Horse care on small acreage requires adequate hay, clean water

Owning a horse is a large and expensive responsibility. Horses require time and money for proper upkeep. The following is designed to help the new or inexperienced horse owner understand how to properly care, feed and manage a horse. Here are som...

Owning a horse is a large and expensive responsibility. Horses require time and money for proper upkeep. The following is designed to help the new or inexperienced horse owner understand how to properly care, feed and manage a horse. Here are some of the key issues you should consider as you decide if you want the responsibility of owning a horse. Space and facilities are one of the important factors to think about for keeping a horse.

Feeding and nutrition

An average saddle horse (1,000 lbs. body weight) will consume approximately 1.5 to 2 percent of its body weight in feed each day. This is approximately 15 to 20 pounds of hay, pasture and grain a day (total ration). The majority of a horse's diet consists of good alfalfa, grass hay or pasture (forage). No more than one-half of the diet should be grain. A mature horse that is not being ridden or worked can be fed a diet consisting of only forage (hay or pasture). Grain mix (generally oats and corn) should be added to the ration as the training, work and activity is increased

A 1,000- pound nonworking horse requires about 15 to 25 pounds of hay and no grain per day. A light working horse requires about 15-20 pounds of hay and 1 to 3 pounds of grain. A medium working horse requires about 15 to 20 pounds of hay and 3 to 8 pounds of grain. A horse that is used four days or more requires 15-20 pounds of hay and 5 to 10 pounds of grain.

Only a horse that is worked extremely hard should receive half of its ration in grain. A racehorse is an example of a horse in heavy training.


If the grain mix does not contain salt and necessary minerals, these should be provided to the horse in the form of a salt block or balanced into the diet. If you want to review and balanced the horse's ration contact your County Cooperative Extension Office. Some horses can get their total daily nutritional requirements from grazing in a pasture. If you plan on using a pasture as the total ration for the horses, there are several variables you must consider. Is there enough pasture to meet the needs of the animal? Is your pasture irrigated or dryland? What species of grasses are in the pasture? What is the soil depth and type? Does the horse receive supplemental hay or grain in addition to the pasture?



ratesGenerally, a horse weighing 1,000 pounds consumes 600 pounds of dry matter forage each month. What will your pasture produce in a given year? Will it produce 500 or 5,000 pounds of forage per acre? It will depend on rain fall, soil type and species of plants. Forage Scientists recommend managing your pasture to make sure your pasture stays healthy. Your horse may require 0.7 to 30 acres of pasture a year to supply this forage, depending on your location, climate and moisture levels.

Continuous grazing of pastures of limited acreage may require a recovery period of no grazing to maintain forage health and vigor. During periods of snow cover and when no forage is available, supplemental hay must be provided.

You must manage your pasture as a crop. Each year fertilize according to the recommendation of a soil test. Drag manure, clip weeds and monitor the pasture for over and under-grazing. Contact your county agent for information on soil testing and management.

Quick facts

  • Legume (alfalfa and clover) hay is higher in protein than grass hay, therefore, you can feed more (weight) grass hay than legumes. This will keep the horse busy eating longer, preventing boredom. Alfalfa may be too rich for ideal adult horses
  • Second and third cutting hays are higher in protein than first cutting. However, horses only need 10 to 12 percent protein in their feed; second and third cutting alfalfa hay averages 18-24 percent protein. This hay is also more expensive.
  • Have your hay analyzed to determine its nutrient values; for protein, energy, vitamins and minerals. Feed accordingly.
  • Weeds have limited nutritional value, therefore buy hay that does not contain many weeds.
  • Hay must be mold/dust free.

In addition to hay, a horse must have clean, fresh water available at all times. A horse will drink 5 to 12 gallons of water a day depending on temperature, humidity levels and ration content. In the winter months, stock tank heaters will help prevent ice build-up.

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