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Extension > Agriculture > Livestock > Horse > Horse health > Alternate feed options

Alternate feed options

Betsy Gilkerson Wieland, University of Minnesota

A drought can leave many horse owners looking for quality hay, and considering alternative feedstuffs for their horses. A large portion of a horse's diet should be forage of some sort, and horses eat roughly 2% of their body weight in dry matter each day. Below is a list of common forage alternatives:

  1. Hay cubes. Pros: little waste, easily handled and transported, good baled hay extender or replacement. Cons: can be expensive and the horse may tend to over eat.
  2. Older hay, if stored properly. Pros: can meet the horse's energy, protein and fiber requirements. Cons: vitamins in the hay can break down with time so vitamin supplementation would be necessary.
  3. Beet pulp. Pros: Good source of energy and protein, you can feed 5 to 10 pounds a day. Cons: may need to supplement vitamins and minerals in order to achieve the necessary calcium and phosphorus ratio of 2:1
  4. Complete feeds. Pros: nutrients are balanced, good hay extender (some are meant to be fed with forage and some can substitute for forage). Cons: may not be enough total fiber, can be eaten quickly leaving the horse with "idle" time, needs to be divided up into small meals.
  5. Miscellaneous. Occasionally you hear of people feeding straw or corn stalks to horses, these are not recommended for horse feed as they have very little nutritional value and can have adverse affects on horse health. Haylage has been fed to horses, but caution should be exercised to avoid mold and botulism contamination which could be very harmful or deadly.

We've recently been asked if feeding whole roasted soybeans is acceptable. Whole roasted soybean would most likely result in excess protein in the diet and may not be very palatable.

Before feeding an "alternative" feed to your horse, consult your veterinarian and equine nutritionist.

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