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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Stretching Your Hay Supply

Livestock Update, December 2007

Dr. Shea Porr, Equine Extension Agent, Northern District, or 540-687-3521 ext 27 and
Dr. Scott Pleasant, Veterinary Extension Specialist, Virginia Tech, or 540-231-4696

The drought-plagued summer in the Mid Atlantic and Southeast Regions has resulted in decreased hay supplies and soaring prices.  As winter approaches, many people are starting to feel the pinch.  The average horse eating only hay needs approximately 2% of their body weight in good quality hay each day to meet their energy needs.  That’s roughly 20 pounds of hay each day for a 1000-pound horse.  Adding a concentrate (grain) to the horse’s diet can reduce the hay requirement to 1-1.5 % of their body weight.  If you find yourself short on hay, either due to lack of availability or high prices, here are a few suggestions for stretching your horse’s hay supply.

One option is to replace a portion of your horses hay requirement with chopped hay.  Chopped hay products are typically sold in 50-pound sealed bags. They may be fed to totally replace the horse’s hay needs, but are usually too expensive to justify feeding at a full replacement rate.  However, they are excellent for replacing part of a horses hay requirement and for supplementing overly mature hay. Chopped hay products are usually fed on a pound-for-pound basis (one pound of chopped forage for one pound of long stemmed hay).  Always adjust the feeding rate to maintain proper body condition.

A second option is to feed hay cubes; alfalfa and timothy cubes are available.  Advantages of hay cubes include less storage space, ease of handling, and decreased feeding waste.  Hay cubes have adequate particle size to maintain normal digestive health and prevent wood chewing, so they can be used to partially or totally replace baled hay. Hay cubes may be fed to partially or totally reduce a horse’s hay needs.  Be careful when adapting horses to hay cubes, as some horses may consume them too quickly and choke.  As with any feed change, get the horse used to the cubes slowly.  Make sure the horse isn’t hungry the first time you feed them, reducing the chance that they’ll bolt them down.  Wetting or soaking cubes to soften them reduces the likelihood of choke, but can be time consuming and messy.  Remember to adjust the feeding rate to maintain proper body condition.

A third option to consider is feeding a high fiber or “hay-replacer” horse feed.  These are feeds over 15% crude fiber, which helps supply necessary fiber for normal digestive tract function.  High fiber feeds can allow you to reduce your hay-feeding by half (1.0% of body weight or 10 pounds per 1,000 pounds of body weight). As always, remember to adjust the feeding rate to maintain proper body condition.

A fourth option is to add non-molasses, shredded beet pulp to the diet.  As with high fiber feeds, beet pulp can be used to replace up to half of the forage requirement.  Beet pulp does not require soaking before feeding, but many people do so anyway.  Again, adjust the concentrate or hay fed to maintain appropriate body condition.

For more information on ways to stretch your hay supply this winter, contact your local county extension office.

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