Can horses have a diet of only grass and hay?
   

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Can horses have a diet of only grass and hay?

This is a discussion on Can horses have a diet of only grass and hay? within the Horse Nutrition forums, part of the Horse Health category
  • How to feed an all grass hay diet to horses
  • What else can i give me horses besides grass hay to gsin weight

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    12-03-2013, 07:57 PM
  #1
Foal
Can horses have a diet of only grass and hay?

I've been looking into owning a horse for quite some time now, however; I've been getting many mixed messages on feed. Many people are telling me that grain is a must, yet others tell me a basic grass and hay diet is the most natural and healthiest diet.

Experienced horse owners, what is your opinion?

Thanks!


Thanks for your response poppy! I don't know how to reply but thank you xD
     
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    12-03-2013, 08:00 PM
  #2
Green Broke
Depends on the horse and the quality of hay. Very high quality hay with an easy keeper horse would probably not need anything other than the hay. But a performance horse that is in a good amount of work will probably need the extra calories and nutrients of a hard feed.
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    12-03-2013, 08:15 PM
  #3
Green Broke
Fresh water, hay/pasture, and salt are the bare minimum requirements for a horse.

However, most grass is nutritionally incomplete in some way, either due to regional or localized deficiencies or overabundance. In much of the country selenium is deficient, while in other places iron is way too high. This may not be a problem depending on your local situation and how well you're expecting your horse to perform: top athletes really do need very well managed diets to perform at their peak.

In addition to that, once grass is cut and dried into hay, it very quickly begins to lose vitamin content (A & E are especially important, as horses can't produce them on their own like they can with the B vitamins & vitamin D) and omega-3 fatty acids. These are important, and going prolonged periods without sufficient vitamins will have negative effects, such as an increased susceptibility to rain rot, lice, etc.

Most horses will benefit from having some kind of nutritionally enhanced hard feed, whether it's a vitamin/mineral supplement (typically fed in small quantities of 1-2 oz per day), a ration balancer (typically fed at 1-2 lbs/day; similar to a vit/min supplement but with added protein), or a fortified pelleted feed (typically fed 3+ lbs/day). Sweet feeds and straight grains should be avoided, since horses digest sugar & starch very poorly, and large amounts of this type of feed can lead to ulcers in the stomach and hindgut. Vitamin/mineral supplements and ration balancers typically are low in calories, low in sugar/starch, and don't contain cereal grains. When you get to "regular" feeds though, there are a lot of them out there that aren't really very good for the horse; the best ones are based on either alfalfa or beet pulp instead of cereal grains and can be a good choice if the horse needs a higher calorie feed.
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    12-03-2013, 08:17 PM
  #4
Foal
Thank you!
     
    12-03-2013, 08:25 PM
  #5
Showing
No, horses don't need grain. No horse on my place has received any form of grain since the early 90's LOL. They get free access to good quality hay and free access to either a mineral block or loose minerals (loose are easier for them to eat).

Lots of folks believe that horses need some sort of ration balancer to maintain diet health....and that may be true, but mine don't get one and they're all fat and healthy year around.
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    12-03-2013, 08:41 PM
  #6
Super Moderator
My horse will gain weight just from looking at a bag of feed.

It really all depends on the horse, the quality of the hay and/or pasture, what type of work they are doing, and how they are kept.

As mentioned above my horse is fat, sleek, and happy on just hay and pasture but because I know what things my area is deficient in, and I believe in micro and macro mineral supplementation, he gets a tiny amount of ration balancer (1/3 cup or so) and vitamins to round out his diet.
His breed is known for being air ferns in the first place so I doubt I will ever need to "grain" him unless I put him in to heavy work.

On the other hand, I have a good friend just a few miles form me who feeds the same hay, has the same types of pasture grasses, but owns two different breeds of horses and both are hard keepers. She has to give feed year round (or the most expensive highest quality hay to be had, which is near impossible to get) otherwise both have trouble holding normal weight levels.

There is no "one diet fits all" when it comes to horses, and each one needs to be fed according to it's needs or work levels.
     
    12-03-2013, 08:48 PM
  #7
Super Moderator
If a horse can graze, on a good pasture with an abundance of varied plant life, he will not likely be even selinium deficient. Those weeds and seeds all have varying minerals in them . If the horse has a very monoculture hay as his ONLY source of grass, then he won't be as balanced as a horse that can graze and forage in a field.

Most of the horses at "our" place never get grain, or any "ration balancer". Which is kind of add, because how do you know what you need to "balance" a ration unless you send in sample to be tested.

However, giving them some small amount of vitamins and such probably doesn't hurt, and they DO get a lot of pleasure out of even a handful of grain-like food.
     
    12-03-2013, 09:37 PM
  #8
Banned
Most horses do just fine on pasture and hay for winter months. I got a freind whos horses never see grain all they get is hay in the winter and pasture in summer.

She puts out loose minerals and loose salt that's it her horses are slick shinny and perfect weight. The closer to nature you can keep it the better.
     
    12-03-2013, 10:09 PM
  #9
Super Moderator
Quote:
Originally Posted by tinyliny    
If a horse can graze, on a good pasture with an abundance of varied plant life, he will not likely be even selinium deficient. Those weeds and seeds all have varying minerals in them . If the horse has a very monoculture hay as his ONLY source of grass, then he won't be as balanced as a horse that can graze and forage in a field.

Most of the horses at "our" place never get grain, or any "ration balancer". Which is kind of add, because how do you know what you need to "balance" a ration unless you send in sample to be tested.
There are many companies and universities that study soils and their outputs (grains, hays, grass, crops, foodstuff) because it has huge impacts on the human foods and the animal feeds produced in this country, which impacts milk production, meat production (depending on the methods used ) growth rates, health, etc…

This is how we know which areas of the country are deficient in what things. For example, most of the soil in the northeast is well known for being selenium deficient, thereby making the grasses, browse, or weeds grown on it and the hays produced on it also deficient.

Hay/forage content is studied to bits in agriculture and animal sciences (plus water) and suffice it to say we (livestock circles) do indeed know a lot about what is in all the different species of grasses and hays, depending in which part of the country they are grown, and how to engineer feeds and supplements to meet the needs (or deficiencies) of any type of domestic animal.
Of course, there is a lot of hype too about product “x” being the magical cure all for whatever ails a horse, so diligence is needed on the part of the horse or animal owner to sort through it all and figure out what their particular animal needs.

Did you know that if you took eggs from a group of free range hens in your area and compared them to the eggs from the same breed of free range chickens in my area there would be marked and measurable nutritional differences in their eggs?
Nothing the naked eye could detect except perhaps the color of the yolk, but measurable differences that can effect those consuming the eggs.
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    12-03-2013, 10:17 PM
  #10
Super Moderator
Yes. I sort of did know that. I agree that the soil dictates the plants, which dictate the flesh.

Most folks, however, just assume there are deficiencies without testing. I know I am not aware of the exact deficiencies in my area, though I am sure there are some. However, you can get a lot of great things just by eating weeds! Like dandelions and their iron, and the seedheads from grasses and weeds have vitamin E .

Want to come and eat the weeds out of my garden? You will be healthier for it. (and I can stop weeding!)
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diet, feed, grass, hay, horse

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