Using Hay Replacers for Horses

Severe drought through parts of TX and OK leaves hayfields and pastures brown and dry, and animal owners searching for replacement options.

When times of severe draught or other weather phenomenon result in poor quality or availability of pastures and hay, horse owners often turn to complete feeds (i.e. feeds that contain a full diet of roughage, protein, vitamins, minerals, and other needed nutrients) or hay stretchers/replacers (designed to replace the fiber component of the hay/pasture that is no longer available).   These products can be extremely useful to horse owners to help them through the tough hay times, but they do come with some usage guidelines to keep horses happy and healthy.

  • Follow the recommended feeding rate.
    • This is of particular concern if the product is being used as the sole diet.  To keep gut health intact, enough fiber must be consumed each day for regular gut function.  And, to keep the horse healthy overall, it is critical to ensure they are receiving all the balanced nutrients that they would normally get through a combination of hay, pasture, and added concentrate feed.
  • Horses tend to crave long stem fiber to chew on, which is missing in the diet made up of complete feed or hay stretchers. 
    • Owners will most likely see unwanted behaviors begin, such as wood chewing, cribbing, or weaving, without some grass or hay to keep their horse’s mouth and mind busy.  While the full daily allotment of hay may not be available or affordable, it is a good idea to offer at least a flake or two each day to help prevent these behaviors (and save your fences).  Hay cubes are an option if pasture or traditional baled hay is unavailable.
  • Ensure proper water and salt consumption.  Proper hydration levels are essential to keeping the gut moving properly.

In the absence of available forage, providing a complete feed concentrate is a better option than feeding a concentrate that is designed to be fed with forage, by itself.  With proper management and attention to detail, both the horse and the owner’s pocketbook can pull through the hay shortage!

12 Replies to “Using Hay Replacers for Horses”

  1. I wish this had been available back in 1995-1996! We had a horrific winter and hay was difficult to find. I had no idea what to do. I bought hay cubes, but really had no idea how to feed with them. Currently I have a 30.5 year old Thoroughbred mare that has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. It is quite sad. I have had her since she was just 5 years old. She and I took hunter jumper classes together, and she and I learned a lot! We became very good friends when my old Quarter/Morgan gelding passed away at the age of 36. She has been a very good mare. Not moody at all. Unfortunately winters are difficult here, and the vet said we need to set a date for when the first flakes start to fall. I am already very sad. We are extending her stay here on earth only because Doctor says she is not in pain. She leans to the left, as that it her strong side, even chewing on that side of her mouth. I have been feeding extra hay and complete feed, and she seems to be doing just great! I will certainly miss her when she is gone. A day I am not looking forward to 🙁

    1. I feel for you. You are in a very difficult position but you should take great pride in the longevity of your horses. You have given them the best possible care and they have lived long and happy lives while in your charge.
      We all take the risk as horse owners that some day we too will have to make that difficult call. Thought it is sure to break our hearts, we wouldn’t have it any other way! Bless you for your compassion and dedication to your horses.

  2. I know horses need long fiber. But what about in the case of a horse with no teeth? How do I keep him satisfied and not bored when he can’t have a flake of hay sitting in front of him to munch on? And what about his digestion without that long fiber?

    1. Hello Diane,
      Great question. Most horses with dental challenges do well on soaked hay, or soaked hay cubes (15 – 30 min should be sufficient).

      To get more soluble fiber in the diet, soaked beet pulp works well too. Something to keep in mind is that soaking hay/cubes results in dry matter loss, as well as leaching of other nutrients, so having a balanced Senior concentrate feed (mash) as part of the total diet will help ensure a balanced diet and prevention of dietary deficiencies. Soaked forages/fiber plus a senior feed like SafeChoice Senior should keep your horse healthy and happy. Also, be sure to feed soaked forages/beet pulp right away, as they have a tendency to go bad very quickly once soaked, especially in warmer climates.

      As far as preventing boredom, I recommend frequent small meals throughout the day. You can also provide meals divided up in small piles all around a paddock, stall, or turnout so he has to move around to get his entire meal, which takes longer than having it all right in front of him. There are many products out there that are designed to provide environmental enrichment. Many of these involve putting treats or feed in a container that release little amounts at a time as the horse plays with it. Rotating these types of enrichments can help keep the horse from getting bored and developing vices. Other than that, regular turn out, and as much exercise as the horse can safely tolerate is always recommended. Please let us know if we can help you out with anything else.

      Thank you ~ Emily L.

      1. Emily -Thanks for the reply. He used to eat soaked hay cubes but refuses them now. Since he doesn’t have any molars at all, I guess even that’s too much for him. Refuses soaked chopped hay too. So he now gets the soaked timothy pellets. He gets a very small (1 quart per meal) amount of Nutrena Senior, beet pulp pellets and does get SmartVite Senior Grass vitamins. He is a very easy keeper. My vet said he is very healthy and has nothing wrong with him except for no teeth. It’s hard to put his food in a treat ball or in many little piles since it is all soaked into a mush. His stall door is open to the pasture 24/7 unless there is ice on the ground.

  3. I need help. I have a horse that just recovered from colic surgery but can no longer tolerate hay due to intestinal issues. What is the best way to keep him healthy and happy with hay substitutes? What to feed, how much, how often? He is a 18 year old Quarter Horse that is in a paddock during the day and in a barn at night. Thank you for your insight.

    1. Hello Cindi, Thanks for contacting us! Using a senior feed, such as SafeChoice Senior, for horses recovering from colic surgery works very well when used as a complete diet. Follow the directions on the tag for the feed to be used as a complete feed without hay. You can also wet the feed and make it into a mash to aid in digestibility and encourage fluid consumption. The new Safe Choice Senior with quick mash technology makes a mash in as little as three minutes!
      Good luck ~ Gina T.

  4. I have two 32 year old Morgan horses that have teeth issues and have been on soaked timothy pellets and Nutrena Safe choice senior fee for about two years now. The gelding was diagnosed with cushings a few months ago, and I have kept him on the same diet with his pergolide. He is doing great. My mare trys to steal any pieces of hay she can find and is very aggressive about it. Whatever she finds she devours and spits it out within minutes and goes searching again. I work hard at keeping it from her but she is very tricky. Would she be more satisfied if I fed her total Safe choice Senior. Would she be getting more satisfied. Or would you recommend alfalfa pellets , perhaps she needs more protein. She looks really good, actually has more weight than I would expect at her age, she also has a little arthritis. She is happy, but sometimes seems desperate for that hay!! And is my Cushing horse okay with Safe choice Senior in regards to sugar intake. Thanks so much for the help.

    1. Hello Lynn, Thank you for the question. You could definitely feed the SafeChoice Senior to you mare as a complete feed, following recommendations on the package basis the mare’s estimated body weight, and then provide soaked hay cubes, or hay pellets, to keep her busy and provide long stem fiber. The SafeChoice Senior will provide all of the balanced nutrients she needs (fiber, vitamins minerals, amino acids (protein), energy) if fed at the recommended feeding rates. We would also recommend having your mare’s teeth checked to see if floating is needed since she is quidding or spitting out feed. Also ensure that salt and fresh water available free choice.
      Good luck ~ Emily L.

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