Got My Horse

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Horse Hay Feeding Habits

Understanding Horse Hay: Everything You Need to Know

Every horse requires daily roughage in its diet, and hay is an excellent source of nutrients and forage. However, not all horse hay is created equal, and it’s essential to understand what makes good horse hay and the types of hay available to ensure your horse is healthy and happy.

What to Look for in Good Horse Hay?

Good horse hay should be high in nutrient content, free from dust, mold, and weeds, and have a sweet smell. Hay is an essential source of roughage for horses, so it’s necessary to choose one full of fiber, as it aids in digestion and bowel movements.

The primary nutrients to look for in horse hay are protein, fiber, digestible energy, and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Understanding these nutrients will allow you to choose the best hay for your horse.

Types of Hay

The most common types of hay are legume and grass hay.

  • Legumes are rich in protein.
  • Grass hay has less protein and more fiber.

Timothy is a grass hay commonly fed to horses, while alfalfa is a legume hay.

  • Timothy hay is low in protein, calories, and carbohydrates, making it ideal for overweight horses.
  • It is also an excellent source of roughage for horses that require a low-calorie diet.
  • In contrast, alfalfa is high in protein, calories, and calcium, making it an excellent choice for horses that need to put on weight.

Grass Hay or Alfalfa for Horses?

Choosing between grass hay and alfalfa for horses is not easy, as both have their pros and cons.

  • Alfalfa is rich in nutrients, including protein and calcium, but it has a higher calorie content and can lead to weight gain if fed excessively.
  • Additionally, feeding alfalfa to horses is not suitable for those with metabolic issues.
  • On the other hand, grass hay is a low-calorie alternative with more fiber and a lower risk of causing health issues.
  • Grass hay is also less expensive and readily available, making it a more practical choice.

Hay Pellets/Cubes/Bales

When there is a shortage of hay, owners may consider hay pellets, cubes, or compressed hay bales.

  • These options provide the same nutrients as traditional hay and have the added benefit of being easy to store and feed.
  • They are also convenient when traveling with horses.
  • However, it’s essential to ensure that the quality of hay pellets, cubes, or bales is excellent and that the hay was cut and harvested correctly to avoid dust and mold.

The Choice of Feeding

Feeding horses relies on several factors, including free feeding, exercise, and weight gain.

  • The most appropriate method of feeding your horse is free feeding, allowing your horse access to a constant supply of hay.
  • Horses that exercise frequently or do hard work require more energy and nutrients to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Before increasing the horse’s caloric intake, consult with your veterinarian to ensure the correct feeding plan.

Age and Metabolism

A young horse’s nutritional requirements are very different from those of an aging horse or an adult horse. Nutrient requirements can change due to growth patterns, reproductive status, activity level, or environmental factors.

Therefore, it’s essential to adjust feeding and hay options based on these factors.

Horse Breed, Size, and Pen Size

Different horse breeds and sizes require different feeding methods.

  • For instance, Haflingers are prone to obesity, and draft horses require a more significant amount of food than smaller breeds.
  • Additionally, the size of the pen or stable should be taken into consideration when planning a feeding strategy.


The price of hay can vary depending on the location, time of year, and quality. When looking to buy hay, horse owners should be mindful of the price, but also consider the nutritional value in relation to the cost.

Best Hay Mixture for Horses

Individual needs often determine the best hay mixture for horses, and it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to determine the right combination that suits your horse’s nutritional requirements. Hay mixtures commonly include blends of grass hay, alfalfa hay, timothy-alfalfa, timothy-orchardgrass, sweet feed, corn, oats, grains, or molasses.

A veterinarian’s guidance can facilitate the selection of the right blend for individual horses based on their health condition.


Hay is a crucial part of a horse’s diet. Understanding horse hay, the types available, and the proper feeding methods can have a tremendous impact on your horse’s health and well-being.

Whether it’s grass hay or alfalfa, hay pellets, cubes, or bales, knowing what to look for in good horse hay is paramount. By being aware of the various factors that influence a horse’s nutritional requirements, keeping their needs in mind, and consulting with a veterinarian, owners can ensure that their horses get the right nutrition, leading to a happy and healthy equine friend.

Quantity and Feeding Habits: How Much Hay Does Your Horse Need?

Getting the quantity and feeding habits right is crucial in meeting your horse’s nutritional needs and keeping it healthy and happy.

With so many factors to consider, varying from the horse’s size and metabolism to access to grass and climate, determining how much hay a horse needs can be a daunting task. In this article, we’ll cover all aspects of hay feeding and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about hay for horses.

How Many Bales of Hay Does a Horse Need?

The amount of hay a horse needs depends on its age, size, activity level, or metabolism, and the style of feeding and climate.

Horses with little access to grass require more hay than horses allowed to graze on pasture. In general, two to four bales per horse per month are sufficient, but this varies based on the factors mentioned above.

A horse that weighs 1,000 pounds and has limited access to pasture in a typical climate conditions requires 15 to 20 pounds of hay per day, equivalent to one to two bales per week. Several factors can affect the amount of hay feeding, including the horse’s age, metabolism, activity level, and the climate condition.

The metabolism of some horses is different from others, which makes it vital to consider the horse’s health status before planning the quantity of hay to feed. Similarly, the size of the horse is a factor, with smaller horses needing fewer bales than larger horses.

What Kind of Hay is Bad for Horses?

Some hay is not suitable for horses and can lead to health issues such as colic, laminitis, or nitrate toxicity.

  • Hay with high nitrate content such as sorghum, pearl millet, or Johnsongrass hay is harmful to horses.
  • Johnsongrass hay is known to have dangerously high levels of prussic acid, which can be fatal to horses.
  • Feeding horses wet or moldy hay is another issue that can lead to health problems such as respiratory issues and digestive distress. It’s necessary to examine hay carefully before feeding it to horses.

FAQs on Hay for Horses

Is wet hay bad for horses?

Feeding wet hay to horses is not recommended as it can cause respiratory and digestive issues.

Wet hay can lead to the growth of mold and cause lung irritation and allergens that can trigger respiratory illnesses.

Is moldy hay bad for horses?

Moldy hay is hazardous to horses, and feeding moldy hay can lead to issues such as colic and respiratory infections. If hay gets damp or moldy, it’s advisable to discard it and replace it with fresh hay.

Is hay bad for miniature horses?

Hay is essential in the diet of miniature horses, similar to their larger counterparts.

However, due to their small size, hay should be appropriate for their size, and it is essential not to feed them poor quality hay.

Adjusting the Amount of Hay Based on Horses Needs

It’s crucial to adjust the amount of hay based on the horse’s needs, age, metabolism, and activity level. Older horses may need more hay to maintain weight, while younger horses may need more hay to support healthy growth.

Horses that exercise frequently require a higher caloric intake than those in less active roles. In conclusion, feed quality hay in appropriate quantity and avoid hay that may be harmful to horses.

Ensure your horse’s nutritional needs are met based on its age, size, activity level, and overall health condition. Work with your veterinarian to develop a feeding regime that is suited to your horse’s needs.

By keeping the above tips in mind, you can keep your horse healthy, happy, and well-fed. In summary, understanding hay feeding habits is crucial for a horse’s health and well-being.

A horse’s size, metabolism, activity level, and climate all affect the amount of hay it requires, and it’s essential to avoid hay that may be harmful. By consulting with a veterinarian and keeping these factors in mind, you can determine the best hay mixture and feeding regime for your horse.

Here are some frequently asked questions on hay for horses and their concise answers:

  • How many bales of hay does a horse need? It depends on the horse’s size, metabolism, and activity level, but generally 2-4 bales per month are enough.
  • What kind of hay is bad for horses? Hay with high nitrate content, sorghum, pearl millet, and Johnsongrass hay are harmful to horses.
  • Is wet hay bad for horses? Yes, feeding wet hay can cause respiratory and digestive issues.
  • Is moldy hay bad for horses? Yes, moldy hay can lead to issues such as colic and respiratory infections.
  • Is hay bad for miniature horses? No, hay is essential in the diet of miniature horses, but it should be appropriate for their size and quality.

Popular Posts