When Should I Feed a Complete Horse Feed?

A complete feed is a fortified grain/forage mix that is formulated with high quality fiber sources to raise the total percent fiber in the feed, so that reduced hay feeding can be done safely. Some fiber sources in complete feeds include alfalfa, beet pulp, and soy hulls. These are all good digestible fiber ingredients for horses.

Reasons to Consider Feeding a Complete Feed

Addressing Challenges in Hay Availability and Quality

  • You have a horse with poor teeth or no teeth that can no longer chew and swallow hay. This can be a young or old horse.
  • Good quality hay is hard to find, obtain, or pay for. This situation will most likely occur in:
    • Drought situations when plants aren’t growing or they are very mature when they get tall enough to cut. When a plant gets too mature it has high levels of lignin that can’t be digested by the horse leading to digestive upsets or increased risk of colic. Plants also lose nutrient content the more mature they get.
    • Extremely wet conditions because it may be more mature by the time a farmer gets good weather to cut it and flooding can also bring debris onto fields that can be harmful to your horse.
    • Situatinos where hay gets more expensive as fertilizer and fuel costs rise.

Cost-Effectiveness of Complete Feeds in Certain Situations

  • There is a lot of hay wasted from handling, transporting, ect. More hay is wasted when horses are fed round bales. When hay is expensive and there is a lot of waste, complete feeds may be more cost effective.
  • Hay is hard to handle and round bales/large square bales require a tractor for handling and other equipment such as a flatbed trailer. Equipment requires fuel, tires, maintenance, ect. The cost of handling hay should be brought into consideration when cost is a major factor in feeding.

Importance of Long Stem Forage in a Horse’s Diet

Long stem forage is an important part of the horses diet and a good source of forage should comprise of at least 50% of the horses daily intake when possible. However, when any of the above conditions exist it may be necessary to feed a complete feed only or reduce the amount of hay being fed. A horse that can no longer chew hay will need to get all of his daily requirements from a complete feed that is easy to eat such as a senior complete feed with softer pellets that can also be fed as a wet mash. If hay shortage, hay cost, or drought is the reason you feed a complete feed you may want to continue feeding some hay in the diet for long stem forage if possible.

Reading and Following Feeding Recommendations for Complete Feeds

It is important to read and follow the feeding recommendations when buying a complete feed, and they should list the recommended feeding amount both with and without hay on the tag. As you decrease the amount of hay, you will need to increase the amount of complete feed. Here are two examples of complete feeds and how much to feed a 1,000 lb maintenance type horse with no hay and with hay/pasture.

Feeding Guidelines for Senior Horse Feeds

  • A senior horse feed – generally a highly digestible and highly palatable product that can be fed as a complete feed, and is designed for older horses.
    • A 1,000 lb maintenance type horse would receive 12 – 14 lbs of a senior feed, if no additional hay is fed.
    • The same horse, if it was being fed hay, would receive 5 – 7.5 lbs of the senior feed.

Utilizing Traditional Complete Horse Feeds

  • A traditional complete horse feed – known as “hay replacers” or “hay stretchers” – are a complete feed that combines high quality roughage and grains in a pelleted form. It can be fed as a complete feed or with forage.
    • If no hay is fed, a maintenance type horse would receive 1.5 lbs per 100 lb body weight. A 1,000 lb horse is recommended to get 1,000/100 = 10 x 1.5 lbs = 15 lbs of a complete feed.
      When feeding along with hay or pasture, a typical recommended amount to feed a maintenance type horse 0.5 lb per 100 lb body weight or 5 lbs.

Proper Feeding Practices for Complete Feeds

Whether you chose to feed a complete feed with hay or without, it is important to feed the recommended amount and make adjustments as needed depending on if your horse is an easy or hard keeper. It is also important to provide free choice salt and clean, fresh water at all times. Complete feeds should be split into two or more feedings. Horses should be switched slowly from one feed to another and also when eliminating hay from the diet. When reducing the amount of hay fed, it is recommended to reduce hay over 1-2 weeks.

Ready to ensure your horse is getting the optimum nutrition at feeding time, every time? Find the perfect feed formulated specifically for horse’s needs with our Feed Selector Tool.

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8 Replies to “When Should I Feed a Complete Horse Feed?”

  1. My 28 year old Arabian stallion is doing well on your feed. He doesn’t eat hay, but he lives outside and eats a lot of good grass. How does this factor in to the amount of senior feed he should receive? He is also on a joint supplement.

    1. Hello Pamela, Thanks for taking the time to comment! We’re glad to hear he is doing so well. If your equine dentist indicates that his teeth are fine, and you aren’t noticing him leaving wadded-up balls of grass laying around (which would indicate dental issues), then feed him according to the directions for a horse receiving adequate hay/pasture, and he should be just fine. You can continue with the joint supplement as directed, since we are not allowed to include joint supplements in feed.
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

  2. I gradually switched my 20 year old Arabian gelding over to Senior Safe Choice. At first he LOVED IT. Now the past three days he is going very long periods of time without eating and I find half of the feed still left over in the morning. I am feeding the recommended amount. It wouldn’t bother me if he didn’t let me know how hungry he is in the mornings. What am I doing wrong?

    1. Hi Tim!
      I can understand your concern with your horse not finishing his daily ration. Have you or your veterinarian checked for any dental issues? Is he able to eat hay or pasture, or is the Senior feed is entire diet? Where and how is the feed stored? When was the feed purchased?

      We stand behind our products 100% and if you feel for any reason the product is lacking in any way, please return it to your place of purchase for a new bag.


      1. Ok, I added timothy grass to his twice a day medium activity (14lbs or 7lbsx2) level feed ration. He is down with the program now. I really love this feed and he does too. It seems that if you can keep an Arab from a degenerative disease they live quite a while. Sunshine Gemstone will hopefully live to be 40. I am so relieved that he will eat this everyday now. Please don’t ever let the quality level of this feed degrade! We have high hopes for it. Apparently he likes salad with his steak. Thank you for the rapid response.

      2. Also, he has had a good once over from the vet/farrier, etc. So no obvious problems. 20 years old and acts like he’s 6.

  3. If a senior horse can no longer chew hay, can they get all their fiber requirements met through a senior feed that’s fed along with soaked alfalfa cubes and alfalfa pellets? Have another senior that horse used to colic when fed coastal, so switched to timothy years ago and no more colic episodes. These two horses live together outside so when I feed hay to the one that can still chew, the one that can’t tries to eat it also. All he does is ball it up and spit it out, so he also fills up the auto waterers and any water buckets with the balls of hay when he goes to drink. Tired of cleaning them out several times a day so would love to take them completely off hay if it’s safe for the one that used to colic to go without the longer fibers in his gut. What do you recommend?

    1. Hello Ivy, Thanks for the question. Many senior feeds are actually formulated where a horse can live entirely on just the senior feed – without even the need for alfalfa cubes or pellets. Check with your manufacturer, but if it’s a “complete” feed, then it can provide the “complete” diet – if it can be fed as the complete diet, there should be feeding directions on the product for that scenario. In the Nutrena horse feed line, ProForce Senior, SafeChoice Senior, and Triumph Senior can all be fed as complete feeds. That said, for your horse that is prone to colic, keeping at least some long-stemmed roughage in his diet is going to be ideal, if he is capable of chewing it. It’s impossible to predict how he’ll do, of course, so you will want to test and keep a close eye on him if you decide to go the route of a senior feed only.

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