Types of Hay for Horses

Roughage is one of the most important parts of our horses’ diet, and selecting which hay is most suitable for your best friend can be tricky. Recently that has not been easy, with the drought and shortages in the availability of hay, prices did skyrocket. Many people did not have access to good quality pasture and supplementing their horses diet became essential and costly.

How much roughage should my horse be eating is one of the most common questions we are asked. A horse should be consuming a minimum of 1% of their body weight in roughage per day. Therefore, for a 500kg horse they need to be eating no less than 5kg of roughage every day. Grass, hay, and chaff make up your horse’s daily roughage intake, and the amount of grass your horses has access to will determine how much hay they need to consume per day. For example if your horse has little to no access to grass then you would need to feed them enough hay or chaff to make up their 1% bodyweight requirement.

When selecting hay, you should ensure it is free of dust, mould, and weeds, have a good leaf to stem ratio, have a nice colour and not smell damp or mouldy. It is also important to remember that some hays are higher in starches and sugars and may not be suitable if your horse has an issue with insulin resistance.

There are three main types of hay for horses – Legumes, Grass and Cereal Hays.

Below are some of the more recognised types used for horses.

  • Lucerne (Legumes) – Lucerne hay is a great source of Protein/Energy/calcium and vitamins. It should have plenty of leaf, a nice soft stem and be a rich green colour. The more bleached the hay the lower the vitamin content. The calorie content of Lucerne should be also considered for some horses especially if they have issues with weight gain or laminitis. Soaking Lucerne hay for 2 hours can help reduce its sugar content and make it a more suitable option for horses with metabolic conditions.
  • Meadow/Grass Hay – Is a good source of energy and protein depending on the quality. It can be less palatable; however, this can depend on quality and the type of grasses in the hay. Sugar can be slightly higher in grass hays so if concerned you can get it tested. Rhodes grass has a lower sugar content and maybe more suitable for horses with metabolic conditions.
  • Oaten/Barley (Cereal) hay – Are lower in Calcium, energy and protein but remain high in sugars. The hay should retain some of its grain head and not baled too late. In the case of Barley hay, the seed heads from mature hay can get stuck in teeth and gums so horses need to be checked regularly to avoid any complications.

In summary, when selecting hay for your horse which ever one you choose, remember it should be clean, free of dust and mould and be the most suitable for your horse’s individual needs. Roughage is the most important thing you can be feeding your horse so it’s important to get the balance right and remember getting your hay tested is always a good tool if you are unsure.

Written by Selena Phillis


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Every product in the Ranvet range has been developed to meet a horse’s most specific need at any given time, be it in a training environment or on a breeding farm. Having pioneered the formulation of specific medications and dietary supplements for horses, the company is now recognised as a leader in the areas of equine health and nutrition.

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