Is Hay Enough? Food for thought.

Its winter, you’ve decided to give your horse some time off work.  He’s either kept in a small pasture (but in the current weather there is no grass for grazing, it’s just mud) or stabled full time.  To do the right thing to help keep your horse warm, you feed him extra hay.  His entire diet currently consists of equal quantities of prime alfalfa & grass hay.

“He isn’t getting worked, he doesn’t need any supplements”………grass-hay
“He’s fat & happy” ………
“Its prime quality hay”……

This is a common scenario for many horse owners.  So how well does this diet satisfy your horses nutritional requirements?

In an attempt to illustrate this, I have used my own horse as the salfalfa-hayubject of a full diet analysis.  A 7 year old Arabian mare, approximate weight currently 1070 pounds, normal keeper, currently doing no work & I’m wanting to maintain her weight.  The following file shows the analysis of feeding just prime alfalfa & grass hay at the rate of approximately 2% of her bodyweight.

Hay Diet Analysis: suzie-q-hay-diet

As can be seen, this diet is far from suitable.  For a start, the protein level is far too high & equally concerning is the inadequate supply of a number of vitamins & minerals.  Simply adding more hay might assist in bringing the levels of vitamins & minerals up, but it would also continue to add everything else as well!   There are both long & short-term consequences of feeding a diet that is not balanced, including ill-thrift, poor topline & possibly even lameness issues. The fact is, a hay only diet is unlikely to be meeting all of your horses dietary requirements, regardless of the types & amounts fed & including some supplementary feeding is likely to be required.hore-eating

Now I understand that there also needs to be a practical element when it comes to feeding. Not everyone has the time, money or inclination to mix a variety of ingredients to get an ideal diet.  That is where the feed companies take the hassle out of mixing your own.  You should still however do your research & analyse your proposed diet, as there is never a “one size fits all” feed, & some are most definitely better than others!

Cheers & Happy Riding!

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