Stabled horses, and especially those doing hard work, generally require to have their food more or less prepared, and this preparation is a matter of some importance with regard to economy and efficient feeding. No matter how perfectly mastication and digestion may succeed in extracting nourishment from unbroken and unprepared grain, the abridgment of labour and duration in these processes must be a saving to the animal; but when mastication or digestion is impaired - as in old horses when their teeth become defective, in horses over-fatigued by severe labour or privation, or in those which are ill or recovering from sickness - such preparation must be doubly beneficial. Grain should be crushed at least sufficiently to break the husk; and beans, peas, and maize should not be broken into flour, but cracked or split.
Cutting hay, and also straw, when it is part of the rations, into chop, is now pretty generally adopted, especially in large studs of horses, as it prevents waste; and if the chop is mixed with the grain, it ensures complete mastication of both. It is recognised that for horses doing long and slow work, with but a limited time for rest, this preparation of the food is eminently beneficial. The easier and more thorough mastication is a guarantee that the food is well mixed with saliva in the mouth, and this renders digestion in the stomach more rapid and perfect.
With a mixture of chop and different kinds of grain, it is very necessary that the whole should be thoroughly mixed. If a number of horses are to be fed with it, in order that each may receive its due quantity of each ingredient, to facilitate this mixing a large iron tub or box (or if of wood it should be lined throughout with sheet iron) at least one-third greater than the bulk of the food to be mixed at one time ought to be employed; the different parts of the food are laid in this box in alternate layers; when all are placed, they are then stirred up by means of a light spade.
Hay of good quality requires no further preparation than chopping; but for inferior hay, and especially if it be mouldy, the process of steaming for fifteen or twenty minutes has been recommended; this steaming, though it does not improve the nutritive qualities of the hay, renders it more palatable and digestible, and destroys whatever noxious qualities it may possess.
Roots, as carrots, turnips, or parsnips, should be carefully cleansed from earth and grit by washing; and to prevent choking, and render them more easily eaten, they should be cut or sliced into small pieces. If boiled or steamed, this should not be overdone, as horses relish them more when they are a little hard.
With regard to the propriety of boiling food, opinions differ somewhat; but for healthy horses, performing more than an average amount of severe, and especially fast, work there can be no doubt that unboiled grain, when of good quality, is better than that which is boiled. For heavy, or draught horses, Reynolds remarks that when hard or uncooked corn forms the ordinary ration, a night feed two or three times a week of steamed grain, mixed with bran, is an exceedingly good and agreeable change. At periods of the year when the demands upon team labour are moderate, the practice of steaming the corn is better for the animals, and also more economical. With a view to reducing the stimulating qualities of the diet, for horses doing only half work or less, the practice is especially good. A bushel of grain thus prepared will go as far in rendering the chop palatable as three times the quantity given raw. For young horses during the periods of teething, as well as for old horses having defective teeth or weakened digestive powers, boiled corn is much to be preferred. Damaged grain of all kinds, if used, should invariably be subjected to the cooking process; but it should be remembered that all steamed or boiled foods must be consumed before fermentation commences in them. Boiling or steaming ought to be applied only to whole grain, and should not reduce it to pulp, as horses dislike "slops." A little salt added to such food renders it more palatable, and probably tends to keep it sweet for a longer period.