How Much Hay To Feed Horses: Where To Begin

Last Updated on February 21, 2022 by Allison Price

mix of pasture grasses, baled Hay, and other forage products like hay cubes or hay pellets or haylage. Horses can process huge amounts of forage to meet their nutritional needs. But where should a horse owner begin when deciding how much forage to feed them?

Based on the horse’s age and body weight as well as their physiologic condition, an estimate can be made. Below is a table that illustrates the expected horse forage intake.

Horse classThe amount of forage.Percentage of your body weightForage,% of diet
Pregnant mare1.0-2.050-85
Early lactating mare1.0-2.533-85
Late lactating mare1.0-2.020-60
Horse for performance1.0-2.033-80

Let’s use the information from the table to illustrate: Let’s say you have a mature gelding that needs your attention. He will be a trail-trot horse who walks once or twice per week. His weight is 1,150 lb (520 kilograms) according to the weigh-tape. His future workload would indicate that he is either a maintenance horse (520 kg) or a low-level performer horse.

How Much Hay To Feed Horses

“Using the table, it would be estimated that this gelding would consume 1.0-2.0% his body weight in good quality forage per day,” explained Catherine Whitehouse M.S., a nutritionist at Kentucky Equine Research.

Whitehouse stated that if forage is his only source of nutrition (and he does not receive any other feedstuffs, such as concentrates), he should be at or near the top end of this range.

Although this information can be used to start a forage-feeding program, it is not enough. Feeding horses is both science and art. As multiple factors play a role in the determination of forage intake, fine-tuning may be necessary. These factors include:

  • Forage quality. Higher-quality hays have more calories and nutrients. Horses can be fed more or less depending on their nutritional requirements.
  • Selection of hay for each horse. Horses deserve hay free from dust, mold and other impurities. However, not all horses need nutrient-dense, high-quality hay. This is mostly based on the horses’ metabolism (easy vs. difficult keepers).
  • Digestive-health concerns. Horses should chew forage throughout the day. If they don’t, it can lead to gastrointestinal problems such as gastric ulcers.

Supplements with vitamins and minerals are important for horses who eat only forage. Kentucky Equine Research created vitamin- and mineral supplements that are suitable for horses who eat only forage.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!