The publications in this collection do
not reflect current scientific knowledge
or recommendations. These texts
represent the historic publishing
record of the Institute for Food and
Agricultural Sciences and should be
used only to trace the historic work of
the Institute and its staff. Current IFAS
research may be found on the
Electronic Data Information Source
site maintained by the Florida
Cooperative Extension Service.
Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
4-H HORSE PROGRAM
This educational material has been prepared for 4-H use by the Cooperative Extension Services of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture and State Land-Grant Universities in cooperation with the National 4-H Council and the
American Quarter Horse Association.
Trade or brand names used in the publications are used only for the purpose of educational information. The
information given herein is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement
of products or breeds of horses by the Federal Extension Service or State Cooperative Extension Services is
implied, nor does it imply approval of products or breeds of horses to the exclusion of others which may also be
This material was originally published by the National 4-H Council, 7100 Connecticut Avenue, Chevy Chase,
Programs and educational materials of National 4-H Council are available to all persons regardless of race, color,
sex, age, religion, national origin or handicap. Council is an equal opportunity employer.
Horse Science: Feeds for Horses
A great variety of feeds may be used satisfactorily for
horses. In different parts of the world, horses are fed
elephant grass, bamboo leaves, dried fish, turnips, beets,
leaves of limes and grapevines, and lawn clippings. As a
general rule, we should choose feeds that are suitable and
readily available at the most economical cost. Therefore, we
may say that the ABC's of choosing feeds for horses are
based on knowledge of nutrient content and function of the
horse, combined with experience of the horse owner.
In this lesson we learn about the content of energy,
proteins, minerals, vitamins, and fiber or bulk contained in
some of our most important feeds for horses. Also, we learn
about correction factors to consider, such as quality,
suitability, availability, cost, and convenience.
We gain experience by applying these ABC's to provide
economical, satisfactory rations when we have a thorough
understanding of the digestive system of the horse, the
nutrients and their importance, and balancing rations for the
TYPES OF FEEDS
We can conveniently classify feeds into three main
types: (1) roughages, (2) concentrates, and (3) mixed feeds.
Roughages include pasture forages, hays, silages, and
byproduct feeds that contain a high percentage of fiber.
Concentrates are the energy-rich grains and molasses, the
protein- and energy-rich supplements and byproduct feeds,
vitamin supplements, and mineral supplements. Mixed feeds
may be either high or low in energy, protein, or fiber; or they
may provide "complete" balanced rations.
N IUTRIENT 4UIRI11Nl
MUNTII I fic 11ON
Wild horses live on roughage today as their ancestors
did 55 million years ago when they were five-toed animals
the size of a fox. Roughages are still important for active
horses and may serve as the only feed for idle horses. Proper
use of good quality roughages reduces the quantity of
expensive concentrates needed and provides a plentiful
supply of vitamins and minerals.
There are three main forms of roughages: (1) dry
roughages, (2) silages, and (3) pastures. Dry roughages
include hay, straw, and artificially dehydrated forages,
which contain about 90 per cent of dry matter. Silages are
formed from green forages such as grass, alfalfa, sorghum,
and corn preserved in a silo at dry matter contents of 20 to
50 percent. Green, growing pastures provide forage that has
a high water content and only 20 to 30 percent of dry matter.
There are two basic types of roughages: (1) grasses, and
(2) legumes. The grasses are generally higher in fiber and
dry matter than legumes. The legumes are generally higher
in proteins, energy, vitamins, and minerals.
Soil fertility, soil type, and climate influence the
productivity and nutrient content of the various grasses and
legumes. But the most important factor affecting the nutrient
composition of grasses and legumes is stage ofmaturity.
As a plant grows older, it becomes less leafy, more
stemmy, more fibrous, and less digestible. Timothy hay cut
before bloom has about 160 percent more digestible protein
and 35 percent more TDN than mature timothy. Mineral and
vitamin levels are also higher in immature grasses and
legumes, whether these roughages are in the form of
pastures, silage, or hay.
O 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
KHA A~ IE d''-^-,0
r^ '->'.~ ^ ^^^ '^ ...^i-, _
NUTRIENT S11TABIRIIY f1110110
COSI CONVENfItECE DFIRiiNLF
I DRY MATTER CONTENT
Horse Science: Feeds for Horses
In general, the best hay for horses is a good quality
grass legume mixed hay. A good quality pure legume or
pure grass hay is satisfactory if it is fed properly.
Grass hays such as timothy, oat, brome, bermuda,
wheatgrass, native western mountain, etc. of equal quality
have similar nutrient values. Prairie hay is much lower in
protein than most other grass hays. The legume hays (alfalfa,
soybean, peanut, lespedeza, and clovers) are generally
higher in protein, energy, calcium, and phosphorus than
grass hays. Mixtures of grasses and legumes are intermediate
in nutrient content. Because the calcium level in legumes is
about six times higher than the phosphorus level, a
supplemental source of phosphorus might be needed to
balance the Ca:P ratio in a ration high in legumes.
If we learn to identify the grasses and legumes by their
leaves and blossoms, we can do a more intelligent job of
buying. Also the head of grasses and the bud or bloom of
legumes can tell us the state of maturity at which the hay was
cut. Horses refuse and waste more late cut hay, which is
already low in nutrient content.
Leafiness of hay is an important guide to feeding value
because most of the nutrients are carried in the leaves. For
hay to grade U.S. 1 or U.S. 2, 25-40 percent of its weight
must be leaves. Leafiness is influenced by kind and species
of forages, stage of maturity when cut, weather conditions
while growing and while curing, and curing procedures.
Leaves are shattered and lost when hay is raked or baled too
Color of hay is another indication of quality and
nutrient content. Good hay is a bright leafy green. Overly
mature hay is pale, yellow, or brown. Hay that was rained on
when it was nearly cured may be faded in color because of
additional drying time and exposure to sunlight and air. This
exposure destroys the carotene or vitamin A value. Heavy
rain on nearly dry hay leaches carbohydrates or energy value
from the hay
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 1
PROTEIN I HORSE FEEDS
and also causes a loss of these nutrients from fermentation.
Hay that is baled before it is dry enough will lose nutrients
through fermentation or "heating" in the bale, which
sometimes starts a fire from spontaneous combustion. Even
if it does not start a fire, heat of fermentation is energy value
lost and produces a dull, dark hay that is usually dusty with
moldiness inside the bale. Such hay is unacceptable for
horses; therefore open and examine several bales of a
prospective purchase if there is any question about its
quality. Tight, clumpy, misshapen bales are subject to
Odor of hay will vary according to species of grasses
and legumes but should always be aromatic and pleasant.
Lack of odor indicates over-maturity, bleaching, leaching, or
old hay which probably has lost most of its vitamin A value.
A stale, musty, unpleasant odor indicates that excessive
fermentation has occurred.
Dust is objectionable in any feed for horses. It not only
reduces the palatability of the feed, but also can cause
heaves and other respiratory trouble. Good timothy tends to
be most dust-free of the hays. Pure legume hays tend to be
more dusty than grass or mixed hays. Dustiness can be
reduced by sprinkling the hay or other feed with water or
water and molasses just before it is fed.
Dehydrated roughages such as alfalfa leaf meal or
pellets are made by processing lush-growing, highly
nutritious forage through a heated dryer called a dehydrator.
These dehydrated meals or pellets are usually rich in vitamin
A value, B vitamins, and high quality proteins. They are
used mostly as vitamin and protein supplements, but their
high fiber content classes them as roughages.
Good quality silages are a suitable replacement for up
to half of the hay or pasture allowance. Remember that
about three pounds of silage are equivalent to one pound of
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
HP A J N S
fRAoT[ISSSo _____ ______________
TOTAL DIGESTIBLE NUTRIENTS
IN HORSE FEEDS MI'l
Horse Science: Feeds for Horses
because of the difference in dry matter content. However,
spoiled, moldy, or frozen silages cause digestive upsets in
horses. Silage that contains dead rats, birds, etc. can cause
fatal botulism poisoning in horses.
Pastures can reduce feed costs and provide plenty of
vitamins and good quality proteins. They are important for
mares and foals, and night pastures especially are good for
pleasure horses. However, an exercise lot with a few blades
of grass is not a pasture. Such a lot or an overgrazed pasture
of short forage can be a serious source of internal parasite
Horses should be rotated to "fresh" pasture every two
weeks if possible. This will reduce internal parasite
infestation and also increase the productivity of pastures,
particularly if the pastures are small.
Understocked, overgrown, coarse, and unpalatable
pastures are sometimes clipped to freshen them up during
the growing season.
Pasture forages are quite laxative in early spring.
Legumes are more laxative than grasses. Therefore, laxative
feeds such as linseed oil meal or wheat bran should be
removed from the ration when horses first go on pasture, and
their daily time on pasture should be short at first.
Corn, oats, barley, and milo (sorghum grain) are the
most important energy-rich grains. They contain about 70 to
80 percent of TDN (total digestible nutrients) including 7 to
10 percent of digestible protein. Wheat bran, rice bran,
wheat middlings, rye middlings, and rice polish are
byproduct feeds from the grain milling industry. The brans
are somewhat laxative and bulky and usually contain about
65 percent of TDN of which 8.5 to 14 percent is digestible
protein. Soybean oil meal, cottonseed oil meal, peanut oil
meal, and linseed oil meal are called "protein supplements."
They have about 75 to 80 percent TDN and 30 to 46 percent
digestible protein. Mineral concentrates include: salt, or
sodium chloride (NaC1); iodized salt (NaCl plus iodine);
ground limestone, which supplies calcium (Ca); steamed
bonemeal and dicalcium phosphate for calcium and
phosphorus; and others. All of the vitamins can be obtained
in concentrated form, singly and in various combinations.
Corn is similar to the other grains in nutrient content but
is the richest in TDN and the lowest in protein, fiber,
calcium, and phosphorus. Corn is the most readily available
and most economical grain in most sections of the country.
It can be used to full advantage if its deficiencies are offset
by (1) good quality legume or grass-legume hay or pasture,
(2) a suitable grain milling byproduct feed, or (3) a protein
is used in most mixed feeds and also as ear corn, shelled
corn, or cracked corn. Cracking improves its digestibility,
but finely ground corn is more apt to cause colic unless it is
mixed with a bulky feed.
Oats are somewhat higher in protein than corn, much
higher in fiber and much more bulky, and about 15 percent
lower in energy. Nutrient content of oats varies considerably
according to proportion of fibrous hull to nutritious grain.
Rolled or crimped oats is more digestible than whole oats.
Oats with a grass hay such as timothy may be inadequate;
some grass-legume roughage along with some corn or barley
will assure a more complete ration. Oats are usually the most
expensive feed grain in terms of cost per unit of nutrient.
However it is the safest and easiest to feed and goes well
with other grains that tend to cause colic.
Barley rolled or ground medium fine is worth about 10
percent more per pound than crushed oats. Since barley may
cause colic if fed alone, it should be mixed with at least 15
percent bran or 25 percent oats.
Milo (grain sorghum), like barley, should be crushed or
ground and fed with bran or oats. It then has TDN and
protein values intermediate between barley and corn.
Molasses is a concentrated appetizer and dust settler. It
is sticky, sweet, and smells good. It contains 54 percent of
TDN, very little minerals, no fiber, and no digestible
protein. Unit cost of TDN is usually as high or higher than
the cost of the same amount of energy as grain. However,
either cane or sugar beet molasses is nearly always included
at levels of 5 to 15 percent in commercially mixed rations.
Protein Supplements. A protein-rich supplement is
needed when: (1) the roughage being fed is of poor quality,
or (2) the pregnant or lactating mare or young stock requires
extra protein to balance the ration. High protein feeds that
are commonly used for horses are: soybean oil meal, linseed
oil meal, cottonseed oil meal, and peanut oil meal. Protein
quantity and quality in soybean and peanut oil meals is
higher than in linseed and cottonseed oil meals. Linseed oil
meal is the lowest of these in protein and usually is not the
most economical source of protein, but it is used for its
laxative quality and to improve the luster and bloom of hair
coats. Although these protein supplements are high in energy
value also, feeding excessive amounts is useless, expensive,
and causes digestive upsets.
Byproduct feeds. Certain byproducts from the milling
industry are useful, economical horse feeds. Wheat bran and
rice bran are highly palatable and slightly laxative, therefore
they improve rations of grass hay and corn, barley, or milo.
The brans are especially good sources of two B vitamins,
thiamine and niacin. and supply fair amounts of protein and
energy. Wheat middlings, rye middlings, and rice polish are
lower in fiber and higher in energy than the brans; they may
cause colic and other digestive upsets if they comprise more
than 25 percent of the concentrate ration.
Horse Science: Feeds for Horses
Horse Science: Feeds for Horses
1. This document is section 9 of 14 of 4HHSGO1, which supersedes CO 201, one of a series of the 4-H Youth
Development Program, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University
of Florida. Date first printed August 1965. Date revised June 1989. Please visit the FAIRS Website at
,T UNIVERSITY OF
Cooperative Extension Service
Instituteof Food and Agricultural Scences
2. Edwin E. Goodwin, University of Maryland. Debbie Glauer, member of 4-H Animal Science Design Team,
Department of Family, Youth and Community Science, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611.
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, Christine
Taylor Waddill, Director, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this information to further the purpose of
the May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress; and is authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to
individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, age, sex, handicap or national origin. The information in this publication
is available in alternate formats. Single copies of extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida
residents from county extension offices. Information on copies for out-of-state purchase is available from Publications Distribution Center,
University of Florida, PO Box 110011, Gainesville, FL 32611-0011. Information about alternate formats is available from Educational Media and
Services, University of Florida, PO Box 110810, Gainesville, FL 32611-0810. This information was published June 1989 as CO 201, which is
superseded by 4HHSG01, Florida Cooperative Extension Service.