How Much Feed Do Horses Need?

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension image

Horse owners often ask how much grain to feed their animals? The truth is most horses require very little grain to meet their nutritional requirements, while others need more feed. There are several mitigating factors that determine how much you feed horses.

Hay quality is one consideration. The nutrient value of the forage, the less grain the horse will need as the forage will provide a greater amount of the horse’s nutrient needs. However, when you have a limited forage supply, more grain may be fed to make up for this forage shortfall. So, in order to make the hay last longer, you could use a concentrate feed to supply a specific portion of the horse’s nutrient requirements, and let the forage provide the remaining nutrients. When using this strategy, it’s crucial to monitor feed intake, especially forage consumption, and watch body condition scores.

Nutrient requirements of the individual horse are also a factor influencing how much concentrate is needed. Horses that are ridden frequently have higher energy requirements than horses that are idle. To meet these higher energy requirements, you’ll need to feed some concentrate, as a hard-working horse can’t eat enough forage to meet its energy needs, regardless of the forage quality. Again, watch the horse’s body condition and consider work levels to determine if the level of feed is adequate.

Since the containers used to measure horse feed, and the nutrients of the feed that’s used, can be highly variable, it’s hard to say how many of these will meet the animals’ nutritional requirements. Horse owners often use a one-pound coffee can as the standard measuring device. However, it can hold from about seven-tenths of a pound up to one and one-half pounds, depending upon the texture of the feed. A can or scoop of pelleted feed will be heavier than the same container filled with rolled oats, because it is more nutrient dense. Try to weigh the amount of grain your container holds. Knowing the weight, and the quality of hay used, you can develop a feeding program that meets the needs of your horses. This way, you are unlikely to over feed or under feed.

Horses always need salt as part of their daily nutritional intake. Horses typically will consume about one to one and three-fourths ounces of salt daily on a free choice basis. Horses should have a source of free-choice trace mineral salt available even if there is salt in the concentrated feed being fed. Whether you provide loose salt or blocks is largely your choice. Try to monitor how much salt your horses are eating and make adjustments as required.

For more information, contact your Burke County Cooperative Extension Service at 439-4460.

Damon Pollard
Extension Agent