Horses need to be fed at least 15g/kg of feed per day (dry matter), corresponding to about 9kg hay (11kg if soaking is intended prior to feeding) or 10-12kg of haylage, for a 500kg horse that does not have access to pasture. Because grazing is usually not available all year-round, most horses in the United States eat a mix of hay and grain. Grass and weeds are the horses natural forage, and most owners give horses plenty of grazing time in a pasture. Depending on what kind of climate you live in, you may not have the luxury of getting your horse out into lush pastures and feeding them the delicate plants and grasses.
Another factor to consider is if you do have horses who are allowed to graze freely, you need to ensure there are not any plants that could be harmful to the horses. Good grassland, or pasture where the animals are allowed to graze, can provide inexpensive fodder for horses, but the pasture needs to be maintained. If you have horses, you must monitor any horses eating too much grass, as excessive grass consumption may cause laminitis.
You may also have a similar issue with high-quality grassy hay that you have with grassy grazing, so you are better off restricting the amount of time they spend in their feed buckets, along with a few of your companion horses. Horses that spend a lot of their time confined in their stalls are not doing a lot of grazing, but their natural feeding patterns can be copied by keeping the hay out in front of them most days. In practical terms, horses would rather have a steady diet of smaller amounts throughout the day, just like in nature while foraging in a pasture.
To fulfill their nutritional needs, they will spend much of their day foraging, eating a little grass and some hay. Horses will graze up to 20 hours per day in order to get their caloric needs met, and these large animals are slow moving while eating. Horses are herbivores, and need to graze on grass or eat other plants in order to properly digest their food. Because of the extra-long digestive tracts in all horses, horses require a high-fiber diet, and they must eat lots of smaller meals per day, rather than one big meal several times per day like us humans.
A horse generally needs to consume 2-2.5% of his or her body weight every day in grass or hay, meaning that an average adult horse of 450kg would eat about 11kg per day. If you are feeding a horse a concentrate like grain as part of his or her diet, roughage should still be at least 50% of his daily bodyweight food intake. If the hay is insufficient, grain may be added, but a horses caloric load should always be derived from roughage.
While hay and haylage may provide all of your horses calories, hay and haylage should not be the sole source of nutrition for them. While it is not a horses sole source of fuel, hay is the most important of the harvested coarse feeds horses consume around the world, particularly in places where growing grass is not always an option. Grain is meant to supplement the hay, and provides a good source of vitamins, minerals, and additional calories for horses with higher metabolic needs.
Mules require less protein than horses, and they are better off with grass-fed hay supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Sometimes vitamin/mineral supplements are needed if feed is poor hay, if the horse is stressed (illness, traveling, showing, race, etc) or is eating poorly. The average modern horse, fed good hay or grasslands and doing little work, generally does not need supplements; however, horses that are stressed by aging, intense exercise, or breeding may require extra nourishment. Most horses may be fine with hay-only grazing, although broodmares or growing, heavy-working animals may need supplements in their diets for adequate protein and vitamins.
Oats are the most common grain for horses, however, small amounts of grains, such as corn, may also be fed to your horse. Hay, oats, alfalfa, and other grains comprise most of a modern horses diet, with occasional treats for horses and human foods such as apples and carrots thrown in.
That said, it is important to keep a balanced diet, with all of the necessary food groups; heres a brief guide on what to feed horses. By knowing what horses prefer to eat, you will be able to give your horse whatever they enjoy eating, making sure that you are keeping them in a healthy range.
In this guide, we are going to cover the basics of feeding and watering horses, including what makes up their diet, what supplements you might need to offer, and what you can and cannot feed them, and highlight a few issues with feeding as well as tips to succeed. If you are considering changing a horses diet, or you have a new horse and you would like to discuss what to feed him, or if you generally would like to learn more about what horses eat, please feel free to contact us and talk with one of our Nutritionists. We hope that this guide has given you a good understanding of what a horses diet should be like, and what a horse may or may not eat, and has provided valuable advice for finding feeding problems and getting the right nutrition.
Some feeds are specifically designed for younger, growing horses (weanlings and yearlings); and for older horses (adults) who are older and have special nutrient needs. Some commercial feed companies produce ready-mixed, easy-to-use, specially formulated feeds for horses on hay-based varying diets, such as grass-fed or alfalfa. If you are fortunate enough to have a large enough pasture where your horses are allowed to roam freely and enjoy the grass, you may want to include a few delicious fruits and vegetables treats to supplement their diet.
Most horses that are in easy working conditions need just hay (also known as feed) and water to cover their nutrient needs, although a horse who is working more might need to have his or her hay supplemented with a concentrate such as grain to help satisfy their needs.