Main source of nutrition? RUN. I bought my first horse as a weanling from a woman that kept her pregnant mares on cornstalks almost exclusively; I had to put him down as a 3yo from a mysteriously fractured spine. Not to mention that his sire was 16.1hh, dam was 15.3hh, and he matured at just under 15hh. Sure, could've been coincidence, until I heard about no less than THREE MORE colts that died from mysterious broken bones! One leg, one neck, one pelvis I think. BAD idea. Made me do a lot more research on nutrition since 'the good ole boys' around here don't put much thought into it sometimes.
I know people with cattle around here feed corn stalk bales every winter...but cattle are much more efficient at sucking nutrients from nutrient poor forage.
A horse isn't designed for extremely efficient digestion like a cow is. I can see corn stalk bales being used simply as something for them to nibble on, but it would have to be paired with a more nutritionally dense forage. As for being hard on the gut, I can't say. I have one mare who eats through trees and wood posts as a hobby (even with hay/grass in front of her 24/7) and she doesn't seem to suffer from wood splinters.
I would seriously be worried about mold in the cornstalks. Locally, cornstalks get moldy with alternating dry and wet conditions in fall and after harvest. Cornstalks are home to a number fungus and bacteria that live sheltered in them over our winter seasons.
Not something I would be feeding to horses.
But there are always folks who feed what they want to, can't tell them different. And horses survive in various ways. Cornstalks are better than nothing, but not much. Cattle can pick quite a bit off a corn stubble field, rolled cornstalk bales and manage the built in "bugs" with cattle's superior digestive system. Horses just are built different, probably won't die, but could develop permanent problems from being fed this way.
The more you talk to her about this, the more she will dig in her feet and insist her idea is a good one. Perhaps a google search for problems with feeding cornstalks would turn up something. Even a call to the local Extension Office should give names to those cornstalk fungus and bacteria, and why they are bad for horses. You could just hand her the printed material, say it was something you had found while reading up on cornstalks as feed. Then walk away.
Sorry for her equines, but they probably will not have any trouble, just because WE said cornstalks were bad for them!! We will all be wrong, and she can feel superior.
I spoke with a nutrionist/vet friend of mine a while back about the possibility of adding some corn to my horses' diets. They grow corn at the farm so it's easy & cheap - and I'm feeding corn oil with my friend's blessing. She told me not to do it (in no ucertain terms) because there is a type of mold that's common in corn that's especially bad for horses.
I've seen corn stalks, and IMHO, if there's a possibility of the mold being in the corn, that possibility is much greater for the stalks.
And goodhors is right! Your friend's horses will probably be fine, but I wouldn't take the chance with mine.
Maybe point out to this woman that the inverted calcium to phosphorus ratio makes this a terrible horse feed (I don't have time to look up the numbers right now, if anyone is interested I will try later). Unless she feeds something to bump up the calcium to an appropriate level she can expect lots of growth problems (big head disease/nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism) and horses with brittle bones. Even with supplementing with a higher calcium feed I would hestiate to say that this is quality nutrition.
That's what my grandad fed to his mules and horses for forage. Back when he was a sharecropper. Living in a remote part of the Appalachians. During the Great Depression. And hell, even Granddaddy managed to give them grain as well.
Tell your friend horsekeeping has come a long way since the 1930's. Invite her to become a part of the new century.
That's the kind of forage cows might have, but remember cows have seven stomachs to digest that crap, a horse does not, in fact, his digestive system is particular and he can die from the wrong kind of feed. Not to mention the poor nutritive value to a horse's needs.
Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.
I saw a local ad in which someone was trying to sell large bales of corn stalks as a supplement to hay!! the ad said "Make your hay last longer this winter feed your Horses corn stalks"
I often see these large corn stalk bales piled up along the side of the road and just hope no one is going to feed them to Horse's!!!
We live in serious cow country, so am very familiar with them being used as cattle feed, but this was the first time I'd heard of anyone feeding them to horses. (They live on the other side of the state from me, and I believe have cattle as well, so I imagine thats why the horses are getting the same thing. )
It was a couple of older grade trail horses and a pony- the oldest horse died earlier this week (was in late 20's so could have been anything, but I wouldn't be surprised to find it was feed related).
Saw some pictures of them from last spring and they looked terrible, couldn't believe it when I heard they were getting the same feed this year. (Apparently they do get grain as well but how much or how often i do not know).
I'll pass along all the info you have provided, hopefully it will make a difference!
That being said, I do live on a farm and on occassion, parts of the corn stalks blow into my mare's field. I have seen the horses go around picking up the dried husks when there is plenty of hay/pasture available. So they must taste somewhat good. I was appalled the first time my mare picked up a whole husk (no cob) in her mouth and proceeded to eat it. Seems too rough to eat....
When non-horsey friends/others ask me about feeding, which is usually a question about why horses need higher quality forage (why can't I turn them out to eat cornfields like the cows do), I have a very simple answer that seems to do the trick every time:
When I bought my mare that's what they were feeding their horses. They had ran out of feed and hay! Most of these were breeding animals. No wonder she was 300lbs underweight when she arrived. The shipper said she would have followed him anywhere if he had hay with him! Can you just imagine? Amazingly she was in foal at that time as well (within the first 2 months)!
Even when NC was in a severe drought a couple of years ago and hay was hard to come by, corn stalks were NEVER recommended for horses. We were setting up shipments of baled corn stalks to move around the state for cattle though. A) Aflatoxins as someone already mentioned are not uncommon in corn. Cattle can work around this due to their ruminant digestive tract. Horses can not. Aflatoxins can kill a horse. B) Corn stalks are at best like 6% protein and not very digestible so it's just not an ideal forage for horses.
As someone said, just because it *can* be done doesn't mean that it should.
"Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you're a thousand miles from the corn field." --Dwight D Eisenhower