Winter Feeding Tip #2: What you can learn from weighing your hay

Staying on the theme of hay and haylage (or conserved forage), today we’ll talk about the importance of actually knowing how much your horse is eating each day – this is particularly important in winter when horses are stabled for longer periods and have limited or no access to pasture.

As well as the quality of the forage you feed your horse, it is also important to understand and know the weight or volume of the hay that they are eating each day. The volume of fibre a horse eats is critical to gut health – they rely on a steady stream of forage through their system to keep it functioning properly and efficiently.

A horses hindgut is a magic place where they actually synthesise their own nutrients and energy that is then absorbed and utilised around the body for critical systems. This synthesis occurs through the fermentation (with microbes or beneficial bacteria) of what can otherwise be fairly low grade fibre. If you think about it, horses have survived and thrived in the wild eating for example, large quantities of the brown top prairie grass of Wyoming or the low feed grade heather of the Scottish Highlands.

Scientifically we scale a horses daily forage requirement in the same way as many things in nutrition, by a relating it to bodyweight. We look for a minimum of 1.5% and ideally 2% or more of a horses bodyweight each day. A simple calculation will tell you that an average 550kg horse requires between 8.25kg and 11kg of forage on a dry matter basis.  

Ad-lib feeding is ideal but it can sometimes lead us into complacency over how much our horse is actually eating. When you run the exercise below it will give you peace of mind that your horse is receiving a correct amount or it will show up if he/she is not. Don’t worry about doing this too often, twice or three times during the course of the winter is plenty unless you have reason to do it more. 

How to do it

The method is simple and involves some luggage scales (circa £5 on ebay) and a hay net. Weigh the hay or haylage on the way into the stable, and if some is left in the morning, weigh it on the way back out again. Don’t forget to feed the hay on the ground or in a ground level feeder if you can as per tip #1. Do this for all the hay/haylage that your horse receives throughout the day.

Some assumptions will need to be factored in if your horse is lucky enough to have turn out on grass though winter, we must also account for the moisture as this can contribute ‘false’ weight.

Points to remember:

  • If you are weighing hay take off about 15% to account for moisture
  • If it’s haylage reduce the weight by about 20% for moisture weight
  • If your horse has access to pasture than make a conservative estimate of the weight he eats each day and add this on to your total 

Repeat this for 2-3 days and take an average across the period. If you are not achieving the minimum and you are already feeding ad-lib, you will need to provide some alternative sources of forage or fibre that are more enticing. We have plenty of ideas in this department so feel free drop us an email with your case to advice@keyflowfeeds.com or phone 01672 519000 and we will gladly help. Thank you for taking the time to read tip

Thank you for taking the time to read this and stay tuned for more tips

Winter Feeding Tip