Reading Horse Feed Directions – How Much to Feed?

When horse feeds are formulated, they are developed to provide nutrition to all sizes of horses – nutrient needs go up as the size of the horse goes up.  So, feeding directions are often provided in the following format:

  • Activity Level                   Lbs of feed per 100 lbs of bodyweight
  • Maintenance                     0.3-0.5
  • Light Exercise                   0.4-0.6

So, how do you figure out how much to feed your horse? Start with knowing the weight of your horse.  Then, divide that weight by 100, and then multiply the result by both of the amounts of feed given in the directions above.  The resulting two numbers will tell you the range of how much to feed your horse to give them the nutrition they need for both their size and their activity level.

Example Feeding Directions:

1200 lb horse, in light exercise.

  1. (1200 ÷ 100) = 12
  2. (12 × 0.4) = 4.8
  3. (12 × 0.6) = 7.2

In this example, this horse would need to eat between 4.8 and 7.2 lbs per day of this feed to receive the nutrition he needs.  Some horses that are easier keepers can fall to the lower end of the range, while harder keepers may need to push the upper limit.

If you do this math for your horse, and find that you are feeding outside of the designated range, you should search for a feed that is more suitable to your horses needs.  Hard keepers, for example, may require a feed that is higher in calories per pound, while easier keepers might require a feed with fewer calories and more concentrated levels of vitamins and mineralsSuch a feed might cost more per bag, however the ability to pack more punch in a smaller feeding might actually result in a cost saving!

34 Replies to “Reading Horse Feed Directions – How Much to Feed?”

  1. Why don’t horse feeds list caloric content? I’m thinking of switching my horse from Compete to a combination of Senior and Sweet feed. He doesn’t seem to like Compete. Prior to that he was on Strategy but the barn where I board switched to Compete. I don’t want him losing weight, and actually would like him to gain some. So how do I know how much is comparable to what he was getting before?

    1. Hi Clare,
      Good question. There are several reasons caloric content isn’t always shown, one of the reasons being that there are a couple different ways to test for caloric content, and the governing body that is over feed tagging has not set specific rules around tagging it. Feed companies are generally willing to give the numbers though, if you inquire. Life Design Compete is at 1.5 Mcal/lb, where SafeChoice Senior is just 1.36 Mcal/lb. I don’t know what brand of sweet feed you are referring to, our premium sweet feed brand, Vitality, is 1.44 Mcal/lb – it has a 6% fat level, if that helps compare to the sweet feed you mention. Unless your sweet feed has a significantly higher fat level, it will be about the same or lower as Vitality. So, combining SafeChoice Senior with a sweet feed won’t provide the same level of calories per pound as Life Design Compete.

      One thing you could try, is adding a product like Empower to his diet. Empower will give a good shot of calories in a small dose – and most horses really like it.
      Does that help? Let us know if you have more questions! Thanks ~ Gina T.

      *Update Sept 2013: Life Design Compete is no longer available, and has been replaced by SafeChoice Perform.

  2. So I am reading how to determine how much to feed my horse needs and trying to make sure that I am on the right track. I have a hard keeper, 24 year old Thoroughbred who weighs 1070 has had ulcers that are under control(gotta love Ulcer Guard!). I have had him on Safe Choice for 4 or so years. He has done well on it but I am finding that he isn’t keeping his weight as well as I would like(I can see ribs). He is up to date on everything, shots worming, teeth floating, etc. I wet his feed to help with his intake(which he eats everything!) . I have also added a Stabilized Rice Bran 2 cups a day(possibly not enough). He is also on Nu-Image for hoof and coat(it was free) and gets sugar free electrolytes, especially in the summer heat of Georgia. We really don’t ride all that much if at all. What is the correct amount of Safe Choice to feed him? 10lb’s a day? If that is the case a 50lb bag will only last me 5 days? I am very confused! I would love some direction! I work in a tack/feed store and get asked these kinds of questions all the time and when it comes down to it I am lost with my own horse!

    1. Hi Carolyn, Great question. Yes, you are on the right track, and doing your math right!

      So, one thing to think about is that SafeChoice Original might not be the exact right feed for your big boy. SafeChoice Original is a great option for most of the horses out there, but for some really hard keepers or horses who are working a lot, it might not be enough. TB’s are notorious for being hard to keep weight on, and with him getting up in age, that problem might become magnified. You might consider switching to a feed that has a little higher calorie level per pound. Our next step up in the Nutrena product line would be either SafeChoice Perform (pellets) or Vitality Ultra (textured feed), and then from there the next option is XTN. Adding Empower Boost (our stabilized rice bran product that actually has even more fat/calories than just plain stabilized rice bran) is also an excellent option.

      Please let us know if we can be of further assistance! Thanks ~Gina T.

  3. How do you figure beet pulp into the equation? All my horses get their Safechoice mixed in with a coffee can of beet pulp (hydrated, of course) am and pm. Then I feed the hay.
    I’ve never been clear on how beet pulp mixes into the equation but my horses look great and the love the mix.

    1. Hello Jean, Thanks for the question. It depends on how far in to the diet you want to dig. You can find a typical profile for beet pulp on Equi-Analytical’s “Common Feed Profiles” page, that will provide you with nutrient values and calorie levels, and you can start on the math! We generally do not recommend mixing any single ingredient (beet pulp, oats, etc) with our feed products, as they are balanced to provide the needed nutrients when fed as directed.

  4. I don’t understand your calculation for a 1200 lb horse. In the table shown light work should be 0.6 to 0.75 per each 100 lbs of body weight. However, in your calcuation for light exercise you have used 0.4 x 12. Where did the 0.4 come from when the low for light exercise on the table shown is 0.6?


    1. Hi Cynthia, Thanks for the quesiton! The calculation is based off the example feeding directions in the text, not the tag shown in the photo. Sorry about the confusion – we didn’t notice that when we posted it!
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

  5. HELP!! To say I am overwhelmed about how much to feed my 2 year old filly per day is an understatement to say the least. She has been getting a high quality sweet feed fed 2x per day. Since reading all the bad “rap” about sweet feed, I am thining about switching her to a pellet. She weighs 800 lbs and has not started training yet. She also gets about 6 flakes of hay per day and some adequate pasture. YOUR COMMENTS WILL BE GREATLY APPRECIATED!!!

    1. Hi Cathy – Sorry to hear you are feeling overwhelmed! We can definitely help you sort this out. The first thing you should do is weigh your feed – AND your hay. 6 flakes sounds good, but flakes can weigh anywhere from 3 to 6 pounds on average, depending on how tighly the bales were packed. And that can make a big difference on how many flakes she should have! As a bare minimum, a horse should get 1 to 1.75 pounds of hay per 100 lbs of bodyweight. So for your 800 pound filly, she should get at least 8 pounds of hay per day, and up to 14 pounds! You’ll likely see her needing that higher end if the quality of hay is poor, or if she were without access to pasture. Make sure as she grows, you keep up with her increases in bodyweight.

      For her grain – sweet feeds have received something of a bad rap, you are correct, but much of that is fear and hype. Traditional, old fashioned sweet feeds were loaded with molasses, corn, and not a lot of thought given to nutrients past the protein, fat, and fiber. Today, high end sweet feeds are often more liquid vegetable oil than molasses for that wet/gooey feel that we know, and are far better balanced further down the guaranteed analysis list. They can also be balanced for the starch levels they provide – which is often a source of that ‘bad rap’ they get. The truth is, if it is working for your horse, and she’s in good body condition and looks healthy with a good attitude, then she’s just fine.

      Personally, I prefer pellets just for the fact that they are dry, which makes them easy to handle in colder temperatures and less likely to mold in high temperatures, but beyond that, a high quality sweet feed from a reputable manufacturer – and in your filly’s case, one that is designed for growing horses – is just fine. Again, weigh your feed and make sure you are feeding within the recommendations on the tag for her age, activity level, and body weight, so that she gets the proper nutrients she needs, and you’ll be giving her a great diet. If you use one of our products, you can click the “Feeding Directions” tab on the product page on our website, enter her life stage/activity level and her weight, click “Calculate”, and it will tell you how many pounds she should be getting.

      Hope this helps ease your mind! If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to ask! Thanks ~ Gina T.

      1. Thank you Gina!! You offered a ton of information and I certainly appreciate that! I do weigh my feed, and she currently gets 5 lbs per day. Does this sound about right to you? Also, the hay weighs 55 lbs. a bale. I would like to lower feeding costs while not compromising on quality. There is a product made by Purina Mills called “Du-Mor” and is a pelleted feed and costs less. Supposed to be a good feed. What is your personal suggestion? Maybe feed 1/2 and 1/2? Also, I have heard that adding 1/2 c of corn oil to their feed helps. True? This is not a nutrition question, but rather a “fly” question. Someone told adding 1/4 c. vinegar to their food helps keep the flies away. Any thoughts on this? THANK YOU for your quick response!!

        1. Hi Cathy, Glad to be of service! Yes, the 5 lbs per day is most likely right in the ballpark for what she should be getting. As for reducing the cost of your feed bill, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Du-Mor is a nice line of feed, but we wouldn’t recommend it for young growing horses – it simply isn’t going to provide the same level of nutrition. That line is designed for fully developed, mature horses that aren’t doing much work. Cutting it in to a premium feed that is designed for growing horses, would be sort of like watering down a glass of milk. It’ll stretch it out, and maybe cost just a little less, but still won’t provide the same level of nutrition.
          For the corn oil, if your filly is in good body condition, then there is no need to add that. It is usually added to provide extra calories to help put weight on, and also is used occassionally to add some shine to the coat. If your feed is a quality feed and you are feeding accroding to directions, you should not need this.
          On the fly control question, that’s not one I am familiar with – sorry I do not have a suggestion on that one!
          Thanks! Gina T.

  6. Thanks for all the good info,I’d like to commenton the fly control…I use about a tablespoon of granulated garlic every other day and have had great results.

  7. Gina; We live in SC and have a 23 year old Thourghbred/Ap. He recently has developed ulcers and had a recent gas colic. We feed him soaked beet pulp with a purina senior pellet feed (3 times per dy). My questons are: does the beet pulp count as forage and how do we determine the weight given the amount of water used to soak the beet pulp . We are struggleing with putting weight on him. He is having trouble chewing, so we have floated his teeth (always twice yearly) and are giving him alphalpha cubes (soaked). He is getting an ok amount of grazing. To summarize we are struggleing with being sure he is getting the right amount of forage and grain.

    1. Hello Bill, Great questions. For weighing the beet pulp, weigh it out before you soak it, and use that number in your calculations. It does not count as forage, so make sure to keep that separate. For his ulcers, you’ve probably heard all the management tips, but in case you haven’t, we’ve got a great article that covers those here.
      Good luck with him! Gina T.

    2. FYI, ask your vet about floating teeth so much on an older horse. After age 20, the amount of tooth surface left to erupt is dwindling, and unless your horse develops bad points, or quids his hay, floating really should be cut back to as little as every other year. Otherwise, before you know it your horse will have no tooth left to erupt and will not be able to chew. All food will have to be soaked after that. Just speaking from experiences. 🙂

  8. Hi Gina, I hate it when people sell a horse and say ” he doesn’t need any grain ” due to over weight / size . Recently brought a small horse 800-900 lbs and exactly what they immediately said was ” he doesn’t need any grain.” I have always believed that horse’s need minerals. I don’t feed max amount but offer some plus mineral / salt blocks which I find they rarely touch. Muscle, hoofs, skin, coat etc they need their minerals as we do. There is no battle going on here for food since the 3 of them have individual stalls to paddocks & pasture so I know what they are consuming. Their hay is ALL gone but My point is I want to give this new one his minerals without weight gain though the winter. How can I balance this out & still give him enough hay( 2 flakes first cut/ 2 flakes of 2nd cut twice a day ) to keep him content . I’m using Safe Choice & have for yrs…. 1/2 lb a day to intro him . Should I use another type ? Age 10, 14.3 H In Mich the cold winter temps are here & this guy is hungry. Thanks for your time

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  10. Hi,
    I was wondering how much to give my horse of the sunshine pellets?He gets 2 cups pf grain in the morning and evening.I have not started him riding yet this year.thankyou for any help.peg

    1. Hi Peg, We aren’t familiar with the Sunshine Pellets – you’ll want to look at the back of the bag or the tag for feeding instructions, and follow those carefully. We also recommend weighing it out – a fish scale or kitchen scale both work well for weighing feed – so you know the weight of feed your scoop holds.
      Thanks! Gina T.

  11. I have a question. I just got a 22 year old tb gelding. He’s 17hh, weighs 1074 right now and looks like he needs to gain about 200 lbs. I’m pretty new to horses, but after much reading I came up with this feeding plan , can you give me feedback on it?

    Twice daily he gets 4.5 quarts senior feed mixed with 3 quarts beet pulp shredded with 6 quarts water. I also mix in one ounce of cool calories 100 and 1 scoop of a joint supplement. He gets 6 to 12 hours of pasture a day and I give him hay at night, although I haven’t weighed the amount yet.

    How does this sound? Any advice would be greatly appriciate . I love in upstate ny and we are getting very close to another long hard winter so I’m anxious to get his weight up.

    1. Hi Kayle, Great question. It sounds like you have a large horse and are on the right track, but may need to increase the feed a bit. If your horse needs to gain weight then you will have to increase the calorie intake per day above the current level that your horse is being feed. You can feed for gain at faster rates or slower rates depending on how many calories you increase in the diet per day. The recommended amount of our SafeChoice Senior when fed with hay is 6.5 – 9.1 lbs a day for a 1200 lb maintenance horse. Horses needing to gain weight will need on the higher side of the recommended amount or higher than the recommended amount to get the weight on. Because your horse needs to gain around 200 lbs I recommend feeding above the recommended amount at around 11 – 12 lbs a day or so.

      You can also add our high fat supplement called Empower Boost and it can be added at a rate of 1 – 3 lbs a day to help put on weight. For example, you could feed 8 – 9 lbs of SafeChoice Senior with 2 – 3 lbs of Empower Boost. Empower Boost is packed with nutrients and has balanced vitamins/minerals, amino acids, omega 3 and 6, and prebiotics/probiotics. It is best to choose high fat supplements that are packed with other nutrients and not empty calories. Some high fat supplements in oil and powder form are not packed with other added nutrients.

      The recommended amount of SafeChoice Senior without hay and using senior as the sole ration is 15.6 – 18.2 lbs a day for a 1300 lb maintenance horse. Sounds like your horse has a good amount of time on pasture and hay. If you have not already done so I recommend being sure your horse is chewing hay properly and not dropping balls of hay. If your horse is having trouble chewing hay then it is time to start using more senior in the diet and as a sole ration when he can no longer chew hay well. It is a great idea to weigh your hay to see how many pounds your horse is getting and consuming. Your horse should get around 20 – 26 lbs of hay a day and this would include other roughage in the diet such as pasture and beet pulp.

      Beet pulp is a great source of fiber that will add some calories to the diet. However, beet pulp is not well balanced on its own and is low in mineral content and amino acids so it does need balanced with other nutrients. Beet pulp does not replace a nutritionally prepared feed such as SafeChoice Senior so you want to be sure to feed the senior within the recommended amount to get the full nutritional benefits. Please let us know if you have more questions and we will be happy to help!
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

  12. Hello there, I have a mare that’s a little underweight and I’m currently feeding Sentinel Performance Ls mixed with 12% pelllets(5lb daily), 1 scoop of Dac Bloom, a tiny bit of cracked corn(1/4 of my 3 quart scoop), with manna pro(1/2lb)! Is that to much? I’m not quite sure how this feeding thing goes !

    1. Hello Cynthia, Great question. If your mare is underweight, then that is a sign that she either needs more, or else the same amount of a higher calorie diet. In your specific instance, the first thing we would recommend is to SIMPLIFY! We would suggest dropping everything but the Sentinel Performance LS – it is designed to be fed as-is, without anything mixed in. By cutting it with the 12% pellets, you are likely reducing the total calorie intake versus feeding the same total amount of just the Sentinel. The cracked corn (as with any individual ingredient) is unbalanced for vitamins/minerals, and the Manna Pro is nutritionally unnecessary if you are feeding the proper amount of the Sentinel.

      The Dac Bloom won’t hurt anything, and while it is 35% fat, 35% of 1 oz is such a tiny amount of fat (that would be 0.018 lbs) that it is unlikely to have much impact on your horse’s overall calorie intake. In comparison, 1 lb of the Sentinel feed delivers 0.12 lbs of fat. So if you feed that feed as directed, likely in the 5 lb per day range, she’d get 0.6 lbs of fat from her feed. Make sense?

      Of course, we’d love to have you switch to one of our feeds – check out SafeChoice Original as a great single solution to feeding your mare! Hope this all helps, let us know if you have more questions! Thank you ~ Gina T.

  13. My mare is 1100 pounds and the barn has put her on 7 lbs of hay to 8 pounds of complete. I feel this is not a good balance in that she should be getting 15 to 20 pounds of hay and less pellets.
    How do u feel?
    thank u

    1. Hi Lelah,
      Thank you for your interesting question.
      I would normally expect an 1100 pound horse to be getting a minimum of 1-1.5 % of bodyweight in forage or pasture equivalent. That would be 11 to 16.5 pounds per day. That said, if forage is in short supply in an area, as we see frequently in different parts of the country at various times of the year and due to weather conditions, we do see horses do quite well on 0.5% BW in forage or 5.5 pounds for your 1100 pound horse and an appropriate amount of moderate to high fiber pelleted feeds. The most important things to watch are body condition and any sign of behavior changes such as wood chewing, eating bedding or chewing on other material. Salt should also be available free choice and fresh clean water should be available.
      Best of luck!

  14. Hi!

    I have a 1yo Hanoverian filly and looking to find out the appropriate amount of empower balance to feed in conjunction with 2 quarts of 14% sweet feed growth formula twice a day. This is a big boned filly, maturing to 17h+ , on grass all day. I was calculating 1lb a day. Would this be correct?

    1. Hi Kristin,
      Thanks so much for reaching out! Wondering if you could provide just a little more info about your horse. Can you tell us about what your filly weighs? Also, there is a great tool on our website that helps estimate how much you should be feeding. For Empower Topline Balance it can be found here: . Just scroll below the Guaranteed Analysis and it’s below that!

      Best of luck!

  15. Hi, if I feed 4 quarts of safechoice perform a day ; How much in pounds would that be ? What is the pound per quart ? Thank You

  16. Since most feeds are of different density and I do not have a scale, how much does a quart of Nutrena Original weigh?

    1. Hello Jan, Thanks for the question. You can use 1.5 lbs per quart as a guide, but we do recommend trying to get access to a scale if possible. Everyone’s scoops are different, and the scoop size can be deceiving as well. An inexpensive kitchen scale, fish scale, or other small scale all make great options. Thanks!

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