How to Feed by Weight
Disclaimer: This guide is to be used for healthy horses. If your horse has a health condition that prevents them from eating certain types or quantities of hay, please consult your veterinarian.
When feeding your horse, it’s important to consider two different weights:
1. The weight of your horse
2. The weight of your feed
The weight of your horse is the best place to start when developing a feeding plan. Of course most of us don’t have a very large scale handy, so the easiest way is to estimate the weight of your horse using a weight tape (most feed stores will have an inexpensive option). Follow the directions on your weight tape to make sure you get an accurate measurement. I recommend weighing your horse once every 1-2 months for maintenance, or once each week if you are looking for weight loss or gain (just remember to always take weight change VERY slowly).
The next thing you’ll consider is your horse’s body condition score. You can use the following chart to help:
Now figure out, based on your horse’s body condition score, what their ideal weight would be. For example, when I first bought Truman, he looked like this:
I’d call him a 4—not emaciated, but definitely underweight. He is 17.1 (and a half) and at the time he weighed in at 1100 lbs. I guessed I’d like him to be closer to 1250, so I fed him the way I would feed a 1150 lb horse (remember, take weight gain slowly).
How Much Should I Feed?
Once you have your weight, we’ll do some simple math (don’t worry, it’s really is simple). A horse needs to eat a lot of fiber… they’ll need 1.5 to 2% of their body weight in hay alone every day. So, if your horse is an easy keeper, retired, or sensitive to over feeding, you’ll use this formula:
(horse’s goal weight) x 0.015 = total pounds of hay per day
If your horse is a hard keeper, highly active, or needs more feed due to a health condition, use this formula:
(horse’s goal weight) x 0.02 = total pounds of hay per day
For Truman the formula looks like this:
1150 lbs x .02 = 23 lbs of hay per day
The next thing you’ll do is figure out how many feedings you’ll do each day. Of course, because horses have very small stomachs and are designed to graze all day long, a whole bunch of small meals or even using a slow feeder is ideal. I feed my horses three times per day, with at least one meal in the slow feeder. So Truman gets 7 lbs of alfalfa for breakfast, 10lbs of grass hay for lunch, and 7 lbs of alfalfa for dinner.
That’s 7 + 10 + 7 = 24 lbs of hay per day
How many flakes is that?
Good question! I don’t feed by flakes, because as you have probably noticed, no two hay flakes are the same. An ideal flake is 5 lbs. I use this knowledge to weigh each flake and decipher if I need more or less to make the weight goal. Sometimes it takes three flakes of alfalfa to reach my 7 lb goal. Sometimes one flake is too much. You just have to be willing to adjust.
The best thing to do when trying out a new diet is to stick with it for a week or so, then re-weigh your horse. If he has gained or lost weight since last week, your calculations were wrong and you should start over. Even if you are trying to get your horse to gain weight, if their weight is visibly different after just one week, you are feeding way too much and need to scale back. Weight change should happen slowly over several months.
For more information on feeding, sign up for my ecourse! it covers:
· Feed quantity
· Feed quality
· Type of hay
· Type of grain