Estimating Winter Hay Needs for Horses

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Credit: Thinkstock How much hay does an individual horse need over the winter?

Credit: Thinkstock How much hay does an individual horse need over the winter?

Question: We recently purchased a farm and will be housing our two Quarter Horses over the winter. They are trail horses who are not ridden during the winter. Because I’ve always boarded my horses, I’m not sure how to estimate how much hay I will need for the winter. Can you provide some guidelines?

Response: An adult horse at maintenance will consume between 2-2.5% of their body weight in feed (hay and grain) each day. For example, a 1,000-pound horse fed a 100% hay diet would consume 25 pounds of hay each day. From October 15 to May 15 (when there is no pasture in Minnesota), the horse would consume about 5,350 pounds of hay or 2.7 tons. This would equal 107 fifty-pound small square‐bales or six 900 pound round‐bales during this time. For two horses, this amount would be doubled; 214 small square bales or 12 round‐bales. It is critical to know the weight of the hay bales; not all bales weigh the same.

If the same horse was receiving 5 pounds of grain each day, their hay needs would be reduced to 20 pounds each day. From October 15 to May 15 the horse would consume about 4,280 pounds of hay or 2.1 tons. This would equal 86 fifty-pound small squarebales or five 900 pound round bales during this time. For two horses, this amount would be doubled; 172 smallsquare bales or 10 roundbales.

These estimates assume good quality hay is fed in a feeder to reduced hay waste. When feeding small squaresbales, hay waste when a feeder was not used (hay fed on the ground) was approximately 13% compared to only 1 to 5% when a feeder was used. When feeding large roundbales, not using a feeder resulted in 57% hay waste compared to 5 to 33% hay waste when a feeder was used. Its always best to purchase some extra hay since horses may require additional hay during the cold winter months (depending on their access to shelter).

You can visit the University of Minnesota Extension website to sign up for their horse newsletter.