Ask the Expert: Estimating Winter Hay Needs

Question:  We recently purchased a farm and will be housing our two quarter horses over the winter; they will not ridden during the winter. Because I’ve always boarded my horses, I’m not sure how to estimate how much hay I will need for the winter.

Answer:  An adult horse at maintenance will consume between 2 – 2.5% of their bodyweight in feed (hay and grain) each day. For example, a 1,000 pound horse fed a 100% hay diet would consume 25 pounds of hay each day (using the 2.5% recommendation). From October 15 to May 15 (when there is no pasture in MN), the horse would consume about 5,350 pounds of hay or 2.7 tons. This would equal 107, 50 pound small square bales or six, 900 pound round bales during this time. For two horses, this amount would be doubled. It is critical to know the weight of the hay bales; not all bales weigh the same.

If the same horse was receiving five pounds of grain each day, their hay needs would be reduced to 20 pounds each day. From October 15 to May 15 the horse would consume about 4,280 pounds of hay or 2.1 tons. This would equal 86, 50 pound small square bales or five, 900 pound round bales during this time. Again, double this amount for two horses.

These estimates assume good quality hay is fed in a feeder to reduced hay waste. When feeding small squares-bales, hay waste when a feeder was not used (hay fed on the ground) was 13% compared to only 1 to 5% when a feeder was used.  When feeding large round-bales, not using a feeder resulted in 57% hay waste compared to 5 to 33% when a feeder was used. It’s always best to purchase extra hay to account for waste and because horses may require additional hay during the cold winter months.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.