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Topics : Pastures : Pasture and Hay for Horses

Pasture and Hay for Horses

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Additional pasture information via the Forage Information System (FIS)


Basics of Horse Nutrition

Several breeds and types of horses are used in a wide variety of activities throughout Pennsylvania and surrounding states. The majority of these horses are owned and managed for recreation or sport and not for profit by the owners. One of the greatest expenses in owning horses is feed. Feed costs can be minimized by keeping the horse healthy and by feeding a balanced ration that meets the horses nutritional needs.

More myths are associated with feeding horses than with feeding most other animals. This is in part due to the lack of current nutritional research information as well as an increasing number of horse owners who are unfamiliar with the basics of horse nutrition. Nutritional needs will vary considerably among horses depending on individual age, weight, and level of activity. There are no magic supplements, high performance feed "secrets", or short cuts that will transform any horse into a champion.

Horses naturally use forages as a primary component of their diets. Adequate forages are a basic necessity for normal functioning of the horses digestive system. This requirement for forages is most easily supplied by pasture and hay.

Mature horses will generally consume 2 to 2.5 percent of their body weight in feed each day. For example, a 1,000 pound horse should consume approximately 20 to 25 pounds (90 percent dry matter) of feed per day. The anatomy of the horse's digestive tract restricts effective digestion and utilization of low quality forages that are high in fiber. The poor digestion of low-quality forages can restrict the amount of dry matter that a horse can eat to a level below what is necessary to meet the horses nutrient needs. Therefore a premium should be placed on using high-quality forages in the horse's diet.

Ideally, horses should consume a minimum of 1 percent of their body weight in hay or pastures each day. Mature horses performing minimal or no work can be maintained on high quality forages without supplementing their diet with grain. However, growing, breeding, or working horses require supplementing the forage with a grain or concentrate to meet their additional nutrient requirements. As a general rule, forages should supply one half or more of the total weight of the feed consumed daily for optimum horse growth and development.

Forages can provide varying amounts of the nutrient requirements depending on the forage quality and amount consumed. The nutrient content of the forage and concentrate in the horse's diet must be known to properly balance the diet. Once the quality of the feeds are known, then proper amounts of each can be calculated to meet the nutrient requirements.