Optimize the way you feed your horses by following these dos and don’ts!
Feeding horses is easy, right? Just toss them a bale of hay when needed and offer grain and supplements when the vet recommends it!
Hold your horses…it’s not all that simple. There are a few important dos and don’ts to consider when it comes to nourishing your herd. Let’s take a look!
DO think like a horse
Unlike humans who eat 3 meals a day, horses evolved to graze small amounts of forage all day and all night. Make sure your herd has 24/7 access to good quality hay or pasture!
DON’T offer unrestricted free choice hay
Offering unrestricted free choice hay might seem like the most natural option, but that’s not the case. This style of feeding almost always results in overeating, obesity and chronic health problems. And, horses are picky eaters and may waste a lot of good quality hay while searching for the best bites. Soiled hay is a mess to clean up, in addition to being a waste of money.
DO try slow feeding
Over the past decade, a lot of horse caretakers have recognized the benefits of slow feeding. Hay nets are the most common option, but there are a number of alternatives that work just as well – if not better! Take slow feeding containers, for instance. Unlike hay nets which are time consuming to fill, drop hay, and can result in an unnatural eating position if they’re hung too high, slow feeding containers can hold large amounts of hay, reduce waste, and allow horses to eat together with their heads lowered as nature intended!
DON’T feed the same amount of forage all the time
The amount of forage that horses need to eat varies significantly with the weather. Hay digestion creates body heat. In extremely cold weather, horses may need to double their intake of hay in order to maintain their body condition. Horses may get hay bellies in the winter because they are processing more hay to keep themselves warm. But don’t worry about them – hay bellies are not fat and disappear rapidly when the weather warms up.
DO get in the habit of checking hay quality
If hay is improperly baled or stored, or left to sit for too long, its quality may be questionable. Always check for dust or mold before feeding to prevent respiratory issues, digestive upset, or worse! If possible, get your hay tested to really know its nutritional value, and what if anything, needs to be supplemented.
DON’T feed by volume
When feeding commercial grains and supplements, be sure to read the feeding instructions! Rather than portioning your horses’ feed using a scoop, use a scale to accurately weigh how much you’re giving them. Because feed varies in texture (pellets, nuggets, loose grain, etc.), measuring by volume using a measuring scoop or other such vessel can lead to over- or underfeeding. The same applies to hay. The weight and size of bales and flakes of hay can vary significantly.