How Much Hay Does a Horse Eat Daily?

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Hay is for horses! If you haven’t heard this phrase, you haven’t been around horses for very long! Horses around the world are known for eating hay as one of their primary, staple foods. But how much hay does a horse eat?

Horses eat many things, such as grain, oats, grass, and various treats (carrots, apples, horse cookies, peppermints, etc.), but they are best known for eating hay.  But, feeding hay may not be as simple as it seems.

In this article, I will be discussing how much hay a horse should eat daily.  While there is no simple answer to this question, I’ll be discussing how a horse’s lifestyle, a horse’s size, and a horse’s age can affect the amount of hay your horse should be eating daily!

How Much Hay Does a Horse Eat, Lifestyle

So, how much hay should a horse eat daily? Well, as always, it depends. One of the factors that it depends on most is a horse’s lifestyle.  Every horse has a different schedule and a different routine.

For example, some horses life outside 24-7, while other horses are only allowed an hour or two of turnout a day.  Some horses get turned out on grass pastures, and some horses live in climates where grass turnout is not a realistic option.

While hay is what horses are known for eating, hay is not the only type of “forage” a horse can eat. “Forage” or “roughage” is the primary element of a horse’s diet.  But, there are more forms of forage than just hay.

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The grass is also a viable form of forage for horses.  So, horses that have constant access to grass may not need as much hay. Likewise, horses that don’t have access to grass may require more hay. A healthy mix of both is preferred, but not always available in most climates and regions.

The exact amount of hay a horse needs will depend on other factors, but it’s important to consider how much access to grass your horse has when determining the healthy amount of hay to feed.

How Much Hay Does a Horse Eat, Size of Horse

The amount of food a horse gets wholly depends on the horse’s size.  This applies to the amounts of hay, grain, oats, or any other feed a horse has access to.  The amount of food varies from circumstance to circumstance; some horses need to lose weight, others need to gain weight, and still, others are striving to maintain the same weight.

Thankfully, there are many resources that can help you determine how much your horse should eat based on its size.  First and foremost, consult your vet, your barn manager, your trainer, or any other experienced resource at your disposal and get their opinions.

If you’re still questioning what amount is right, there are online resources that can help.  For example, Purina has a “Horse Feeding Calculator” that measures your horse’s lifestyle and weight and spits out the ideal amount of food a horse should be getting.

How Much Hay Does a Horse Eat, Lifestyle

Access the Purina Horse Feeding Calculator at the following link: https://www.purinamills.com/horse-feed/tools/horse-feed-calculator

The Kentucky Equine Research Institute has also created a useful table that measures how much forage a horse should be getting, in percentages, based on the horse’s size and age.  For example, it lists performance horses separate from weanlings, separate from pregnant mares.

Ponies will need different amounts of hay than draft horses, draft horses will need different amounts of hay than pregnant mares, pregnant mares will need different amounts of hay from sporthorses, and so on and so forth.

Access to hay is also an important tool in helping your horse lose or gain weight. Though your horse doesn’t ever change in height or “type” per say, his “size” is affected through the loss or gain of weight. 

Say your horse gets 4 flakes of hay on average, but typically drops weight in the winters.  It may be a good choice to increase your horse’s flake count during the winter months to help him maintain a healthy weight.  Though your horse doesn’t change in height or “type” per say, his “size” is affected through the loss or gain of weight.

Averages

To give some average numbers, most horses at my barn have 8-hour turnout with access to grass and hay outside daily, are classified as performance horses, and get about three flakes of hay inside twice a day. 

 So, six flakes total inside, along with 8-hour free access to grass and hay.  They also eat two meals of grain with supplements, and whatever treats their owners bring.  These are horses on almost daily workout programs.

In my experience, this is normal for performance horses.  Horses that are retired from work, or only work once or twice a week may need less hay.  Just like people, when horses burn less calories, they need to consume less calories.

How Much Hay Does a Horse Eat, Size of Horse

Dr. Bob Coleman, Ph.D. and assistant professor and extension horse specialist at the University of Kentucky concludes that horses should be eating 1.5-2.5% of their body weight in forage daily.

So, for a 1,000-pound horse, this could be anywhere from 15-25 pounds of grass and hay per day.  Again, the split of the two forages will depend on how much grass pasture access your horse has, but this can be a helpful basis for determining how much hay your horse should be getting.

Conclusion

The amount of hay a horse needs to eat daily is completely subjective! This means that there is no all-inclusive answer to this question.  The amount of hay a horse should eat daily entirely depends on each horse’s size, condition, lifestyle, and more.

Always consult your vet, manager, or trainer when making these decisions. And, also utilize tools such as the Purina Horse Feed Calculator and the Kentucky Equine Research institute’s forage table.

I hope this article has helped you better understand how to determine the correct and healthy amount of hay for horses to eat daily.  If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences determining feeding schedules!

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