How much forage your horse really needs

“You eat like a horse”. There is a very good reason this saying exists; Horses. Eat. A. Lot!!! And a vast majority of horse owners know this, but every now and again I come across a horse owner who is concerned about weight loss in their horse and it is simply because they don’t realise just how much a horse actually needs to eat each day (except my horses, they seem to eat nothing and still get fat!).

So I thought it a timely reminder (with bare paddocks surrounding me in the very drought stricken area where I live) about how much forage a horse needs to eat each day. Traditional recommendations were that horses should receive a minimum of 1% of their bodyweight (1 kg/100 kg BW 0r 1 lb/100 lb BW) of forage per day. More recently however, Harris et al (2016) have increased the recommended minimum to 1.5% of bodyweight. Most good nutritionists will aim for 2% BW of forage in a diet where this is possible.

The amount of forage fed has an impact on the health, welfare, behaviour, gut health and performance of your horse as well as a horse’s risk of colic. Where I see it go horribly wrong is when an owner simply doesn’t realise just how much hay a horse actually needs to eat in a day. Underfeeding hay will often (in everyone else’s horses, mine are still excluded!) result in weight loss and can result in life-threatening colic. The good thing is it is very easily fixed, just feed more hay! 

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