It depends. I have fed unsoaked cubes in the past when we had a real shortage of hay and it was winter. I didn't want the soaked cubes to freeze during the day but I wanted the horses to have access to long-stem forage.
BUT, and it's a big BUT, I had horses that were not at all prone to choke. They would happily nibble on the cubes for hours. They never tried to gulp their food or eat quickly.
My general rule is to soak cubes, beet pulp, etc. because IF your horse chokes, it can cause damage to the esophagus which will make them more prone to choke. And the problem is that you may not know your horse has the tendency to choke until it happens.
We have a horse at our barn right now who had a severe choke with hay stretcher pellets -- something that I've fed in the past with no problems and probably hadn't thought of as being a risky feed.
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FWIW, my mare won't even eat them as whole, unsoaked cubes, LOL! I soak her alfalfa cube mash and any that don't break up in the soak, are leftover in her dish when she's done. It's like she doesn't know they're edible!
If you have a horse that isn't prone to choke, and methodically chews their cubes, it could be fine. However, if your horse chooses to swallow them without methodically chewing them, he could easily choke.
I just prefer to soak to 1) avoid that risk or at least lower it, and 2) they get more water into them with soaked cubes, especially in the winter.
Also, an added benefit with my mare, with a soaked mash, I can hide all sorts of medication in there and she hasn't a clue!
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The only time my old TB mare ever choked was on partially/inadequately soaked hay cubes. Completely anecdotal, of course, but when I look at how hard and compacted they are out of the bag and what they look like after soaking, I can't help but imagine what could happen to one of those cubes that got stuck in an esophagus.
Totally not worth it, IMO. Soak them thoroughly or don't feed them. If your barn won't soak them, ask (no, insist) that your horse not get them in the first place. I'd rather my horse be a little bored and a little hungry than to be calling the vet, even once, to treat a choke.
We have had horses that will not eat them if soaked, and the opposite, will only eat them if soaked. There is always going to be a danger of a choke with not soaking them, but totally depends on the horse, and what he is used to.
This is not something I feel comfortable as a barn manager making a decision about for horses not owned by me.
The other question would be, WHY feed them? Is hay really scarse? Around here, hay cubes cost at least twice what the same weight would in hay. Hay also occupies them for longer, for the same amount.
Open a bag of cubes...pick out a handful of the larger/longer cubes and place them on a hard surface floor. Grab hammer and try to break them up.
*That* is why they're soaked.
That is also why some folks will use them as a time consuming forage in stalls...for many horses it does indeed take them forever to figure out how to chew up the cubes that aren't small and more easily flaked.
Just too risky IMO. Even a careful eater can swallow a larger/harder piece the wrong way and scrape their esophagus or get it lodged. A horse can also consume some types of wood. But I'd rather see them do it stripping some bark pieces off of a tree or bedding rather than trying to chew up and swallow a thick branch.
Soak the cubes. Just because a horse hasn't choked yet doesn't mean it will never happen. Lower *your* horse's risk. If we can remove some of the methods of Equine Suicide then we should...as long as we don't get to the completely overboard, nit picky, neurotic mess stage of overprotection.
You jump in the saddle,
Hold onto the bridle!
Jump in the line!
Our donkey gets soaked cubes three times a day SOAKED for sure (and really takes no time at all). Good for putting meds in AND providing extra hydration in the winter! Those things are rock hard, would not feed unsoaked!
Doesn't take 10 minutes to soak Timothy cubes and pellets. Better safe than sorry. If you have seen a choke, it is not something you want to see again. Vet bill is high too......
Ditto. While I've never fed hay cubes myself, I've personally known & witnessed 3 horse-owners (1 feeding Timothy cubes; 2 feeding Alfalfa cubes) who had serious & frightening choke episodes with their horses. One horse had so much throat damage he was sick for a couple of months afterwards.
Even though 3 episodes over the course of a number of years may not sound like much, if it's something that's so very easily preventable, why oh why take the chance?
If I were you, I'd insist that your horse NOT be fed dry hay cubes.
I have one horse that ate soaked cubes just fine for awhile until the day his cubes were not soaked long enough and were still dry on the inside- yup- BAD CHOKE.
I hope to never go through this again, and thus avoid cubes totally.
I have a friend who owns a 19 horse boarding barn and because of past choking problems she makes a very thin soup out of cubes several hours before giving it out. And she gets permission from each horse owner before feeding this thin green soup.
Sounds like the OP's barn owner has never seen a choking horse or just doesn't want to bother w/ soaking.
I'd certainly pass on dry cubes, just not worth the risk.
I have been to barns where they feed nothing but alfalfa cubes straight out of the bag and haven't had an incident ever. Personally I think they are a choking hazard, particularly the ones made from leafy hay that are glued together like rocks, and also just uncomfortable to eat. When I feed hay cubes I soak them, but I understand that is a pain for the barn and will take more time than just going down the aisle and scooping some into each feeder.
As Peter, Paul, and Mary say, a dragon lives forever.
I'll be the voice of dissention and say that it's not that big a deal. Most of the horses at the ranch I board at are fed unsoaked cubes. With 70+ horses to feed soaking is not really an option. I haven't heard of a case of choke in the 4 years that I've been there and I am friends with the barn gossip. I likely would have heard about it.
At $15 for a 50# bag it's cheaper than hay here ($42 for a 100# bale). My mare doesn't have a problem breaking up even the large cubes, pretty much one bite pulverizes them.
Having never seen a horse choke before I'm probably more likely to take the risk than someone who has seen a horse choke. Everyone has their own levels of acceptable risk.
I would NEVER let my horse eat unsoaked cubes. They are just too hard and the perfect size for getting lodged in the throat. I also cut all my apples in half before feeding, as I once watched a horse choke horribly on a small apple that he tried to swallow whole. Just not worth the risk. Tell the barn owner to soak the cubes or skip feeding them to your horse.
I've seen choke from unsoaked hay cubes at a barn I boarded at once. I happened to be there when it occurred. It's not pretty, it can cause lasting damage and it's very expensive. Sure, it may never happen, but, I would never take the risk. My old girl gets them, well soaked. They're a wonderful food, helping to carry supplements and to give her extra water which she really needs, especially in the Winter. She loves them. But, I would never feed them dry, and neither would my barn owner.
Thousands of horses in arid environments--California, Arizona, etc--are fed dry cubes as the sole source of hay. And for the most part, it works and horses do not have problems.
That said, I would NEVER feed dry hay cubes. And as I am dealing with the aftermath of a bad choke (from TC Senior--nothing as big and dry as hay cubes, sigh) I have a very healthy respect and downright fear for choke and the attention required to keeping a horse from choking.
However. How is your luck? Are you one of those people who never sees the vet except for routine stuff, never has a lameness issue and is otherwise just lucky? If you're generally lucky, then you will probably not have any problems feeding dry hay cubes. If you're one of those UNLUCKY people (like me, ugh) who is on a first name basis with the vet, has her personal cell phone number and seeing her weekly is not terribly unusual...then by all means....RUN, don't walk away from feeding hay cubes unsoaked. Because if you are unlucky, of COURSE your horse will be the one in 10 years to actually choke on the damned things.