* High-fiber roughages should
make up the majority of the
* Ideally, horses should be fed
1.5 to 2.0% of their body
weight per day as roughage. A
minimum of 1% of body
weight as roughage is needed
to maintain normal digestive
* Ifgrain is needed to maintain
body condition, divide the
daily portion into several
smaller meals. Each grain
meal should not exceed 0.5%
of body weight.
* Make any changes to the diet
gradually over 1 to 2 weeks.
* Provide free-choice access to
water and salt.
U F UNIVERSITY of
Stretching Your Hay Supply
What to Feed When Hay is Scarce?
Lori K. Warren, PhD, PAS
Dept. ofAnimal Sciences, University ofFlorida
Drought conditions result in poor hay production and rising feed
costs. Because Florida imports a large amount of hay, we are also
at the mercy of drought in other states. As a result, we are often
forced to find alternative feed sources to either "stretch" our
limited hay supply, or completely replace it.
Knowledge of how to adjust the diet begins with an understanding
of how much your horse can eat. Horses should be fed between
1.5% and 3.0% of their body weight per day in total feed (i.e., hay
plus grain). The amount of feed should be adjusted based on the
quality of the forage, the addition of grain to the diet, the horse's
physiological state (e.g., growth, lactation, level of work), and the
desired level of body condition. Expected daily feed intake, as a
percent of the horse's body weight, is presented in Table 1.
Roughages, including hay and pasture, are the most important
component of your horse's diet. Roughages provide essential
sources of digestible energy, protein, and some vitamins and
minerals. Roughages also supply dietary fiber required for the
normal function of the horse's digestive system. Ideally, horses
should receive 1.5 to 2.0% of their body weight per day as
roughage. A minimum of 1.0% of body weight as roughage is
needed to maintain gut health.
Roughages, by definition, are feeds that are high in fiber
(minimum 18% crude fiber). In addition to hay and pasture, there
are many other high fiber feeds that can be used to totally replace
or partially replace the roughage portion of your horse's diet.
Table 2 lists some alternative roughage sources, along with their
replacement value relative to grass or alfalfa hay.
Table 1: Expected daily feed intake as a percent of body weight*
Class of horse Roughage Grain Total
Mature, idle horse 1.5 2.0 0 0.5 1.5 2.0
Working horses** 1.0- 2.0 0.5-1.5 1.5- 2.5
Mare, late gestation 1.0 2.0 0.5-1.0 1.5 2.5
Mare, lactation 1.0-2.0 0.5-1.5 2.0-3.0
Weanling 1.0-1.5 0.5-1.5 2.0 3.0
Yearling 1.0-1.5 0.5-1.5 2.0 2.5
*Adaptedfrom NRC (1989) Nutrient Requirements ofHorses
**Depends on intensity of work.
Feeds with moderate levels of fiber (11-15% crude
fiber) can also help you cut back on the amount of
hay you feed. However, these lower fiber feeds
cannot totally replace all of roughage or hay your
horse needs-some hay (or adequate time on
pasture) will still be needed. This is because many
of these feed ingredients are also very high in
starch. Even fiber-added commercial products that
fall into this category often have more starch than
hay. Consumption of large amounts of starch is
associated with a greater risk of gastric ulcers,
colic and laminitis. As a guideline, provide your
horse with at least 1.0% of its body weight per day
in hay. Then use feeds with a moderate level of
fiber to help complete the remaining portion of
your horse's ration. Table 3 lists feeds with a
moderate level of fiber that can be used to replace
2 to 6 pounds of the hay you feed your horse.
Take Good Care of Your Pastures
Pasture is the most natural source of roughage for
the horse; but similar to hay production, drought
can negatively affect pasture availability. Ensure
that your pastures make it through a dry spell by:
1) Fertilize pastures based on soil test results and
at the appropriate time of year.
2) Prevent overgrazing by removing horses from
the pasture before the grasses are grazed down
below 2 or 3 inches and bare spots develop.
3) Alter your turnout schedule to include shorter
turnouts of 1 to 3 hours, instead of all day.
Limiting pasture access to just a few hours
each day will not only reduce drought stress to
your pasture, but has the added benefit of
providing your horse with some nutrition,
thereby reducing the amount of hay you need
4) Consider investing in a sprinkler or irrigation
system. Even if you irrigate one or two of your
pastures, the additional grass may be enough
to prolong pasture use and reduce hay feeding.
5) Overseed ryegrass or oats in the fall (Oct/Nov)
to provide grazing during the winter months.
Other Feed-Related Concerns
Unfortunately, drought conditions bring other
concerns besides difficulty in finding hay. The
following are some feed-related issues to be aware
of when looking for hay:
* Inspect hay shipped in from other states
Florida routinely has hay shipped in from the
northern states. During a drought, whether
experienced here or elsewhere, the quality of the
hay coming into Florida may not always be
ideal. Some hays may be overly mature and
stemmy, which could be a problem if your horse
was accustomed to a forage of higher nutritional
value. Avoid hays that are weedy, as some
weeds can be poisonous. Be cautious of alfalfa
grown in western states where drought
conditions can cause greater plant uptake of
selenium. Florida is known to be selenium
deficient; thus, our horses typically receive
selenium supplementation, which can create
toxicity when combined with forage that is also
high in selenium.
* Use of hay stored for more than one year
Hay that is stored under cover and protected
from sun and rain loses very little of its
nutritional value, with the exception of vitamins
E and A. Therefore, hay that has been properly
stored for one or two years might provide a
reasonable alternative to your usual hay supply.
However, to prevent a vitamin deficiency, your
horse should receive supplemental vitamin E
and vitamin A when feeding hay that has been
stored for more than one year.
* Avoid moldy hay
* Monitor your horse for colic
Drought itself doesn't cause colic, but changes
to the feeding program when dealing with feed
shortages could cause colic. To prevent colic,
make all changes to the diet gradually over 10 to
14 days-this requires planning ahead for feed
shortages. Prevent excessive sand intake by
ensuring pastures are not overgrazed. Provide
free-choice access to salt and water at all times.
Table 2: Alternative roughage sources that can be used to totally replace or partially replace your horse's hay.
Can be used Can be used Replacement Value*
Alternative Roughage for total for partial
Alternative Roughage replacement replacement Amt. needed to Amt. needed to Comments on Roughage Alternative
of hay of hay replace 1-lb replace 1-lb
grass hay alfalfa hay
Alfalfa hay / / 0.85 Ibs 1.0 Ib Higher protein and calcium than grass hays, so will feed less.
Perennial peanut hay / / 0.85 Ibs 1.0 Ib Similar to alfalfa hay.
Grass hay / / 1.0 Ib 1.2 Ibs Many types of grass hay: timothy, brome, orchardgrass, fescue, etc.
Bermudagrass hay / / 1.0 Ib 1.2 Ibs Varieties include Coastal and Tifton-85; Similar nutrition as other grass hays.
Millet 1.3 lbs 1.6 lbs Usually contains some millet grain; Less nutritional value than most grass hays; May
lletays have a laxative effect if feed as the only roughage.
Includes Johnsongrass, Sudangrass, & sorghum-Sudan hybrids; May cause
Sorghum grass Not recommended
neurological problems in horses.
Alfalfa hay cubes / / 0.85 Ibs 1.0 Ib Alfalfa that has been chopped and cubed; Similar nutrition as alfalfa hay (see above).
Alfalfatimothy hay cubes bs Combination of alfalfa and timothy forages; Less protein and calcium than straight
alfalfa, but more than plain timothy.
Chopped hays chaffss) V s V s Type of hay (or straw) will dictate feeding value; some products contain added fat or
molasses that alter feeding value. Consult feed manufacturer for feeding guidelines.
"dehy" alfalfa pellets / / 0.85 Ibs 1.0 Ib Pelleted alfalfa hay; Similar nutrition as alfalfa (see above).
"Complete" feed 00 ls 0.85 lbs Contains a mixture of grains and roughage sources; Designed to be fed without hay;
Should contain at least 18% crude fiber if no hay is fed; Example = senior feeds.
Haylage 1.55 lbs 1.85 lbs Hay preserved by ensiling rather than traditional drying; Higher moisture than hay, so
will have to feed more; Can spoil (mold), so feed contents of bag within 2-3 days.
Oat hay / / 1.0 Ib 1.2 Ibs Nutritive value similar to grass hays.
Straw1.25 lbs 1.5 lbs Oat straw more palatable than wheat or barley straw; Bulky, high fiber, low in other
nutrients; Will require protein, mineral and vitamin supplementation.
Beet Pulp NO 0 lbs 0.85 lbs Good source highly digestible fiber; Relatively high in calcium; May require soaking
before feeding; Limit to 10 pounds (dry weight) per day or less.
Soy hulls NO / 0.8 Ib 1.0 Ibs High fiber, but more digestible than other hulls. Limit to 5 pounds per day or less.
*Replacement values based on average digestible energy content offeeds. Feed amounts may have to be adjusted due to variation between sources offered and horses.
Table 3: Moderate fiber feed sources that can be used to replace a portion of the hay in your horse's diet.*
Can be used Can be used Replacement Value**
Moderate-Fiber Feed for total for partial
Alternatives replacement replacement Amt. needed to Amt. needed to Comments on Moderate Fiber Feed Alternative
of hay of hay replace 1-lb replace 1-lb
grass hay alfalfa hay
High in fat and phosphorus; More fiber than most grains (similar to oats), but less fiber
than hays and other roughages; Diet may require additional calcium supplementation
Rice bran NO / 0.50 Ibs 0.60 Ibs if product is not already balanced by the manufacturer, if 2 Ibs or more rice bran are
fed per day, and/or if horse is also receiving plain, unfortified grains (e.g., oats);
Maximum amount of rice bran usually limited to 2 pounds per day.
More fiber than most grains (similar to oats), but less fiber than hays and other
Wheat bran NO 0.60 bs 0.70 bs roughages; High in phosphorus; Diet may require additional calcium supplementation
if 2 Ibs or more wheat bran are fed per day and/or if horse is also receiving plain,
unfortified grains (e.g., oats); Maximum amount usually limited to 5 pounds per day.
Not a high fiber feed, but contains more fiber than other grains; Limit to 1% of horse's
Oats NO / 0.65 Ibs 0.75 Ibs body weight or less; Ensure at least 1% of body weight is fed as high fiber roughage;
Fortification of diet with vitamin/mineral supplement may be necessary.
Commercial feeds containing added fiber sources (i.e., beet pulp, soy hulls, peanut
hulls, etc) can be fed to reduce the amount of hay needed. Most of these feeds still
Fiber-added feeds contain grains (oats, corn, barley) or grain by-products (wheat middlings, wheat bran),
(11 15% crude fib NO e/ Varies Varies so total amount offered should be limited to 1% of horse's body weight or less. The
amount of hay that can be replaced by these products varies based on the level and
type of fiber and the fat content. Consult the feed manufacturer for feeding
* Feeds in this table cannot replace all of the hay you feedyour horse, but can replace 2 to pounds of hay, depending on the product selected (see comments). All horses
should receive a minimum 1% of its body weight per day as hay or some other high fiber roughage (18% crude fiber or greater).
**Replacement values based on average digestible energy content offeeds. Feed amounts may have to be adjusted due to variation between sources offered and horses.