With winter just around the corner, and after a hot and extremely dry fall, hopefully horse owners have secured sufficient hay supplies. If you have not, you need to estimate the amount of hay you will need. If you have mature horses at maintenance level, you would want to feed a mainly forage diet.
The estimate would be similar to a 1,100-pound horse eating 2 percent of its body weight. That equals 22 pounds of hay per day. Feeding for 120 days, December through March, would equal 1.3 tons of hay per horse.
You can make the most of your hay inventory by first, having your hay tested. The results will help you make the best use of the nutrients supplied by the hay and allow you to supplement as needed. If you are unsure about how to get your hay tested, you can contact your county agriculture and natural resources extension agent for information or visit the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Forage Testing Program’s website at: www.kyagr.com/ marketing/forage-program. html.
Second, you should feed the amount your horse needs per day. That essentially means taking some control over the feed intake. Feeding free choice can result in your horses eating more than they need each day to meet their nutritional needs. This can be a difficult task for those who are using hay rolls rather than square bales.
Third, use a suitable feeder for your horses to limit waste. Feeding on the ground can result in significant feed losses. Researchers using square bales, fed in controlled amounts, reported waste in the range of 20 percent, while others feeding hay rolls without a feeder reported wastes of 35 percent to 38 percent. In that case, horse owners would need at least a half-ton more hay per horse.
And finally, when you are buying hay, purchase the best quality hay possible.
As the feeding season progresses, monitor your horses to make sure they are maintaining body condition and adjust feed as needed. If you are short on hay, you may need to feed some concentrate to provide all the nutrients your horses require.
If you estimate correctly, you should have some hay left when spring grass finally arrives. It is better to have some leftover than to run out in March.
For more information on winter hay feeding, contact the Letcher County Cooperative Extension Service.