Reducing Horse Feed and Hay Waste 

An equine nutritionist explains why your horse might waste concentrate and hay and how you can combat this.

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Slow Feed hay net
Using a hay net can help reduce hay waste. | Erica Larson/The Horse

Q: My horse throws quite a bit of his feed out of his bucket every time he eats. He does his best to clean it off the ground, but I worry he might not be getting all his supplements or could be lacking nutrients because he isn’t eating all his feed. He also likes to spread his hay around the stall. Could this be affecting his health? Is there any way to prevent him from doing this? 

A: With horse ownership, being able to evaluate our horses’ behaviors and recognize areas in which our management might not be ideal is a great way to continually improve our horses’ well-being. Whenever there are issues with feed consumption, first contact your veterinarian to rule out any dental or other health issues. Your horse might also have some nutritional deficiencies because he is not consuming his full ration, which can have detrimental effects on his health.  

Nutritional Deficiencies in Equine Diets 

Oftentimes we make a significant investment in time spent designing a balanced diet for our horses and in money for high-quality feed and supplement products, so it is important that our horses eat all of their daily ration on a regular basis. Whether the product is a ration balancer, or a performance feed, it has been formulated to be fed in specific quantities to meet your horse’s nutritional requirements. If he continually doesn’t eat the full amount he needs, this can create deficiencies.  

Horse Foraging Behavior  

Whenever you observe an unusual behavior in your horse, first take a step back and evaluate how the horse has evolved. In this situation realize that horses are selective grazers, which means they sort their feed and hay to pick and choose what to eat. For concentrates and supplements, this is mostly eliminated due to processes such as pelleting, extruding, or even soaking and mixing the feed products.  

Reducing your horse’s foraging behavior in hay can be more challenging, and one of the concerns is that when a horse spreads his hay throughout his stall and then defecates on it, he will no longer eat it. This could result in him not eating enough forage, which has various health implications such as an increased risk of gastric ulcers. Boredom or stress can also be a factor when horses spill feed and, in these cases, enrichment such as slow-feeding tactics can help reduce feed-spreading and boredom while stalled.  

In your question you mention the horse is fed in a stall, but if this issue was also present outdoors, there could be a greater risk of him ingesting sand or dirt. This could increase the likelihood of digestive issues such as colic.  

Reducing Your Horse’s Food Waste 

Remember that horses are individuals, and what works best for one horse might not be ideal for the next. If your horse regularly spills feed, one option is to try different bucket types to see if that helps solve the problem.  

If your horse spills his feed from a bucket mounted to the wall, you could try feeding him in a large feed pan on the ground to reduce spilling. There are also feed options such as grain bags the horse can wear while he eats his meal to prevent waste.  

This tactic can also be applied to hay. Manufacturers have designed several hay feeders to reduce hay waste by keeping forage contained within the feeder, such as hay balls and hay nets.  

Take-Home Message 

If your horse continually fails to finish his feed, consult an equine nutritionist who can help you design a nutrition program involving smaller meals or different products to meet your horse’s nutritional needs.  

Overall, spilling feed and spreading hay around the stall is not ideal because we want to ensure our horses consistently receive their daily balanced rations. If your veterinarian has ruled out dentition and other health issues, experiment with different feeding buckets and hay feeders in your horse’s stall to limit the amount of feed wasted. Consider adding environmental enrichments to his stall, such as slow feeders or toys, to try to remedy some of the issues.  

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Written by:

Madeline Boast completed her master’s in Equine Nutrition at the University of Guelph and started an independent nutrition company known as Balanced Bay. She has worked with a variety of equids—from Miniature Ponies to competing Thoroughbreds. Boast designs customized balanced nutrition plans that prioritize equine well-being, both for optimal performance and solving complex nutritional issues and everything between. 

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