Hay Analysis: Its Importance and Interpretation

Horses require a sufficient amount of hay and roughage in their diet. In order to ensure that your horse is receiving the required nutrients, hay is often analyzed for nutrient content and quality. This article explains the two types of hay analysis: visual and chemical.


Having your hay analyzed is a great idea. It is the only way to determine the actual nutrient content of the hay. It is important to know this so that you can be sure …

Feeding a Horse for Maintenance

eating hay

Maintenance is a component of all physiological states, defined as no net gain or loss of any nutrients. The nutrients required for maintenance are utilized for daily body functions, such as: metabolism during rest (heart function, breathing, digestion, nervous tissue function), activity for maintenance (walking to food/water, grazing), and temperature regulation.

Horses at maintenance include those kept in pasture and those occasionally used for work for short periods of time. The energy requirement for maintenance is low and can often …

Feeding a Growing Horse

Two foals

The growing period from birth to 12 months of age is a critical time in a horse’s life because 90 percent of mature height and 80 percent of mature weight are achieved during this time. This surge in growth is largely because foals have a high feed efficiency rate that decreases with age.

All young, growing horses have a high requirement for protein, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, and copper for growth and skeletal development. The concentration of lysine in the diet …

Changing the Diet of Horses

Whether it’s the grain, hay, or time on pasture, any change in the horse’s diet should be spread over several days or weeks. Increases in the amount of grain given to a horse should be added at approximately 0.5 pounds per day until the desired amount of grain is reached. Grain increases may be necessary because of an increase in activity level or for a mare during lactation. If the grain amount is increased too quickly, colic or founder may …

Selecting Horse Hay

Multiple hays for horses

Good quality hay is essential, since hay constitutes a large majority of the horse’s diet. Several factors influence the quality of hay. Any of the common hays can be fed to horses, but what’s most important is nutrient value in relation to the cost of the hay. To evaluate the quality of hay, the following questions should be considered:

1. At what stage was the hay harvested?
Nutrient value largely depends on the age at which the hay was harvested.

Feeding Horses by Weight, Not Volume

Grain Scoop - measuring weight

All concentrates do not weigh the same.

For example:

A 3-lb coffee can full of

32 lb/bushel oats = 2 1/2 lbs
34 lb/bushel oats = 4 lbs
corn or pellets = 5 lbs

Therefore, a coffee can full of oats is not the same as a coffee can full of pellet or sweet feed. This doesn’t mean you can’t use the coffee can method to feed your horses. Simply weigh out the appropriate amount of concentrate and mark the …

Group Feeding of Horses

Foals eating from a creep feeder


In a herd situation, horses establish a dominance hierarchy–a pecking order. In group feeding, you must keep this hierarchy in mind. Aggressive or dominant horses eat more than their share by chasing away others from the feed tubs, and timid horses do not get enough. For this reason, adequate feeder space should be available.

Young horses show little aggressive dominant behavior towards other horses during feeding. Mature horses, however, will show aggressive dominant behavior towards their pasture mates during …

Feeding Frequency for Horses

Feeding Guidelines

When feeding the horse, there are three general guidelines one should follow.

  1. Feeds should be fed at least twice a day.
  2. Feeds should be fed in equally divided amounts.
  3. Feeds should be fed near to or at the same time each day and at even intervals throughout the day.

Let’s look at the reasons why farm managers, nutritionists, and veterinarians follow these guidelines.

In the wild or out on pasture, horses eat frequently as they graze throughout the …

Grain Feeding for Horses

Feeding Grain

Horses should be provided the grain meal at the same time as feeding forages. Like hay, grain should be fed from a feeder instead of on the ground to decrease feed losses and contamination by urine and feces. Feeding grain on the ground also increases the horse’s consumption of dirt, which may accumulate in the large intestine and eventually cause sand colic or intestinal impactions. Grain can be provided in wooden, plastic, or rubber feed buckets, feed bags, …

Common Feeding Programs for Horses

Class of Horse Determines Nutrient Requirements

Horse Head

The National Research Council (1989) has published a guide to feeding horses entitled “Nutrient Requirements of Horses.” These requirements are based on several factors, including:

  • class of the horse
  • body weight
  • body condition
  • stage of production
  • age
  • activity level
  • growth.

Diet selection for each class or activity level of the horse will depend on the nutrient requirements for that particular class of horse and which ingredients are selected to meet those requirements. Horses should …