Forage options for horses
When horse owners are looking for ways to extend their hay, it is important to remember that horses need “roughage.” Fifty to 100% of their diet should be forage of some sort. Lower amounts of forages can lead to an increased risk for ulcers and colic.
The easiest approach to lack of hay is to avoid the situation by planning ahead. Know how much you need. Horses eat roughly 2-3% of their body weight a day, for example an average 1000 lb horse will eat around 20-30 lbs of feed daily, plus water. When calculating your hay needs add 10% for wasted hay. There is less waste when using feeders and small square bales, compared to round bales. Ask your hay supplier how much the bales weigh and calculate your hay needs before ordering. If you do experience a shortage of hay, it is best to extend the good hay you have with other fiber sources.
A slow transition to other forages is essential for horses rather than to switch when you run out. To help evaluate your options, following is a list of common alternatives to regular baled hay for horses along with benefits and disadvantages of each.
- Pros: little waste, easily handled and transported, good baled hay extender or replacement. Think of them as very small hay bales.
- Cons: can be expensive.
- Pros: can be quite healthy for horses.
- Cons: vitamins break down with time and minerals can leach out if bales get wet. You may want to test for nutrient levels to balance the hay with supplements.
- Pros: Good source of energy and protein, you can feed 5-10 lbs a day.
- Cons: should soak before feeding if giving large amounts to prevent swelling while in the horse, need to supplement vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium.
- Pros: nutrients are balanced, good hay extender.
- Cons: not enough total fiber, it needs to be divided up into small meals because feeding large amounts can increase chances of colic and choking.
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. Haylage has been fed to horses, but is not recommended because it can be very risky with mold and botulism issues.