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How Much Hay To Feed A Horse: Can A Horse Eat Too Much Hay?

How much hay do horses eat a day? How much hay to feed a horse? Can a horse eat too much hay? Generally speaking a half bale of hay daily will satisfy the needs of most horses; however, this can vary depending on the age, condition and activity level of the horse and the quality and nutritional value of the hay.

In this article, we discuss various types of hay and provide sound recommendations for feeding it to your horse. Read on to learn more.

What Is The Nutritional Value Of Hay?

A mature horse requires between ten and twelve percent crude protein in the daily diet. If you are feeding a native grass hay, it will provide about half of that. Providing grain and supplements (e.g. a supplement for hoof, or generally vitamin and mineral supplements) can make up the rest.

Richer hay can provide more nutrients; however, you have to be careful not to provide hay that is too rich or “hot” for your horse, donkey or mule. For example, legume hay such as clover or alfalfa is a very rich hay which is good for some hot-blooded horses, but it can cause problems with blood sugar spikes and founder in warm bloods, cold bloods, donkeys and mules.

Other types of hay, such as Timothy and Bermuda provide more nutrition than native grass hay but are not as rich as legume hay. Mixed hay that includes some grass and some clover and native plants can also be a good choice.

The texture of the hay is another important consideration. A hay field usually yields two cuttings. First cutting is tougher and contains more stems. Second cutting is usually softer and easier for equines to chew and digest.

Physically Evaluating Horse Hay

Should You Have Your Hay Tested?

Many big stables have hay tested for nutritional value, but this is not always an option for individual horse owners. Very often your best guidance for the nutritional value of hay comes from word-of-mouth recommendations from local horsemen, your vet, your feed store and hay growers and suppliers.

Learn to evaluate hay using your senses. Open up a bale of any hay you are considering buying and determine how much of it is grass and how much is clover or weeds. Look and sniff for signs of mold. Weigh the bale (or at least heft it) to see how much it weighs. It should be substantial.

A horse needs about ten pounds of hay a day, so a good quality square bale should weigh between forty and seventy pounds (depending on whether it is a 2-string or 3-string bale). When you weigh it you can determine how many flakes of hay you’ll need to feed daily to equal ten pounds.

Can A Horse Eat Too Much Hay?

can a horse eat too much hay

Horses should have access to good quality hay at all times, but it is possible for a horse to eat too much hay. If your horse, donkey or mule is bored or greedy he may eat whatever is available until it is gone. Equines can founder on too much grass or hay.

This is one reason why hay nets are such a good idea. When you use a hay net, you can present a large amount of hay, but your horse, donkey or mule cannot gobble it all up in a few hours. It will slow your horse down, and he will have to take time to access the hay and chew it. This encourages more saliva production and helps prevent colic. It also helps prevent overeating and waste of hay.

With a good sized hay net you can keep half a bale of hay available to your horse at all times, but he won’t be able to eat it all at once. He also won’t be able to scatter it about and trample it. Hay nets cut down dramatically on hay waste.

How Do You Fill A Hay Net?

The best way to fill your hay nets is to have two nets. Set a bale of hay on end and put one net over the top end. Flip the bale to the other end and put another net over that end. Cut the baling wire or twine and pull it out. Split the bale in half and close the tops of the net bags. This way you have half a bale of hay per bag and it can last several days, especially if your horse also has access to grass and receives a grain ration.

Be sure to tie the tops of the bags securely, yet in a way that will allow you to reopen them easily when it’s time for a refill. Use a safety knot to tie your net bag to a sturdy, secure post, ring or tree. It should be high enough that it hangs at the right height for your horse to eat comfortably and will not touch the ground. You want your horse to be able to eat without stretching his neck up while simultaneously preventing ever having a hoof caught in the netting.

Filling And Hanging A Slow Feed Hay Net

There are several different kinds of hay nets. Some are very loose weave and some are more tightly woven. Some are made of synthetic material and some are made of cotton rope. A tightly woven synthetic net is the best. It is more durable, slows your horse’s eating down and is less likely to present an entanglement hazard. Just be sure to hang the net high enough that your horse cannot touch it with his hooves.

Are There Other Ways To Feed Hay?

You can just toss hay out on the ground for your horse to eat. This is very natural, but it leads to a lot of hay loss due to trampling and soiling.

A hay rack or a manger will hold hay off the ground but won’t stop your horse from wolfing down his hay all at once. Additionally, hay racks are considerably more costly than hay nets.

If you do choose to ground-feed or use a hay rack or manger, you’ll need to split your horse’s hay ration into a couple of portions and feed hay twice daily.

Which Is Better, Round Bales Or Square Bales?

Generally speaking, round bales are not a good choice for feeding horses unless the bale is placed in a sheltered area. A round bale can become soaked and grow mold very easily. Additionally, if you do have an equine who tends to make a pig of himself, a round bale will only encourage this behavior.

When you feed square bales, you handle the hay as you feed it, so you control the amount fed. This also gives you a natural opportunity to examine the hay for mold, stickers, weeds and other potential problems.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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