Hay is for horses…
and how much and where you feed that hay can make a difference to the health of your horse. Horses are natural-born grazers, meaning that in their natural state, horses would work at roughage for fourteen hours a day or more. Stalled horses, in contrast, often only have food before them for a few hours a day. Although free-choice hay is the best way, not every horse can have hay before them all the time. What can a horse-owner do to make sure their horse gets the most from their hay?
Hay before grain: The University of Kentucky’s Department of Animal Sciences suggests that feeding horses concentrated grains before their hay will cause them to feel full and just pick at their hay, or worse, stir it up into their bedding and waste it. The solution? Make sure your horse has hay well before it’s time for grain. It will also help them eat their concentrate more slowly, since they’ll feel more satisfied from the hay they’ve been munching on.
Find a feeder that works: Hay on the floor has taken hold over hay-racks in recent times, as horse-owners grow concerned about dust falling into horses’ eyes and nostrils from overhead racks. But throwing hay onto the floor can result in a lot of waste, which is not just a concern for your wallet, but for your horse. If he’s a pacer who likes to drag his hay around, but then stirs the hay into the bedding, he’ll find himself without anything edible for long stretches of time, even if you threw enough hay to last him for hours. Stop the waste with a hay-rack, a hay manger, or a hay-net. And if you do use a wall-mounted rack or net to feed hay, make sure that it’s positioned far enough away from the neighboring horse to avoid fighting and kicking — which could be another eating deterrent for a passive horse. Project examples we have done that use stable grazers include Boyd stable and Schwalbenhof.
Research the right hay: Hay is not one-size-fits-all. Just like grains, different kinds of hay provide differing levels of energy, fat, and vitamins. Alfalfa hay is one of the most nutritious types of roughage available for horses, with high protein, fiber, and well-balanced calcium and phosphorus. However, this also means alfalfa can be too potent for horses with metabolic problems or overweight horses. By the same token, relatively harmless-seeming grass hay might not have the nutritional content that your performance or sport-horse needs. Many feed companies and hay specialists have nutritionists on staff to consult with on finding the right hay for your horses.
Hay is the cornerstone of a stabled horse’s diet, and the varieties available to us as horse-owners are myriad. But once you’ve found the right hay, the right feeder, and the right feeding schedule, your horse will thank you!
Rutgers Equine Science Center: Ask the Expert-Nutrition http://www.esc.rutgers.edu/ask_expert/ate_nuth.htm
University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service: Equine Feeding Management http://www.uky.edu/Ag/AnimalSciences/pubs/asc143.pdf