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Forage, Hay, and Horse Care In Summer and Winter

Forage, Hay, and Horse Care In Summer and Winter

Horse Care: Hay & Forage Horses Need in Summer vs Winter

Feeding horses in the summer and winter months can be a bit challenging and we often get asked whether owners should make changes to their horse's diet depending on weather. In this blog, we will discuss how roughage and caloric requirements of equines may change depending on the season. Forage is an important part of a horse's ration and can come in various forms like hay, hay pellets, cubes, and pulp.

During the summer months, horses tend to graze on fresh grass, but it's important to supplement their diet with hay or hay pellets to ensure they are getting the required amount of nutrients. Providing a mineral salt block is essential to ensure adequate mineral intake during the summer, especially if the horse sweats often (due to hard work or excessive temps). During the winter months, it is important to make sure your horse has enough roughage to stay warm, maintain body condition, and prevent impaction colic. A general rule of thumb is to feed at least 1.5% of your horse's body weight in roughage per day; but depending on temps, they may need to eat 2 to 3 percent of their body weight to maintain condition. For horses kept in a stall, cubes or beet pulp can be used as a supplemental forage source.

Of course, horses are individuals and they all have different nutrient requirements depending on their age, body weight, and activity level. Feeding too much high quality forage to an easy keeper can result in obesity and laminitis. That said, feeding too little forage to a hard keeper can result in weight loss and poor body condition. It's crucial to ensure your horse's nutritional requirements are met by providing adequate amounts of high-fiber forage and you should determine the quality of that forage based on his or her body condition.

It's also important to consider the digestible energy of the forage being fed. Horses require a certain number of calories to stay warm during cold weather. In humid conditions, horses must burn more calories due to exercise and sweating. Feeds that contain molasses are higher in calories and should be fed in moderation.

Another important factor is the digestibility of the feed ingredients. Forage is broken down in the horse's hindgut through fermentation, and poorly digestible forages can result in digestive issues such as colic. Good-quality hay and pasture grazing are high-fiber and easily digestible forages that meet the horse's nutritional requirements.

Forage (Hay and Pasture) Horses Need in Winter Months

As winter approaches, it's important to adjust your horse's diet to meet their nutritional requirements during the colder months. Horses have different needs in the winter than they do in the summer, and it's essential to provide them with enough nutrients to stay healthy and maintain their body condition. Here are some tips we recommend to folks for keeping your horse healthy and happy through the winter:

Hay is a crucial part of a horse's diet- especially during the winter months when grazing is limited. Horses need roughage to keep warm and maintain their body weight. The amount your horse will need depends on their size and activity level, but a good rule of thumb is to feed at least 1.5% of their body weight in roughage per day. This means a 1000-pound horse will eat 15 pounds per day.

It's essential to ensure your horse has access to enough roughage throughout the day. This means feeding hay in multiple small meals or using slow feeders to prevent your horse from eating too quickly and developing digestive problems such as impaction colic. Also, provide extra roughage during colder weather to help your horse maintain their body temperature. 

If you have many horses, adjust the amount of hay you're feeding based on the number of horses in the barn. Remember: horses kept in a stable will also require more than horses that have access to pasture grazing. Good-quality hay is absolutely essential for meeting your horse's nutritional needs (we discuss this often in our videos), and it's important to make sure the roughage you're feeding has adequate amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. High-fiber hay is especially important for digestion and maintaining a healthy gut.

Some horses in particular may need extra calories to stay warm during the winter- horses that are older, underweight, or have a thin winter coat may require more calories to maintain their body condition. Feeding a concentrated feed, such as hay pellets, cubes, or beet pulp, can help provide extra calories without overfeeding your horse.

In addition to feeding supplemental roughage, you should also make sure your horse has shelter from wind and rain so they can get out of the elements if they want. Check your horse's water regularly to make sure it hasn't frozen, and provide extra water if necessary to prevent dehydration.

Forage Requirements in Summer: How Much Forage and Roughage Horses will Eat Depends on Their Access to Good Pasture & Fresh Grass

The amount of forage fed to a horse during the summer and winter seasons depends on whether he has access to pasture, the amount and quality of that pasture, droughts, winter temperatures, and hours stalled. Ideally, horses should have 24/7 access to some type of forage but the amount and type may change depending on your horse's individual needs.

Horses that have access to grazing pasture will need more hay in the winter months when pasture grass may be scarce or dies off. Hay provides a source of roughage that is important for maintaining digestive health, especially in the winter when pasture grass may be covered with snow or frozen. Providing enough hay during the winter can help prevent digestive problems such as colic and maintain a healthy body weight. Horses in warmer climates may require fewer calories to maintain weight and meet the nutritional requirements. 

In summer months, horses may not need as much hay if they have access to ample pasture grass. However, if the grass is scarce or of poor quality (mostly weeds), or if the horse is older, working hard, pregnant, or lactating, they may still need additional hay. Each horse is different and their hay needs can vary depending on a variety of factors, including age, body condition, activity level, and health status.

In conclusion, forage is a critical part of a horse's diet that should be available at all times. Meeting your horse's nutritional needs through a balanced diet of good-quality hay and pasture grazing is the best way to keep your horse healthy. Make sure to provide enough forage to maintain body weight and condition, and supplement with higher calorie feeds in cold weather conditions. By considering the nutrient requirements and digestibility of the forage being fed, horse owners can ensure their equine friend stays happy and healthy year-round. Contact us for a free nutritional consultation for your horse today.


Meeting your horse's nutritional requirements is crucial all year round whether you live in a mild climate or not. In the winter, horses need more roughage to maintain their body weight and keep warm. Owners should ensure their horses have access to enough roughage, feeding extra if needed, and providing a warm  dry barn. During the summer, horses may be able to graze on good pasture and you may be able to get away with not feeding any hay at all (depending on your climate and the quality of the grass!). Horse owners should also pay attention to the amount of calories their horse needs per day, which vary alot based on the horse's body weight, exercise level, and the temperature. Providing good-quality hay or pasture with a high fiber content can help maintain the horse's digestive tract and prevent issues like colic and laminitis. By understanding and meeting their horse's nutritional needs, owners can keep their equine partners healthy and happy throughout the year.


Frequently Asked Questions

Should you feed your horse more in the winter?

Horses may need more feed in the winter to maintain their body weight and stay warm. The amount of hay a horse needs can vary based on factors such as the horse's size, age, and activity level. In colder temperatures, horses require more calories per pound of body weight to maintain their body temperature. The critical temperature for horses is around 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and if the temperature drops below this, horses may need more hay to meet their energy requirements. Horses are all unique and it's a good idea to consult with an equine nutritionist like Dr. Worth. 

What is the best thing to feed horses in winter?

The amount of feed a horse needs depends on its individual nutritional requirements and activity level, the quality of hay or pasture available, the horse's size and breed, and the temperature outside. During the winter, horses may need more feed to maintain their body weight and stay warm, especially if they are older, are poor doers, or have a low body score.  Additional calories may be needed in cold weather or for horses with higher energy requirements- really, it depends on how cold is cold, does the horse have a good coat for that cold, and are there changes to his work? We generally recommend more roughage during cold months because increase forage is better for the horse's digestive tract than increasing grains, as feeding too much concentrate can overload the small intestine and lead to digestive issues. 

Critical temperature is the temperature below which an animal has to increase its metabolic rate to generate sufficient heat to maintain its body temperature. For horses, the critical temperature is usually considered to be around 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 5 degrees if they have winter coats, although this can vary depending on factors such as the horse's hair coat, body condition, and access to shelter. When the temperature drops below the critical temperature, horses may require more feed to generate enough energy to stay warm, especially if they do not have access to adequate shelter. Make sure your horse's receive adequate feed so he comes out of winter in good condition. 

Should you feed horses hay in the summer?

Horses need hay if they are kept in a stall or do not have adequate pasture for grazing. Remember, forage should make up the majority (if not all) of a horse's diet. 

How often should you feed a horse in winter?

Horses should generally have access to forage at all times, especially in very cold temperatures. The rule of feeding at least 1.5 percent of body weight a day may not be enough to maintain a horse's condition in extreme cold and owner's will want to feed additional forage as needed. 

How many pounds of hay per day should horse owners feed? 

This depends on many factors, but it is recommended that horses have access to free choice hay at all times. However, the quality of this hay will vary greatly depending on the horse's workload and metabolic condition. 

Should supplemental hay be fed to keep horses warm?

If the temperatures are very cold, it is a good idea to increase the quality of hay and provide more of it during winter months. 

What is the best way to feed horses kept in a stall or stable? 

Allow horses to have access to forage as much as possible, preferably 24/7.

How much body weight in hay do horses need to eat to meet the nutritional requirements? 

While the general rule is 1.5% of their body weight, this depends greatly on workload, age, condition, and many other management factors. 

Do I need to worry about laminitis or colic more in winter months? 

Although horses prone to laminitis tend to suffer more in the spring months, winter laminitis does occur and we have written an article about it. Horses may be more prone to colic during the winter due to a few reasons such as reduced water intake, changes in exercise routines, and changes in feed intake. When temperatures drop, horses may consume less water than they do in warmer months, which can lead to dehydration and impaction colic.

What is the relationship between fiber content and a balanced diet? 

Fiber content is a crucial component of a balanced diet for horses. Horses require adequate amounts of fiber in their diet to maintain proper digestive function and overall health. Fiber is essential for the proper functioning of the horse's hindgut and helps to prevent digestive problems such as colic. It also plays a vital role in maintaining the horse's body weight and condition. A diet that is deficient in fiber can lead to a range of health problems, including colic, weight loss, and poor overall health.

What are some ways to keep horses warm in winter? 

  1. Provide a good quality shelter: Horses should have access to a barn, shelter or some other form of protection from the wind, rain, snow, and cold temperatures.

  2. Blanket your horse if your horse doesn't have a thick winter coat.

  3. Increase hay intake to provide extra calories.

  4. Provide heated (lukewarm) water: Horses need access to fresh water at all times, even in the winter. Providing heated water will encourage them to drink more and stay hydrated.

Do horses need hay if they have enough pasture to graze? 

Horses that have access to a good quality pasture can meet their nutrient requirements from grazing alone. However, the amount and quality of pasture can vary depending on the season, weather conditions, and other factors. In some cases, horses may need additional hay to supplement their diet and ensure they are receiving adequate nutrients.

Contact us for a free nutritional consultation for your horse today.

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