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Types of Hay and the Best Hay to Feed a Horse

Updated on December 2, 2011

The Best Feed for Horses

Horses are naturally grazing herbivores, designed to munch grass throughout the day and roam a large territory to sustain themselves. However, most modern equine owners do not have access to such large pastures, and instead use feed such as hay and oats to control the amount of food consumed and ensure proper nutrition.

But what is the best feed for horses? Generally, owners give their horses a balanced diet of hay, oats, and supplements. These provide not only a variety in taste, but also a complete range of vitamins and nutrients to keep horses healthy and hardy.

Hay is the staple in most horses' diet, and can be surprisingly complex. There are several plants from which hay is made, and a multitude of ways to combine them. These varieties all have their advantages and disadvantages. The three most common varieties will be examined more closely in this article: legume, grass, and grain hay.

Legume Hay

Legume hays are made from legume plants, the most common being Alfalfa. Alfalfa hay is a popular choice for horse owners, due to its high nutritional value and ease of digestion. The hay is high-fiber and packed with energy, while still having a flavor horses love. It is especially beneficial to growing colts and fillies, horses recovering from illnesses, and lactating mothers. However, feeding Alfalfa alone can be too much for most horses, and is best when mixed with another type of hay. Alfalfa is widely available and grown in every state, but tends to be more expensive than Grass Hay.

Grass Hay

Grass hay is another common type of roughage used, with the most popular variety being Timothy hay. Grass hay, like Alfalfa, is high in fiber and nutrients, but is easier on most horses' systems. This hay should form the bulk of most adult horses' diets, although the taste can be less appealing to some animals when compared to Alfalfa. There are other varieties, however, that taste better, such as Orchardgrass hay. Grass hay is common and easily found, and Timothy hay is usually cheaper than Alfalfa.

Grain Hay

Grain Hays such as oat hay are another option for hose owner. These hays are thick and tough, which slow horses down and force them to properly chew and digest their feed. Oat hay is nutritionally sound, but many horses do not like it and will leave the stems uneaten. Oat hay can also contain too much nitrate and must be tested. All of this makes it a fairly undesirable feed compared to the other two. It is also harder to find Grain hays, as they are not commonly grown.

Horses are complex animals and have very specific dietary needs. When planning out the feed for your horse, come up with a reasonable, initial plan involving multiple sources of nutrition, and then adjust accordingly to suit your individual animal. Remember, every horse is different, and there's no 100% right solution for all of them!


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    • renee21 profile image

      renee21 4 years ago

      My horse eats a mixture of alfalfa and grass hay. He loves it.

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