Now is the Time to Think About Your Horses’ Winter Hay Needs
It’s hard to believe that winter is right around the corner. If you’re a horse owner, you should already be preparing your winter hay supplies.
How do you estimate the amount of hay you will need? If you have mature horses at maintenance level, you want to feed a mainly forage diet.
The estimate would be similar to a 1,100-pound horse eating 2 percent of its body weight. That equals 22 pounds of hay per day. Feeding for 120 days, December through March would equal 1.3 tons of hay per horse.
You can do a few things to make the best of your hay inventory. A feed test is a good idea and can get you started in making the best use of the nutrients supplied by hay and supplements. If you are unsure about how to take a sample for a hay test, you can contact your county agriculture and natural resources extension agent for help. You can reach Traci Missun, Oldham County Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, via firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 222-9453.
Remember to feed the amount your horse needs each day. That essentially means taking some control over the feed intake. Feeding free choice can result in your horses eating more than they need each day to meet their nutritional needs. This can be a difficult task for those who are using hay rolls rather than square-bales.
Use a suitable feeder for your horses to limit waste. Feeding on the ground can result in significant losses of feed. Researchers, using square-bale hay fed in controlled amounts, reported waste in the range of 20 percent, while others, feeding roll-bale hay without a feeder, reported waste in the 35 to 38 percent range. In that case, horse owners would need at least a half ton more hay per horse.
And finally, when you are buying hay, purchase the best quality hay possible.
As the feeding season progresses, monitor your horses to make sure they are maintaining body condition and adjust feed as needed. If you are short on hay, you may need to feed some concentrate to provide all the nutrients your horses require.
If you estimate correctly, you should have some hay left when spring grass finally arrives. It is better to have some leftover than to run out in March.
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Written by Bob Coleman, University of Kentucky Extension Equine Specialist. Edited by Lauren Fernandez, Oldham County Extension Staff Assistant.