A Question About Hay Consumption

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Credit: Thinkstock You should feed your horse according to body weight and management goals (weight gain or loss, for example) rather than by flakes of hay or scoops of grain per day.

Credit: Thinkstock You should feed your horse according to body weight and management goals (weight gain or loss, for example) rather than by flakes of hay or scoops of grain per day.

Question: How many square bales does a horse eat a day? Is it necessary to have hay/feed in front of a horse all day?

Answer: It is difficult to estimate how many small squarebales of hay a horse needs each day since bales vary in size and weight. Its better to feed based on weight. The average adult horse required about 2% of its body weight in feed (hay plus grain) each day. For example, a 1,000-pound adult horse at maintenance would require 20 pounds of feed daily. If your small squarebale weighs 40 pounds, then the horse should be fed half the bale each day. If the bale weighs 80 pounds, then one quarter of the bale would be required each day.

If you are feeding grain, then subtract that amount from the hay meal. For example, if you are feeding 5 pounds of grain, then reduce the amount of hay fed by 5 pounds. Using the above example, the hay ration would then be reduced from 20 to 15 pounds. Adding the 5 pounds of grain to the 15 pounds of hay fed daily would help ensure the horse was receiving 2% of their body weight in feed each day. It is also a good idea to assess horse body condition each month and adjust the amount of hay (and grain) fed as needed.

It is not necessary for horses to have feed in front of them all day. In fact, this practice can lead to obesity if high-quality, energy-dense feed is offered without sufficient exercise. Feeding 2 to 4 small meals throughout the day, that equal 2% body weight, is ideal since horses evolved to consume several small meals throughout the day. However, feeding more than two meals throughout the day is not feasible for many horse owners. One management method that has proven to extend foraging time while allowing horses to remain on a controlled diet in the use of slow feed hay nets. A recent study at the University of Minnesota found that horses took 3.2 hours to consume a hay meal when fed off the stall floor and 6.5 hours to consume the same hay meal when fed from a slow‐feed hay net. Researchers concluded that slow‐feed hay nets represent simple and affordable management tools for extending foraging time when meal feeding horses. For more information on the hay net study, click here.

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