Horses eating hay

Keep your horse well fed during the winter.

It’s almost here again and we look into the barn and wonder if we have enough hay to last our animals.

How do you figure out how much hay you need? Do you track how many bales you used from year to year? What if you increase or decrease your herd? Did you switch your hay supplier? Are the bales heavier or (gasp!) lighter than the previous years?

Depending on the age and activity level of your horse, he will consume between 1.5% and 2.5% of his weight in hay/grain.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say our horse weighs 1,000 pounds and is lightly worked, even in the winter. So, that horse would eat about 2% of his weight or 20 pounds of hay/grain every day. If your hay bales average 40 pounds, you would feed this horse a ½ bale of hay a day. We are making the assumption that the horse is not getting any grain. The amount of hay would, of course, be decreased based on the amount of grain fed daily.

Now the question is, is your horse on hay all year or do you pasture you horse during the warmer months. This is critical in figuring out how much hay you will need.

If you feed hay all year, and you feed a half bale a day, you would need 183 bales of hay per horse. However, this does not take into account cold winters nor other factors like wind chill or the winter coat your horse may or may not have.

Using 400 as a base temperature, we would add about one pound of hay for every 10 degrees below this base temperature. So at 300, you may want to add one or two pounds of hay, depending on the winter coat. But, if it’s raining, you may need to add three to six pounds of hay and if the wind is at 10 to 15 miles per hour, you might want to think about adding 10 to 14 pounds of hay!

So now, how do you figure out how much hay you really need?

Since we have determined that a 1,000 pound horse would need 183 bales of hay if the horse was not on pasture, we now need to calculate how many days of cold our region has. Again, to make the math simple, let’s say we could have 100 days of temps at or below 300. Of those days, 30 would be at or below 00.

Coat 70 days at 300 – 00 30 days below 00 Total pounds
Heavy 70 x 3 pounds = 210 pounds 30 x 8 pounds = 240 pounds 450 pounds = 11.25 bales
Light 70 x 6 pounds = 420 pounds 30 x 14 pounds = 420 pounds 840 pounds = 21 bales

If your horses are stalled and out of the elements, you may be able to give them less hay, but, always do a check of your horse’s weight during the harsh winter months. Winter coat can be deceiving, so feel for your horse’s ribs as well as a visual inspection to see how he is wintering.

Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.