Learn How To Calculate How Much Hay To Feed Your Horse

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Horses eating hay. Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

We know horses need to eat either grass or hay. When horses eat grass, you will need to keep on an eye on their condition and make sure that they are not eating too much or too little.  Horses can over-eat on grass, especially if the pasture is lush, but it is also easy to let a horse get too fat eating hay. And, sometimes too little hay can mean a horse will lose weight. So, what is the right amount of hay?

Just how much your horse will need will depend on its weight.  According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, a full-grown horse should eat about 15 to 20 pounds of hay a day. That is 1.5 to 3% of its body weight if it weighs about one thousand pounds. This is a very rough average and horses will require more or less depending on their metabolism, workload, time of year, and what else they may be eating. Ponies will require considerably less, while large draft breeds can eat 30 pounds a day or more.

Having small amounts of hay available frequently  mimics the natural grazing instincts and is healthiest for your horse's mind and body. So try not to feed your horse a full day’s worth in one meal.  For the healthiest digestive system and the happiest horse, it is best to have hay available all the times. Most horses are self-regulating. There are some that will need their hay diet restricted to prevent obesity.

So feeding these horses means small, more frequent portions. For many horses, hay is all they need, and they won’t need concentrates such as oats or sweet feed.

The next question however is; how much of a small square bale is that? What you will have to do is weigh an average bale of hay. It should weigh approximately 60 lbs or 23 kg.

The exact weight will depend on how dry the hay is, how long the bales are and how tightly packed the have been baled. Next, count how many flakes are in the bale. The flakes are the easily divided sections that form when a square bale is picked up by the baler. There are usually about 12. Now divide the weight of the bale by the number of flakes in it. You'll now be able to calculate the approximate number of flakes you should feed your horse daily. So if a flake weighs about four pounds, you’ll need to feed your one thousand pound horses five flakes every day. Remember to feed in as many small portions as possible.

Because ponies have very efficient metabolisms, they’ll need a lower percentage of their body weight, unless they are working very hard, which few ponies do anymore. Small ponies may only need a couple of flakes every day to keep them in good condition. But, conversely, some draft horses, especially ones that work hard will need rather more than the normal ratio of hay. This is why it is so important to regularly monitor your horse’s condition, and make adjustments depending on the how hot or cold it is, how hard they are working, how old they are, the richness of the hay and the horse’s  overall health.