3 Hay Alternatives for Horses When Hay Is Scarce

Newsdate: Wed March 7, 2018, 9:30 am
Location: GILROY, California

During winter months and in times of drought, hay becomes more expensive and many horse owners look to other sources for feed that can replace at least part of the bulk fiber in hay to keep horses healthy.

Winter feed for equines

Winter feed for equines

When hay becomes expensive or scarce, many horse owners look to other sources for feed that can replace at least part of the necessary bulk fiber. New window.

Three cost-effective substitutes for hay include complete feed, beet pulp and soybean hulls. Any dramatic changes to a horse's diet should be done gradually, over a period of one to two weeks to avoid risk of digestive upset.

Complete feeds for horses:

These processed mixtures of grains, forages, vitamins and minerals are designed to be fed without hay. The fiber content should be at least 15 percent (more is better) if no hay is fed. Complete feed has more calories per pound than hay, so feed according to label recommendations and not as a pound-for-pound substitution. However, it will not satisfy a horse's need to chew.

Beet pulp:

Over the past 15 years, beet pulp, a by-product of the sugar beet industry, has gained popularity as a supplement for horses. Nutritionists recognize it as a good source of fiber that ferments well in the horse's gut and note that it is fairly high in calcium and has moderate protein (8 - 10%).

Without a source of roughage, a horse’s digestive system can’t function properly. That’s where beet pulp comes in: It can take the place of hay, at least partially, either helping horse owners stretch their supply or it may become a regular component of a horse's diet.

Beet pulp is often sold in its "raw" form, which looks somewhat like ground-up old shoe leather, or in pellets. Traditionally, the raw form is soaked in water for 1-12 hr before feeding. If a horse is sensitive to high-sugar feeds, it is important to choose beet pulp without molasses.

Soybean hulls

The hulls--not the soybeans--are high in fiber, relatively digestible, provide about 12 to 14 percent protein and are accepted well by most horses. They can replace all hay but, again, a lack of long-stemmed fiber may lead to wood chewing and similar behavior.

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