How much hay you need to store for the winter months?
The horse has evolved as a grazing animal; the natural feeding habit of the horse is to eat small amounts of roughages often. Modern management practices of horses incorporate stabling, increased grain-based concentrate consumption, meal feeding, limited access to pasture and the reliance on stored forages such as hay or hay alternatives.
With colder months impending, it is important to prepare for the amount of forage you need to feed your horses over these months. Conservatively, a horse should consume 1.5% of its body weight (BW) in forage per day, ideally we would like this to be closer to 2.5% of their BW*. Let’s take a glance at what this looks like.
1000lb horse x 1.5% = 15lbs of forage per day
1000lb horse x 2.5% = 25lbs of forage per day
We typically have approximately 5 months (150 days) of winter/mud season that our horses need 100% of their forage requirements supplied by hay or hay alternatives.
15lbs x 150 days = 1.13 tons
25lbs x 150 days = 1.88 tons
These values seem overwhelming for a number of reasons:
- Where will I store all this hay
- Where will I source all this hay?
- Our hay isn’t very good this year?
Some common hay alternatives to overcome these issues include: chopped forage, forage cubes, forage pellets and fiber by-products. The benefits to hay alternatives is their availability and ease of storage. With Standlee products, every bag is of high quality and consistent, and can be sourced from your local supplier at any time of the year.
Hay chopped to a length of one inch can be very successfully used in a ration by adding the grain mixture directly to the forage. One can easily vary the forage-to-grain ratio without changing the feedstuffs when the horse's requirements change.
Forage cubes are an excellent fiber source for horses and are generally easily accessible at most feed stores. Normally, forage cubes are 2 inch by 2 inch cubes and made from coarsely chopped hay. Cubes can be made from a variety of forage types and can be bagged and purchased with a composition guarantee on the bag. Storage and handling ease and decreased wastage are advantages that may offset the increase in purchase price.
If offered voluntarily, most horses will consume more forage cubes than long stem forage, so owners should measure and monitor their horse’s intake. Forage cubes can be fed just like long stem forage, at a 1:1 ratio of the like hay type the horse currently consumes. For example, if a horse consumes five pounds of timothy hay at each feeding, replace that with five pounds of timothy forage cubes and adjust if needed to maintain the animal's proper weight. Forage cubes are heavier in weight, so you'll need to weigh them to ensure the horse is getting the proper amount of forage. Forage cubes can be hard, so it is also recommended that they be soaked for at least 10 minutes before feeding to soften them. A secondary advantage to wetting forage cubes is it can slow down the rate of intake by the horse.
To make the pellets, manufacturers grind dried forage, most commonly alfalfa or grass blends, to a small particle size and then make it into a pellet. The premise is to make the forage as convenient as possible without the dust usually associated with conventional hay. Forage pellets can also be used in conjunction with hay to improve the overall quality of a diet or as a way to sneak more forage into the diet of a horse that eats little hay. For horses that have lost many teeth, pellets can be wet and made into a mash or slurry. Unsoftened hay pellets can be hard, so care should be taken when feeding them to horses that bolt their feed. The quality of a forage pellet is consistent, and the form makes them easy to digest.
Other Fiber Alternatives
Beet pulp, produced by sugar beet processing, is a popular fiber source for horses because of its digestibility and palatability. Studies have shown that a horse's diet can contain up to 55% beet pulp without negative effects**. It's important to remember, however, that beet pulp's digestibility is higher than most grass hays, so ensure the horse's diet is balanced properly when making the switch. The protein content of beet pulp is low, so it is important to properly fortify the diet with additional protein if beet pulp is the primary forage source.
Brans, such as rice bran and wheat bran, are another option but are often less desirable due to their high phosphorus concentrations. If feeding bran, ensure the horse is consuming adequate calcium to keep the calcium to phosphorus ratio to at least 1:1. Additionally, remember that rice bran contains high fat levels, so it should not be used in overweight or obese horses.
Pure lawn grass clippings are unacceptable. The small particle size and high moisture content of grass cut with a lawn mower results in rapid fermentation in warm weather. Feeding lawn clippings and garden refuse can lead to colic, laminitis, and/or death and is not recommended.
Haylage and silage should also be avoided. These forages are sealed in airtight containers with increased moisture content to promote fermentation of the forage. Because of the moist, airtight environment, the bacteria that cause botulism may grow if the forage is improperly baled or stored.
Standlee Premium Western Forage® has a variety of hay alternatives. Selection of any Standlee Forage product will provide high quality forage for your horse. To avoid digestive upset, the new forage products should be introduced gradually into the diet during a 7-10 day period. It is also recommended that you begin feeding these forage alternatives prior to running out of your existing hay. In other words, replacing a portion of their regular hay on a daily basis is a less drastic dietary change than to suddenly make a total switch of their forage source. If you are replacing lower quality hay with a higher quality forage product, you may need to feed less based on the body condition of the horse. If you have questions about the use of Standlee Premium Western Forage®, please feel free to contact us.
*National Research Council. 2007. Nutrient Requirements of Horses: Sixth Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
**WARREN, L. K., LAWRENCE, L. M., BREWSTER‐BARNES, T. and POWELL, D. M. (1999), The effect of dietary fibre on hydration status after dehydration with frusemide. Equine Veterinary Journal, 31: 508-513.