Monday, October 27, 2008

How much grass equals a flake of hay? question has nagged me as I ponder how difficult it is to find a facility that offers turnout on good pasture. Can I possibly make up the difference with handgrazing? I did a simple home study with Harvey, in lush grass. He took 27-30 bites in a minute as I stood with a stop watch and tried to ignore other boarders looking quizzically in our direction. Let's call it 30 bites a minute. Doesn't that sound like a lot? Although it seems like in 10 minutes, or 300 bites, he'd consume a flake, you have to consider moisture content. In the livestock feed/grazing research they refer to "dry matter," and I think they're adjusting for moisture differences in their comparisons. You know how fresh apricot looks like a lot more food than a dried apricot, but they're really pretty similar? Same thing.

I posted my question to the Chronicle of the Horse list, and one reader, JB, responded with some pretty good info. I tried to locate the research she cited, and I think I found it reported in The Horse magazine. consumption (dry matter basis)
Grass consumption rate depends on how much the horse likes the grass, how much there is, and how long they are pastured (horses on pasture fewer hours will eat faster, god love'em). But The Horse magazine reports that horses will eat about 1-1.4 pounds per hour (DM basis). A horse on grass for 24 hours, grazing 17 hours/day (which is the amount of time they typically spend eating), can consume up to 25 lbs of forage. A minimum of eight to 10 hours at pasture would be needed to achieve a DM intake of at least 1% of body weight. The magazine concludes that "anything less than this duration of grazing and the horse will need supplemental forage (such as hay) to satisfy his forage needs."

The answer to my question
The depressing answer to my question is that if I want to make up for lack of pasture time with hand-grazing, I should definitely bring a book, if not a laptop and DVD. Two hours of handgrazing would perhaps be equal to a small grass hay flake, while three hours might make a big grass flake or smallish alfalfa flake.

Pasture grass, the healthy choice from The Horse magazine


  1. Very interesting -- thanks! I do a lot of hand grazing with my horses, and this question has crossed my mind many, many times.

  2. This is depressing....where I live grass is non existent (as well as space). Having grown up on the east coast where horses are turned out in pastures most of the day, I find it sad to not have that here. I keep my 2-year old over an hour away just so she can live in a grass pasture, and she loves it. When I was looking for suitable place for her I think I went to about 20 facilities before I found one that had grass pastures.

  3. hey! jb is a 'neighbor' and someone I often consult about hoof and nutrition issues. she always has good info. :)

  4. Well, I certainly appreciated her input. She has a good memory, too, when I found the article she was referencing from memory, her numbers were totally accurate.

  5. What an interesting "field test" you conducted. Thanks for the info!

  6. I can't thank you enough for this information. I am now living in GA having moved from VA and I find the lack of hay being fed to these horses unbelievable. I have to supplement my horse with hay and they just look at me like I have lost my mind. I am going to print this article and show it around my barn just to let everyone know I have not totally lost my mind!

    Thanks again.


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