The Importance of Hay Quality for Your Horse’s Weight

hay, representing the concept of the different qualities of hay and their impact on a horse's weight managementThe quality of hay plays a crucial role in maintaining your horse’s weight and overall health. Today, we share a real-life scenario from one of our owners who’s horse faced weight loss challenges despite providing high-quality hay. By understanding the significance of hay quality and implementing proper measurement techniques, you can make informed decisions about your horse’s diet and ensure they receive the necessary calories for optimal weight management.

Assessing the Feeding Program:

A concerned horse owner sought assistance when their horse began losing weight despite being recommended alfalfa hay to address ulcer issues. With exceptional quality hay containing 1,000 calories per pound, the owner couldn’t determine the cause of weight loss in the horse’s feeding program.

Calculating the Diet:

Analyzing the horse’s work schedule and body condition score, we calculated a daily diet requirement of 21.5 Mcal. The diet consisted of four flakes of timothy hay and four pounds of grain per day. To meet the 2% body weight requirement for forage, we aimed for 20 pounds of hay, while the old hay tested at 800 calories per pound. The grain contributed 1.43 Mcal with a calorie content of 1,430 calories per pound.

Forage = 16 Mcal
Grain = 5.7 Mcal
Total = 21.7 Mcal

Identifying the Issue:

Despite feeding the same amount of hay, the owner believed there was a problem with the grain since the hay was of exceptional quality. However, we discovered that each flake of the old hay weighed around 5 pounds, which allowed us to reach the 20-pound feed rate with four flakes. When we weighed several flakes of the new hay, they averaged 3 pounds per flake.

Finding the Solution:

The problem became evident when we did the math. Each flake of timothy hay provided 5 pounds, resulting in a total of 16 Mcal (16,000 calories) per day. However, the new alfalfa hay, weighing 3 pounds per flake, only provided 12 Mcal (12,000 calories) per day. With this simple change, the horse’s caloric intake had been reduced by 4,000 calories daily over the past month. Increasing the number of hay flakes in the daily ration promptly resolved the issue.

The quality and measurement of hay significantly impact your horse’s weight management. This real-life example demonstrates the importance of accurately measuring hay portions and understanding its calorie content. By selecting the appropriate hay and ensuring your horse receives the necessary calories, you can effectively manage their weight and maintain their overall health.

At Nutrena, we believe proper nutrition plays the biggest role for a lifetime of health and happiness for every horse. That’s why Nutrena horse feeds are specifically formulated for every life stage and activity level. 
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 “The Importance of Hay Quality for Your Horse’s Weight”

  1. Very interesting! I’ve recently purchased rye grass hay on the recommendation of my vet and also found it at a great price ($9 bale) which for us in California is a great price for hay!! My last hay was grass with a little rye and teensy amount of alfalfa. However, I have an Anglo-Arab playing with laminitis (7 yrs old). I still think it was a reaction to shots, but she did great on the rye at the vets, so changing them all over (I have 6). However, I did question the feedings now because the bales are noticibly lighter than the last hay!! With six horses, they are getting a bale a day. I cut out pellets because of the laminits issues and they are all plenty fat at the moment. I’m guessing I should just watch their weight and make sure no one is loosing or would you have a better suggestion? Would love to hear your opinion of rye grass hay as well. New to me. Thanks!

    1. Hi Sally!
      Rye grass hay does work well for horses. It is usually 8- 9% protein as fed. It sounds like you are on the right track with plenty of forage for your horses. I would however recommend the following to maintain their current weight:

      Weigh each horse, and record the information so you have written documentation of the progress of their condition. You can find the proper weight tape formula and body condition scoring record sheets in the Knowledge Center on

      Once you have their weight recorded, weigh one days worth of hay per horse. I like to see 2% of their body weight.

      I know you are concerned about starch and sugar for your Arabian, so I would consider a ration balancer. Products such as our Empower Balance are low in starch and sugar, and provide the essential vitamins, minerals, pre and probiotics and biotin needed to ensure a balanced diet. The daily feeding rate is very low. I would also encourage free choice salt, if not already available.

      Then, review your horses weights and body conditions again in about 30 to 45 days. If you start to find any loss of weight or condition you may need to adjust diets accordingly.

      If you have any additional questions please feel free to contact me.

  2. I breed horses and also have a boarding facility. I weigh out the hay for each horse before each feeding. When a horse arrives at my facility, I ask how much the horse has been fed so I can start from there with their feed program. I usually get an answer that deals with “flakes”, even from experienced horse people. It’s rather shocking. Here in Western Washington, a flake of local grass weighs about 2 pounds, and a flake of alfalfa (shipped in from Eastern WA) can be as much as 7 pounds. Big difference.

  3. I also weigh my horses hay each feeding. It differs from flake to flake in the same bale sometimes! At least this way I know I am being consistent with their rations and can then decide if they need more or less depending on their weight, forage available and the weather conditions.

  4. I board my two horses and for the life of me have the most difficult time in trying to explain to the owner the importance of weighing the feed. She argues that there is not a minimum amount that a horse needs; I have requested 1.5% body weight and she balks. I advocate for my horses on a daily basis. I also feed them soaked bermuda pellets and treat them oatmo.

  5. Finding hay in Texas may be a trick this year due to lack of rain! I have two quarter horses, can anyone tell me what alternatives to hay there are that are safe!

    I usually buy coastal hay! Suggestions welcome!

    1. Hi Reba, Thanks for the question, hopefully some other horse owners may have some suggestions for you. A couple of options from your local feed store may include hay stretcher pellets, or hay cubes. You could also try a product such as Triumph Complete, which is a complete feed that can be used to stretch out your hay supply – we do always recommend feeding at least some long-stemmed forage if possible, but a product like Triumph Complete can extend the life of your supply.
      Thanks! Gina T.

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