horse eating hay

How Much Hay Does My Horse Need?

When it comes to keeping horses properly, numerous questions regularly arise. The topic of hay feeding takes a central place. This is due to the sensitive digestion of horses. The animals do not tolerate long breaks in feeding. The right amount of hay is of decisive importance.

You can find out everything you need to know about feeding hay in our guide.

Hay feeding horse: brief overview

  • Feeding roughage such as hay is the basis of all horse feeding.
  • Per day, a horse needs about 1.5 kilos of hay for every one hundred kilos of body weight.
  • The horse’s digestive system needs small amounts of roughage all the time, otherwise there is a risk of health problems.
  • Horses have the need to eat constantly – also to keep themselves busy.
  • Good quality hay is very important for horse health.
  • Usually the first cut of hay is better than the second.
    What are the basics in horse feeding in general?
    When it comes to horse feed, a distinction is made between roughage rich in crude fiber, concentrated concentrate, digestible juice feed and supplemental feed.

Roughage rich in crude fiber includes:

  • Hay (dry)
  • Straw (dry)
  • Pasture grass (moist)
  • Silage (moist)

Roughage is of far-reaching importance in horse feeding. It will be discussed in detail in the following article.

As concentrated feeds are mostly used:

  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Corn
  • Compound feed

Concentrated feed is fed to horses according to their needs. For example, sport horses have a higher need for energy than leisure horses. Therefore, sport horses get a larger portion of concentrated feed. It is divided into single feed and compound feed. While single feeds consist of only one natural product, compound feeds are made up of several products.

With juice feed such as apples or carrots, you offer your horse healthy variety. It provides energy and important nutrients. At the same time, it is easy to digest.

You can also promote your horse’s health and performance with supplementary feeds. They provide additional substances such as vitamins and minerals and can be individually adapted to your horse’s needs.

Water must always be offered to your horse in sufficient quantity and quality.

Why do horses need hay?

In the past, horses lived in steppe landscapes and were busy foraging almost all day long. They ate many small portions of grass all the time. Even today, horses have a constant need to eat. Their digestive system is designed to continuously consume roughage, which is high in fiber and low in energy, such as hay. Giving roughage should therefore be the basis of every horse’s diet. If your horse is working lightly and you feed him high quality hay, he may not even need concentrated feed at all.

Why is regular feeding of horses so important?

It’s important to maintain feeding times so your horse doesn’t develop digestive problems. Animals need to be given adequate time and rest to eat each day for their well-being. This is due to the physiology of the horse’s digestive tract. Unlike cows, horses are not ruminants. They only have one stomach. Its stomach acid ensures that the large amounts of hay or grass that the horse eats every day are broken down. The amount of stomach acid produced by the horse’s body is correspondingly large. Since horses are continuous eaters, the flow of stomach acid never stops.

When the horse’s stomach is empty after about six hours, the stomach acid begins to attack the horse’s stomach walls. If the stomach lining is inflamed, stomach ulcers can develop and colic can result.

When the horse is kept by humans, regular feed intake is also important for the horse’s active pastime. Horses can develop psychological disorders if they are not able to occupy themselves with eating for a large part of the day.

Here’s how you can make sure your horse has enough to “nibble on” all the time:

  • Roughage via hay nets and hayracks.
  • Sufficient grazing
  • Open stable with pasture

Why are hayracks and hay nets beneficial when feeding hay?

Hayracks and hay nets keep your horse busy eating hay for an extended period of time. If you keep your horse in the stall, constantly eating at the hay rack or net will ensure that he does not develop behavioral problems such as weaving or bobbing.

If you use close-meshed feed saving nets and saving racks, you will improve the feeding behavior of the animals. They can only eat small amounts of food at a time.

In addition, you ensure hygienic conditions for feeding with racks and nets. Your horse will not eat the hay from the dirty ground.

How much hay does a horse eat per day?

You can determine the appropriate hay requirement for your horse based on its weight. The following rule of thumb has proven to be useful:

Per day, your horse needs 1.5 kilograms of hay per one hundred kilograms of body weight.

For a mare weighing 600 kilograms, this results in a daily requirement of nine kilograms of hay.

The horse does not get the calculated amount of hay all at once. Ideally, it should be spread over four equal hay rations throughout the day. If you feed your horse the first time early in the morning and the last time late in the evening, the feeding breaks will remain within a range that is well tolerated by the animal. Optimally, the breaks in the day should not be longer than four hours.

Is hay quality important?

However, problems with hay feeding can arise not only due to incorrect quantities or poorly timed feeding times. It is at least as important to make sure the hay is of good quality. High-quality hay is crucial for the health of horses. Moldy hay rarely causes problems in the short term, but in the long run it becomes a health burden for the horse.

If the total load of molds and yeasts increases too much due to contaminated hay, this can lead to massive health problems. Time and again, horses are presented to the veterinarian with colic because they have eaten spoiled hay. In addition to the digestive system, your horse’s lungs and liver can also be affected.

But fungi are not the only harmful substances in hay. Biogenic amines, which are formed by bacteria in hay, can also cause illness.

Therefore, when opening hay bales, pay attention to their smell. If it smells musty, you should refrain from feeding it. This is even more true if you find large black spots in the bale. A certain amount of mold spores is unavoidable in hay. However, if the hay is heavily infested, you should no longer use it as feed for your horse.

How can I tell the quality of the hay?


  • good: olive green to light green
  • Poor: faded stems, blackish to silvery coating
  • good: aromatic and fragrant
  • bad: musty and putrid
  • good: little dust development and few soil residues
  • bad: a lot of dust and a lot of soil residues
  • good: leafy
  • bad: few leaves, many woody stems
    You can also check the forage quality of hay with hay moisture meters. These meters are designed to detect high moisture levels and thus protect against fungal attack and rotting.

Should the hay you feed your horse be from the first or second cut?
Another aspect of hay feeding concerns the type of hay you should give your horse. In addition to the vegetation in the pasture and the composition of the hay, the timing of the cut is also important.

In most cases, the first cut is better for horses to feed on than the second. This is true at least if the first cut was not made too early in the spring. The hay will have the right balance of sufficient crude fiber with plenty of nutrients at the same time. With the second cut, the grass is usually much more woody as fall approaches and contains fewer nutrients.

Conversely, if cut too early, the amount of crude fiber may be too high and the hay may contain too many nutrients. Although the amount is right, eating the hay in such cases can lead to health problems for the horses. For example, they are more likely to suffer from laminitis.

Can I estimate the weight of the hay myself?

Finally, let’s go back to the original question about the right amount of hay for your horse. Many horse owners believe they can estimate how much hay they are carrying in their arms. However, if you weigh it, there are often considerable differences between the estimate and the actual weight. Feeding “by feel” often deviates greatly from actual needs. Therefore, you should actually weigh the hay you feed your horse, especially in the beginning. This way you will get a feel for how full your arms need to be in order for the animal to get enough feed.

Problems can arise both if you consistently feed too much, and if you frequently provide your horse with too little hay. Therefore, it is occasionally beneficial to have his weight checked on the horse scale. Then you can adjust the hay feeding to the horse’s condition.

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