrient percentage by the percentage of Dry matter in the feed.

Using the values from above, if the diet consists of only hay and grain, the amounts to feed can be calculated by assuming both feeds are 90% dry matter.

Amount fed = Lbs. Dry matter / (Dry Matter %/100)
Lbs. Hay fed = 12.87 / (90/100) = 14.3 lbs.
Lbs. Grain fed = 6.93 / (90/100) = 7.7 lbs.
So in this example you will need to feed your horse 14.3 pounds of hay and 7.7 pounds of grain to provide sufficient Dry matter (nutrients).

Whew! You made it! Of course most of the horse owners I work with feed the hay by body weight and the grain by the suggested amount on the bag and that’s just fine.  The work really has been done for you.  But if you are creating your own mix, have gotten your hay tested and aren’t sure how to read the report, or just want to understand equine nutrition better, just remember these “take-aways” on Dry matter:

  1. Dry matter analysis allows a comparison between the level of a given nutrient in Dry matter and the level needed in an animal’s diet.
  2. It is very important to know the Dry matter content of a feed to establish feeding rates and insure that your horse receives the proper amount of feed to meet their daily needs.
  3. It is important to always balance and evaluate rations on a Dry-matter basis. It levels the playing field so to speak.
  4. Nutrient values will either be on a Dry matter or as-fed basis. Before balancing a ration all values must be converted to either one or the other. It is often easier to balance the ration using Dry matter figures and only convert to an as-fed basis after the ration is balanced.
  5. In general grains and hay have ~ 90% DM and Pasture has %20 DM

Why does Dry matter matter? Because the largest expense in a horse care is the feed bill. To keep this cost low, a horse owner must supply the right amount of feed to the horse. Overfeeding is wasteful. Underfeeding will decrease health and performance. Therefore, proper feeding and nutrition are crucial to the health of your horse and the health of your bank account!

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Peace and Good Feed,
~The Nerd

Diatomaceous earth

Happy Horse Healthy Planet_DE Cover

What is Diatomaceous earth and Where does it Come from?

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms called diatoms harvested from the bottom of oceans across the globe. Diatoms are the grass of the oceans and lakes and are the food of water grazers just as grass is the staple food of many land dwelling animals. The diatom skeleton is made of a natural substance called silica.

Silica is very common in nature in various forms and makes up 26% of the earth’s crust by weight. It does not exist naturally in its pure form as it usually reacts with oxygen and water to form silicon dioxide. Silicon dioxide has two naturally occurring forms: crystalline and amorphous. Most Diatomaceous earth is made of amorphous silicon dioxide and this is the one we use for horses.

The beautiful geometric shells of the silica remains form massive deposits of Diatomaceous earth which is mined, milled, and processed into two main types, Food Grade and Industrial grade.

Diatomaceous-Earth-Diatoms-Progessive Gardens

There are a number of products containing Diatomaceous earth that are used for pesticide purposes. You’d be surprised at the number of non-pesticide products that contain Diatomaceous earth including skin care products, toothpastes, foods, beverages, medicines, paints, and water filters.

Anything ingested or used around animals is always Food Grade DE which is non-toxic, safe and crushed to a fine powder sometimes sold as “Fossil Shell Flour”.


Food grade Diatomaceous earth products are purified and even allowed by the USDA on organic food labels. Food grade DE is used as anticaking materials in feed, and as clarifiers for wine and beer. It is also used as a mineral additive, for detoxification, and as an effective insecticide.  This photo of the DE, magnified 7000 times, looks like spiny honeycombs that resemble bits of broken glass.


What is the Value of DE in Equine Nutrition?

When the diatoms are mined and ground up it ends up as a powder that looks and feels like talcum powder. When added to feed your horse will get the benefit of valuable trace minerals that make up Diatomaceous Earth. DE is approximately 3% magnesium, 33% silicon, 19% calcium, 5% sodium, 2% iron and many other trace minerals such as titanium, boron, manganese, copper and zirconium.
The most common nutritional benefit of DE for horses is parasite control but many horse owners report added benefits such as better coat and/or hoof condition.

As every horse owner (should) know parasites can wreak havoc with equine health. Internal parasites interfere with the absorption of food, cause weight loss, colic and diarrhea.


External parasites cause skin infections and an enormous amount of stress to your horse.

black stallion

With a good internal and external parasite management program your horse will see an improvement in health, appearance and behavior, as well as assimilation of feed, which means improved weight gain and lowered feed cost.
In my experience Diatomaceous Earth is a fantastic natural pesticide that deters all manner of insects that torment our animals. DE shows no indication of mechanical or chemical damage to the animal tissue therefore it can fed to the horse as a step in controlling internal parasites. DE can also be used as a dust for external pests by rubbing into the coat of the animal.

Food grade Diatomaceous earth is a great way to address parasites in your horse, but you should not rely on it as your only form of defense. Controlling intestinal worms in horses is a many layered endeavor that includes other Best Management Practices. Rotating pastures, appropriate pasture stocking rates, new horses being introduced to the herd appropriately, manure management and type or number of parasites needing to be controlled, are all parts of a good equine pest control plan.

How Does DE Work?

We don’t normally think of bad things as “positive” but when it comes to the way DE works, we do. The silica in DE is a semi-conductive mineral which when warmed by body heat becomes negatively charged. When this happens it gives off electrons that attract and absorb positively charged (but bad) things that are small enough to go through the holes. These positively charged things can be bad microbes, free radicals, and other positively charged waste.

Because of the strong charge, each shell can absorb a large number of positively charged substances, whether they be chemical or in the form of bacteria or viruses. After attracting these positively bad things, DE passes through the stomach and intestine, escorting these harmful substances out of the body.   Other larger parasites that can’t fit through the holes are “cut up” and killed by the sharp edges of the DE. Don’t worry though; the DE does NOT kill the beneficial bacteria in the gut nor “cutup” the intestinal lining.

macro of mold

Healthy Microbes Are Safe

When Diatomaceous earth is eaten, very little is absorbed into the body and the remaining portion is rapidly excreted.  Small amounts of silica are normally present in all body tissues so it is therefore normal to find silicon dioxide in urine but some studies looked at whether this would increase with the addition of DE to a diet.  These studies have shown that horses fed DE had no difference in silica amounts in urine samples as the silica in the DE was excreted .

How Do You Feed it to Horses?

If you decide to add DE to your equine management program make sure you purchase a product labeled as food grade or medical grade. These forms will be free of any contaminants or unwanted additives. Avoid the crystalline form of silica, commonly used in swimming pool filters, as the beneficial properties have been changed and other chemicals may have been added.

As each horse is an individual you should cater your DE amounts to several factors; weight and worm count.

Different Doses

Different Doses

You will need to cater the amount according to body weight as you would the dosage of any wormer. The suggested rate of food grade DE for a 1,000 lb horse is 1 cup a day. Remember, you need to feed it according to what each horse’s worm count demands; higher worm count in a particular horse = higher dosage of DE for that horse.

A minimum of 60 days is suggested for best results, you should re-check the fecal count at 30 days to make sure you are using enough. If fecal counts are not low after the 30 day re-check increase the daily dose of DE. Feeding too small a dose of DE will not give desired results.

Many horse owners just keep their horses on DE as part of their daily ration. In these cases some horses only need a 1/2 cup of DE daily, while others might need a full cup, but I have heard of horses staying worm free on as little as 2 cups per week. As I said before, each animal is different so cater the amount to the animal.
DE does not have an offensive order or taste so you can mix it with water or juice and feed it as a paste, or mix it directly into your horse’s feed. I would still add a bit of water to the feed to keep the dust factor at a minimum.

Diatomaceous earth
If you are like me you like to keep your horse supplements to a minimum so I use products with additional ingredients that address multiple concerns. There are two DE products I like that have additional benefits. Bug Lyte contains brewers yeast, thiamine, grape seed extract, garlic, niacin, and Diatomaceous earth. NHD Natural Wormer contains slippery elm, kelp, juniper berry, cascara segrada, clove, sage, garlic, and Diatomaceous earth.

Bug Lite

Are there Any The Risks With Using DE?

As long as you be sure to use food grade DE you are fine. Food grade Diatomaceous earth is EPA approved to be mixed with grains and used against indoor and outdoor crawling insects. Food Grade DE is USDA approved as an anti-caking agent for animal feed and it is FDA approved for internal and external use. So all the safety agencies confirm that it is nontoxic when used appropriately.

The biggest risk is using the wrong grade of DE so pay attention to which grade of Diatomaceous earth you buy. Industrial grade Diatomaceous earth is mainly used for pool filtering. It has been through heat and chemical processing and is highly toxic if ingested. So it is REALLY important that you only use food grade Diatomaceous earth.


If you haven’t wormed in a while, or have a horse with an extremely high egg count, I encourage you to use a slow introduction to Diatomaceous earth to avoid a detox reaction from a rapid killing of parasites and worms.

There is also some concern about what DE could do to a horse with ulcers or other digestive issues. Personally, I would not want to introduce anything more to an already compromised digestive system so I generally recommend that clients NOT use DE with these horses.

Be sure to consult your veterinarian before switching to a regular DE program, most vets are on board with fecal counts but can be in to a more chemical approach for paarasite control so be prepared for this.

A few other cautions. Some say it is better to use DE it in the morning, as it has been known to elevate energy levels. Also, I have heard of people withholding food from their horse before worming. With DE, or any wormer, you should never “fast” a horse, an empty equine stomach = trouble. Finally, if you are applying DE as a dust externally, use a face mask and apply with a bulb duster.


In Summary:

Many horse owners love the to use Diatomaceous earth topically to dry out wet stalls and to fight the flies manure attracts. The most controversial use of Diatomaceous earth is as a dewormer, but I have found it to be effective and safe.  I incorporate DE into my multifaceted deworming program, which includes a bi-annual fecal flotation test, but remember, DE should not be your only means of defense against internal parasites. Incorporate other Best Management Practices into your program to ensure control.

Peace and Good Feed,

~The Nerd

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The author does not recommend this blog be a substitute for veterinary, farrier and dental professionals for the care of your horse.  Methods and discussions regarding your horse’s health should be discussed with your horse care professionals and consideration of each animal’s unique characteristics should be taken into consideration.