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Feeding Horses When Hay and Pasture are Limited

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C  Users bethr Pictures Equine Images Thinkstock.horse eating hay.93198002Grazing and long-stem hay are the backbone of most horse feeding programs.  Horses are designed to be fueled by good quality roughage and our pastures and baled hay provide much of what they need.  Drought conditions exact a heavy toll on pastures and make hay hard to find.  Here are a few tips to extend your hay supply when good quality forage is limited.


1) Minimize waste.  When hay is plentiful, many horses are given free access to it.  This is a good feeding management practice, but it also leads to wasted hay.  Consider feeding hay in smaller quantities, several times a day to reduce waste.  An appropriate hay feeder will also help reduce waste.

2) Cut back.  A common recommendation is to feed horses 1.5 to 2.0% of their body weight in roughage each day.  That translates into 15 to 20 pounds of hay each day for a 1,000 pound horse.  While not ideal, you may have to cut back to 10 or even five pounds daily to extend your supply of hay.  This will have to be replaced with something.  There are a number of high-fiber feeds that can be used to partially replace the roughage portion of your horse’s diet.  See the section on Feed below.

3) Don’t ignore quality.  Never feed hay that is musty or if it contains excessive or harmful weeds.  Hay held over from the last growing season may be available.  Such hay is sometimes more dusty than you would normally like, but don’t rule it out if it is otherwise acceptable.  Consider sprinkling this hay with water just before feeding it to cut the dust.

4) Consider alternative hays.  Some people always feed grass hay and never alfalfa, and vice versa.  Consider what’s available to you.  Oat straw is another roughage to consider.  Sorghum and Sudangrass hays are not recommended for horses.

5) Acknowledge that hay will be costly.

FeedRound-Up High Fiber Horse Feed from Manna Pro

1) Consider feeds with built-in fiber.  There are several feeds that contain higher levels of fiber.  Most senior feeds are in this category.  These can be incorporated into the feeding program to replace a portion of the hay.  Some high-fiber feeds can be used as complete feeds, where no hay is required.  However, it is generally recommended that horses be fed at least a few pounds of long-stem hay each day, if at all possible.  Contact the manufacturer if you have questions on how to best use the product.

2) Forage cubes and pellets.  Alfalfa and various alfalfa/grass blends are widely available in cubed and pelleted form.  These products can be used to replace most of the daily forage that would typically be provided by hay.  Again, it is recommended that horses get at least a few pounds of long-stem hay daily.  Contact the manufacturer for help in how to incorporate forage cubes and pellets into your feeding program.

Lucerne Farms bagged forage from Manna Pro

3) Bagged hay.  Chopped alfalfa, grass, and alfalfa/grass blends are also available in bags.  These can be used as a substitute for conventional baled hay.  Manna Pro has a partnership with Lucerne Farms Premium Forage, the leading brand in chopped forage feeds, with products to meet every horse's needs. You can read more about Lucerne Farms on our website, and read about the specific benefits of premium forage in one of our past blog posts.  Well-known trainer Chris Cox uses Lucerne Farms forage, and you can check out Chris' thoughts on the product in this short video.


Consider rotational grazing.  This may not be an option if your pasture resource is already completely depleted or very small.  This involves subdividing pastures into smaller sections, giving animals access to one section at a time and allowing other sections to recover and grow back undisturbed.  Animals are rotated to a new section when the grass there is grazed to a defined minimum.  Rotational grazing is used most commonly with cattle, but can be applied to any grazing animal system.  This program helps maximize available forage over the growing season, but it requires considerable management, plenty of temporary fencing materials, and water must be made available at any given section.

Droughts are difficult to endure, but stay upbeat and get your horses through as best you can.  Remember, it will rain again.


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