Free-Feeding a Large Group of Horses

Does feeding a large amount of hay to a group of horses on winter pasture affect their digestion and health?

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Free-Feeding a Large Group of Horses
It is important to feed the appropriate quality and amount of hay for the type of horse you have. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Q. How does feeding a large amount of good quality hay to a group of 15 or fewer horses on winter pasture covered in snow at two or more day intervals affect their digestion and health? —Dana Szegedy, Oakley, Utah

A. Feeding large amounts of hay to a group of horses is done quite often by the use of large round bales and likely by other means. I believe horse owners and managers can successfully feed horses this way if they take appropriate steps and understand potential risks.

First, sufficient amount of hay should be fed to ensure access to hay over the entire period. In other words, don’t feed an amount that will be consumed in one day and leave the horses without hay for the rest of the interval between feedings. If gaps between feedings exist, it could make the horses more prone to things such as gastric ulcers, digestive upset, inadequate calorie intake, and cold intolerance

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Written by:

James Little, DVM, serves as senior technical service veterinarian for Bayer Healthcare Animal Health. In this role he provides support for Bayer’s equine products by interacting with veterinarians in various ways, including responding to technical questions or concerns. Prior to working as a technical veterinarian, Little spent 13 years in private practice focusing on equine and beef cattle.

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