How to Transition a Horse’s Feed

You may be thinking your horse might be in need of a senior diet, or perhaps there is a new feed available that you believe is even better for your horse.  Maybe you are no longer happy with your current feed.  Or, your dealer no longer carries the product you were using.  Whatever the reason, switching your horse to a new feed is a change that requires care and know-how. 

Changes to feed, pasture or hay in general should be made over a 7 day period, gradually increasing the new and decreasing the old.  For example:

Day 1: 80% of old feed / 20% of new feed

Day 2: 70% of old feed / 30% of new feed

Day 3: 60% of old feed / 40% of new feed

Day 4: 50% of each

Day 5: 40% of old feed / 60% of new feed

Day 6: 30% of old feed / 70% of new feed

Day 7: 20% of old feed / 80% of new feed

Moving from a feed higher in Non-Structural Carbohydrates (NSC) to one that is lower can be done relatively easily by following the instructions above.  If you are moving your horse from a ‘low’ NSC feed to one that is higher in NSC, feed changes should happen over at least the 7 days recommended above, if not longer. 

Research has indicated that horses fed pre and probiotics are better able to handle changes in diet than horses that are not. 

Changes in hay, though generally not given much consideration, can have as much of an impact if not more than changes in feed. If possible, try to follow the same steps as above when transitioning your hay.  Hay that is harvested from the same field, but in different cuttings will likely vary in nutritional content. Hay testing is available from many University Extension offices.  Check with your area extension office for more information.

5 Replies to “How to Transition a Horse’s Feed”

  1. I just had to change my 5yo over from total equine to nutrena safe choice. How much should I trans her she is 5 at 900lbs

    1. Hello Clyde,
      Thank you for your question about your 5 year old horse. If your 5 year old is at a Body Condition Score 5 and weighs 900 pounds, you would probably start her at 4.5-5 pounds of SafeChoice per day, split into two feedings. The amount required to maintain body condition will also depend on the quality of the hay or pasture that you have available and the amount of exercise that she is getting. She should also have salt available free choice and access to fresh clean water. There are fairly detailed feeding directions included with the SafeChoice product. You may want to check out for additional information and any specials offers that come up from time to time.
      Best of luck!
      Roy J.

  2. I may be adopting a horse that has been living off of only hay rations for a long while. He is a bit underweight and hasn’t been put out to pasture for a long time, but Id like to be able to put him out. But I don’t want to rush and cause issues. What should I do to avoid causing digestive problems in this case?

    1. Hi Laura,
      If you adopt a horse that has been living off hay rations for a long time, is a bit underweight and has not been put out to pasture for a long time, I would recommend the following:
      1. Make certain that he has been de-wormed and has had his teeth checked.
      2. Make certain that he has access to salt free choice. I prefer loose salt as horses tend to consume more readily, but salt blocks are an option. If he has not had salt for some time, he may be salt starved, so you might want to offer 2-4 ounces per day for a few days before offering free choice and may want to monitor consumption. Make certain fresh, clean water is available.
      3. When you are ready to introduce to pasture, make certain he has had normal hay intake first. If at all possible, may want to walk him around the pasture to let him know where and see fences and any hazards. Several years ago, I introduced an older gelding to a pasture and observed that he was very reluctant to leave the gate/front fence. I realized it was the first time in his life (he was a confined stall/paddock horse for years) that he was in an enclosure where he could not see all 4 walls and he was very insecure! He required some hand walking and also had to learn how to go up and down hills!
      4. After introducing him to pasture, allow him to graze for a short time (15 minutes to an hour, depending on lushness of pasture).
      5. Gradually increase the grazing time, but try to avoid turning him out on pasture before he has had hay for at least a week or so.

      With some preparation and gradual introduction, he should be able to enjoy being a pasture horse! If he is going to share the pasture with stablemates, he will need to be introduced gradually to them also.

      Best wishes,
      Roy J.

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