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Your Horse:
Selection Of The Horse
Conformation Of Horses
Disposition Of Horses
Saddlery And Equipment For Horses
Care Of Saddlery And Leather
Feeds And Bedding For Horses
Horse Stables
Horse Pastures
The Veterinarian
Care Of Horse Feet And Shoeing
In Or Out Of The Stable
Transporting Horses
Basic Physiology Of Horses
Genetic Considerations Of Horses

Feeds And Bedding For Horses

( Originally Published 1954 )

There is an old adage which says that all the good in a horse goes in through the mouth. If we presuppose that the animal is of proper heredity and conformation this certainly carries more than a grain of truth. The unfortunate corollary to this is that most of the good in the owner's pocket book will go to supply this nutriment. If you do your own labor and keep horses at your own place the bill for hay, grain and bedding will be approximately seventy-five percent of all that you spend on your mounts; the remain-der going for shoeing, veterinary bills, upkeep of tack and miscellaneous items. If labor of a groom is provided the ratio will be somewhat different and will be nearer forty percent of the total.

Some years ago a group of us kept our horses at a private club where the costs were on a cooperative basis. Allowing adequate grooms, the best of feed, and other essentials, we found that the average breakdown of costs was some-thing like this; Labor 40%,, feed and bedding 4007 lights, water, taxes, insurance, and miscellaneous 1007,. Shoeing and veterinary bills were not included since they were paid by the individual owner.

Feed may be divided into two major groups, roughage and concentrates. These may overlap under conditions to be discussed later. Hay supplies both essential bulk for the herbivorous animal, as well as a fair share of the caloric needs. The required amount is a fairly constant factor and it is possible to calculate monthly or yearly needs with a fair degree of accuracy, regardless of the amount of work to be done. The generally accepted amount is one and a half pounds of hay per hundred pounds of live weight per day. It is impossible to reduce this figure very much and still maintain good health. An excess, on the other hand, will do no great harm, except in the waste and expense involved. It is a safe rule to give the average horse about all the good hay that he will clean up readily without wasting it. Most of us who are fond of our horses are inclined to be a bit profligate on this score and toss another fork full whenever the animal looks out hopefully. Only a few are really gluttons and they must be restricted a bit, particularly if they are to do hard and fast work. An over-distended belly is of no more benefit to a horse than it is to a man.

On a monthly basis we must allow about eighteen pounds per day for the good sized horse. This figures out at five hundred and fifty pounds each month, or approximately three and a quarter tons per year. This is subject to alteration if pasture is available to supplement the hay ration. If you have small paddocks the possible saving is small. The little green stuff that can be picked up is of great value as a tonic but that is about all. If you are fortunate enough to have large fields you may deduct the number of good months' grazing from the yearly total.

In the Cavalry Manual I find the statement: "All classes of hay, with the exception of alfalfa, are of practically equal feeding value." I agree that they are all of equal caloric value, but that is quite a different matter. I am sure that the writers really meant it that way for they certainly develop the importance of palatability, vitamins, minerals and other factors which separate hay of high nutritional value from the rest.

All hays may be divided into three classes. Each has its particular usefulness.

Grass hays. Timothy is the outstanding variety of this group. Prairie grass, brome hay, millet hay, rye grass, sudan grass and johnson grass are other less well known types. They often come as mixtures. For years timothy has been considered the standard for horses, and many owners feed nothing else. It seems to be considered essential for race horses and others doing fast work. It is unfortunate that this belief still holds, since timothy alone is an expensive and poorly balanced roughage.

Grain hays. These are made by cutting grain just before ripening and while the stalks are still tender and palatable. Oat hay is the most widely used, although many experienced horsemen speak highly of wheat hay. Oat hay is extensively grown on the West Coast and it makes a very fine feed if properly cut and cured. In the best grades the stalks are topped by heavy oat kernels which may be picked out and examined by hand. A horse which is idle or doing very light work will usually thrive on oat hay alone without any additional grain allowance. It is greatly relished and waste is usually slight. The major objection to oat hay is the storage problem. Since it is so rich in grain it is most attractive to mice. For that reason I try to use my oat hay early in the year, and as soon as possible I pull the bales out of a solid storage and have enough room between for a cat to get around. You may or may not like cats, but it is definitely established that a first class mouser will be a profitable in-vestment. While on the subject, it is worth mentioning that a neuter cat is the best bet. A tomcat is given to roving far and wide in search of things other than mice, while a female will present you with kittens all too frequently.

Legume hays. This group is quite unlike the others in its caloric and nutrient value. They are high in protein and rich in calcium. Clover and alfalfa are the two most common. For a long time there has been a prejudice against them and it was said that they were fit for cattle only. This is a great pity, for the addition of twenty or thirty percent of alfalfa or clover will supply much needed calcium, as well as the vitamins of the "B" complex. The trouble has been with the way that the legumes were handled. They must not be fed exclusively and the animal must become adjusted to them gradually or an intestinal upset will result. In the East clover is popular and of good grade. It is often grown in the same field with timothy or other grasses and the resultant mixture is excellent if it can be cut at the proper time.

In the far West very little clover is fed to horses. The growing season is not right and there is nothing more dangerous than mouldy or improperly cured clover hays. Alfalfa is one of the major crops in this region and it is usually of good quality and properly cured. In many areas, particularly those under irrigation, they may cut two, three, or even four crops in a season. The first cutting is generally coarse and full of stems. The second or third cutting is far to be preferred. It should be bright and largely made up of leaves. Care must be used in feeding since it will readily flake apart and much of the food value will be lost. Legumes are particularly important in the winter and early spring months when the natural reserve of vitamins is low in the living animal. All horses are better fed if they have legumes, and brood mares and young stock will consume a fairly high percent with benefit. Recent studies of periodic ophthalmia, the so called moon-blindness, have proved that the disease is the result of a vitamin deficiency, with riboflavin a member of the "B" complex as the key. Experiments at the Front Royal Remount Station demonstrated that the presence of adequate amounts of this vitamin were all that was needed to wipe out this scourge.

In considering the quality of any hay the first thing to observe is the location upon which it was grown. If a soil is depleted, no growing plant will be able to extract from it the calcium, phosphorus, and trace elements that make a good builder of tissue. Climate is also important for excessive rains will wash out much of the good and the grass may be luxuriant, but "washy." The old timers put great stress on upland hays and avoid anything grown in low or marshy land. On the West Coast the Cascade Range acts as a barrier to the moisture laden clouds coming from the Pacific. West of this range the climate is damp and usually not extreme, either hot or cold. The soil is badly washed out and calcium is low. East of the Cascades the land is high and dry. Hays from this region are among the finest in the United States, and they command a premium price even in spots a thou-sand miles away. This example is mentioned only to make you conscious of the variations and the wisdom of looking further than the bale in the feed store. Throughout the country there are good hay regions and poor ones. It is cheaper in the long run to buy from the choice areas even if the hauling is more expensive.

A good hay is clean, bright, and pleasant to smell. When shaken there should be no dust or dirt, and no stale or musty odor. The curing should be uniform although the outsides of some of the bales may be bleached without doing any harm. Beware of any hay that is matted or hard to pull apart. Flakes which are stuck and hard are usually due to improper curing and mould is often present. Much of the hay which is shipped in large quantities has been graded by federal inspectors. These experts know their business and you can rely on anything that has their approval. If you must rely upon your own judgment do not hesitate to reject anything that is at all suspicious.

Palatability is perhaps the hardest factor to judge. A horse will often reject something that appears to be beautiful, and prefer some rough and dry looking stuff that you would consider second rate. They seem to dislike very fine grasses, no matter how sweet and bright, but they seldom refuse a rough looking and dry grain hay. I am reminded of the remark attributed to Mr. Charles Kenney, the manager of a leading Kentucky breeding farm. Someone asked him if he liked lespedeza hay. "Oh yes," he replied. "But the horses won't eat it." The best test is to take home a sample bale of the contemplated purchase and offer it to your horses. If they clean it up readily you may be sure that the palatability is satisfactory; but if they pick about and scatter it through the stall it is wise to seek something else. A few years ago I had a few tons of rye grass hay; it was clean but rough, dry and bleached. I was very unhappy about the purchase and considered it fit only for bedding. To my surprise every horse in the stable cleaned it up and left not a wisp.

The buying of hay had best be done once a year, and in sufficient quantity to last the season. The price will be higher and the quality lower as the season progresses, and sometimes nothing at all will be available in the late spring.

If you live in a good hay raising area it will pay you to scout about during the summer and visit some of the farms before harvest time. You may find just what you want, and buy it as soon as you are sure that the cutting and curing have been satisfactorily completed. You will save a dealer's profit and also be enabled to haul direct to your barn from the field. With labor costs what they are today this may mean quite a little.

If this opportunity does not present itself the next best is to make your need known to a reputable feed dealer. Tell him what you want and how much. If his shipments come from a distance ask him to let you know when a freight car comes in. You can run down to the siding and look it over. If it is what you want you can have him haul direct and save the extra unloading and storing. You will also save money if you buy in truckload quantities. This means not less than three or four tons at a time. If a dealer can load up and move direct, it costs him less than to make repeated trips-with a few thousand pounds, for his men and his vehicle are tied up as much With a small order as with a large one. One of the advantages of buying from a well known dealer is that he has a reputation to maintain and will make good if the products are not up to the standard represented. This past season I had a good example of this. I bought a truckload of what appeared to be first class oat hay. Later I found that much of it contained moulds and was unfit for use. Apparently it had been baled a little too early in the morning and the dew had set up a reaction. I am sure that the dealer was unaware of the trouble and when I brought it to his attention he accepted my complaint without question. A few days later his men were out and took it away and there was full credit when a replacement was substituted. Dealing with the individual farmer has its problems. A few are experts and will sell nothing that is not up to their standard of quality, while others are less exacting and they may think you unduly critical and unreasonable when you cast aspersions upon the fruits of their labor.

In this world of changing economics it is useless to say anything about price except that true economy lies in getting hay of good quality at the lowest figure practicable. Nothing is saved by a ten percent lowering of the price per ton if the horses waste twenty percent of the poorer grade. Good timothy is usually the most expensive to feed, and a saving may be made by using some other grass or grass mixture. For some reason grain hays sell for a lower figure and that usually makes them a bargain. You may learn something by visiting leading breeding farms and modest riding academies. At the former they will probably use the best available without regard to cost, while at the latter it is customary to purchase the most inexpensive forage that will keep the horses in shape. Somewhere in between these two extremes you will find a satisfactory and economical medium.

The second class of feeds used for horses are generally classified as concentrates and by this we mean grains, grain products, and combinations of these with other high protein substances. There is a general rule which, like the hay computations, assumes to set an average daily consumption. It is usually given as one pound of concentrates per hundred pounds of body weight per day. Nothing could be worse for a horse than for his owner to take this literally. Grain is like the fuel in an engine and supplies the calories for labor, as opposed to bare maintenance. Overfeeding of grain is far from a kindness and will usually result in intestinal upsets, filled legs, skin rashes, and numerous other ailments. If you know the amount a horse has been having, it may be safe to use it as a preliminary guide; but if a horse is unknown, or has just come from pasture, it is far better to err on the conservative side and then build up as his tolerance and condition demand. The amount of concentrates in a healthy animal will be almost in direct ratio to the work he does. Some years ago I had a big strapping polo pony. He was playing two hard periods of polo per game and usually three times a week, with occasional hacking in between. He received twelve full pounds of grain daily and all the hay he could eat. In spite of this he was lean though hard and fit. Two years later polo was disbanded and his exercise was reduced to about four or five hours of hacking per week. In order to keep him satisfied, when the other horses were grained he received a small amount at each feeding, not averaging more than a total of three pounds a day, and on this he was rolling fat and high as a kite.

If you purchase an untrained or partially broken horse it is far better to have him on the thin and quiet side while he is learning his first lessons. He will be more docile and your battles will be less. As soon as he begins to be sluggish or show signs of losing weight, the amount may be gradually increased. This restriction does not apply to very young stock in the first and second year when the important gains in size are made. Yearlings are usually so active that they suffer no harmful effects from ample grain and they will reach their maximum size and stamina if they are given the best. The same is true of pregnant and nursing mares who must usually provide for three bodies at once, their own, the foal in utero, and the foal at foot. Nothing is a greater reflection upon a horse owner than a malnourished mare ruining her own body in an attempt to feed her baby.

Oats are the standard grain for the horse and many know no other. This is unfortunate; for each grain has its particular value and a balance of several will do a better job at less cost. Oats should be heavy, bright, clean, and free of all musty or other unpleasant odor. Heavy grain is much more economical since the percentage of waste in the hull is much less if the kernels are plump and fat. As with hay the value of the oats will be largely determined by the soil from which they were raised. Many old timers use nothing but whole oats, but careful experiments have shown that rolled grain is more easily digested, and even a young horse with good teeth will pass many kernels through the intestines without breaking them open and getting their value. You can easily verify this yourself by an inspection of the droppings. This is even more true for young stock or for old horses whose teeth are badly worn. Estimates as to the difference vary, but I believe that in many horses eighty pounds of rolled oats will replace a hundred pounds of whole kernels, and in practically all horses a saving of ten percent can be obtained. In addition they are less likely to bolt the crushed grain.

Barley is little used for riding horses in this country, al-though the Arab in his native country knew nothing else. It is an excellent feed, particularly when used as part of the grain ration. Tests have shown that barley is about ten per-cent greater in food value than oats. In addition, the price is usually less and a further saving is effected. Barley kernels are extremely hard and should never be fed unless rolled. The better mills have a process which also removes the coarse beards.

Corn is much used in the Middle West, but largely for work horses. It is said to be heating, and for that reason is used more sparingly in the summer. It is high in carbohydrate and caloric value but low in protein; for that reason it makes a good combination when alfalfa hay is used. It is very useful to help put fat on a poor keeper, particularly in the winter months. The yellow variety is much to be preferred over the white because of its greater vitamin A con-tent. Corn may be fed whole, on the ear, shelled or cracked. It is usually a part of the prepared mixtures.

Bran is made of the outer layer of the wheat grain and is a brown flaky substance with a pleasant odor and taste. It is high in phosphorus and is a laxative. A double handful to each grain feeding is an average amount which may be varied according to condition. If a horse is suddenly taken from hard work and has a day or two of rest, the bran should be increased, or he may be given an occasional bran mash. This is prepared by making an entire feed of bran and mixing it with sufficient boiling water to make a thick porridge like a breakfast cereal. It is allowed to steam for an hour, and is fed when cool. A bit of salt will add to the palatability. Horses vary in their reactions to a bran mash; some appear to relish it greatly while others will spurn the entire offering. As soon as the horse has finished be sure to remove the feed container and wash it so that there will not be a fermented mass remaining for the next day.

Linseed meal may be used in small quantities, not to exceed half a pound a day. It is rich in oil, and is particularly good in the spring when shedding is taking place. It seems to help make a glossy coat.

Molasses is high in sugar and its flavor increases the appetite of many horses. Mixing it is an infernal nuisance if you have a small stable and it is far easier to obtain it in other ways.

In addition to the standard grains it is possible to use rice, wheat, beet pulp, and a lot of other things. From time to time someone comes out with suggestions as to their use. The average owner had best avoid them as the saving will be small and the complications numerous.


In recent years many milling firms have offered prepared grain mixtures for horses. Most of them are a mixture of rolled oats, barley, cracked corn, alfalfa meal, bran, fish meal, and an assortment of vitamins, minerals, and salt. The whole is then treated with a molasses solution which holds the finer meals in place as well as adding to the taste. The major objection to some of these has been the cost, since they usually run about twenty percent more per hundred pounds than the standard grains. It is quite possible for the large stable to make a similar mixture and save money. For a string of two or three horses the trouble and time more than offset the extra charge. I have tried these feeds with varying success. One well known product of the Middle-west is nationally advertised and is an excellent feed. Near its source of supply the price is well within reason. In the East there is a new grain concentrate made in pellet form; I have never used it but it is highly praised. It is out of the question in the far West because the freight costs as much as the feed. Several West Coast mills are making a grain mixture at the present time. I tried one but found it unsatisfactory because there was a lot of fine residue which horses rejected. A second appears to be excellent and horses clean it up readily.

There is much to be said for the best of these prepared foods. There is reasonable assurance that there will be a proper balance of all the essential proteins, minerals and vitamins as well as the simple caloric needs. The integrity and reputation of the manufacturer are the major factors for you to consider. If these are used your average daily cost will probably be but little higher than if you buy a lot of things and mix them yourself.


The average outline on feeding is enough to scare out most any prospective owner. They usually start out at five or six in the morning and continue until supper time. They are based on considerations which are a far cry from our own. In the Army a horse had to have his feed at an unearthly hour so that his groom could be all finished in time for an early breakfast and the work day which started shortly thereafter. Work and farm horses are similarly treated in order to fit into the schedules of the day. It is quite true that a horse should be fed at regular hours but it is nonsense to believe that we must lose two hours of sleep in order to make them happy. Most of us retire at a later hour than those mentioned above and we do not mind going down to the stables after supper.

You can easily work out your own schedule but I offer mine as a practical way of fitting the chores into my own routine.

Eight A.M. Medium sized feed of hay. Following this the stalls are cleaned and the automatic drinking fountains are checked. Blankets are changed as necessary and any minor details are attended. Just before leaving the stables a light grain feed is given and the stall doors to the paddocks are opened.

Noon. Medium feed of grain. If you are unable to get to your stable at this time the morning feed may be increased accordingly.

Five to seven P.m. Medium feed of hay. In inclement or wintry weather the horses are shut in at five, but if they are to be ridden after the day at the office the hay is withheld until they come back. About an hour or an hour and a half after the feeding of hay the third and last grain of the day is given; by that time most of the hay has been eaten. If the weather is pleasant the doors are left open until this hour, and in the summer they are never closed.

Just before bedtime (whenever that may be) give the large hay feeding of the day, pick up stalls as needed, check water and change blankets if needed. No matter how late I come in I never fail to run down to the barn for a few minutes. If anything needs attention it is better to know it be-fore the night of rest is undertaken. If I expect to sleep late the following morning I see that the hay is extra generous and then no real harm will be done if breakfast is late. Unless we are to be slaves to our livestock they must learn to excuse a few variations in the day's routine. Most of us are more careful about our horses' schedules than we are about our own, an unfortunate thing for our digestive tracts.

The pony is a very thrifty individual and has learned through generations to make the most of his food. Although it is desirable to have forage of good quality he can get along with very little of it. The hay ration can be computed basically by the same formula given for horses, but if pasture is available this may be cut to zero many parts of the year. It is sometimes difficult to keep a horse fat, but a pony stays in good flesh unless it is subjected to severe privation, illness, or abuse. Most authorities feel grain is both unnecessary and detrimental to ponies. Oats are inclined to give a pony so much vigor that his high spirits may be difftcult to control. I would suggest that you start without grain and add it only as may be needed to maintain well being. In my own stable the pony comes in hopefully each time the horses receive their grain and to keep tier happy she is given a small handful of bran.


Keeping stalls in good condition is the most time consuming and least pleasant task confronting the horse owner. In pasture or on the range an animal seems to get along very well without this special attention, but those who are kept in a barn require some form of bedding in order to assure proper rest.

For many years the custom has been to use straw exclusively. In an earlier time its cost was negligible and it could usually be had for little more than the cost of baling and transportation. In the past few seasons the price has gone out of all reason and usually amounts to about fifty percent of the cost of the best hay or even more. In the Cavalry Manual they give a daily allowance of five pounds per horse. This figure in no way satisfies the needs of the average owner. The small figure was made possible by two factors. Most Army mounts are maintained in tie stalls and the amount needed to bed down is comparatively small. Since the horse cannot wander around, the area that may be soiled is limited and the rest can be used for an extended period. The second point is the fact that time and labor are minor considerations, and it was the custom for the men to sort the bedding very carefully and pick out and save every bit that was not badly damaged. In good weather even wet bedding could be taken out and dried on racks in the open air. The private owner usually has neither the time nor the inclination to be so frugal.

In bedding down a box stall it is a false economy to start with a small amount. It will be wasteful in the end since a thin bed becomes so soiled and trampled that most of it will have to be discarded the next day. A generous bed, on the other hand, will protect itself and absorb moisture more readily. A stall which is cleaned thoroughly once a day, and picked up once or twice in addition, will last longer than one which receives less regular attention. During nice weather, when the horses are out during the day, the straw can be pushed back and stacked along the walls. This not only saves time and labor but allows drying to take place more readily. With average care you can get along on one good sized bale of straw per week for each stall. This will run somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve to fifteen pounds per day.

Straw is best bought in large quantities and while it is still in the field. Since it is not intended as a nutriment it may come from any nearby land regardless of the quality of the grain it produces. A good wheat or oat straw is best. Many horses will pick through their straw and some glut-tons will even eat a considerable part of their bedding. It is imperative, therefore, to avoid any straw which is mouldy or excessively dusty. For the same reason it is dangerous to use inferior hay for bedding unless one has checked it care-fully. Often a farmer will have a crop of hay which has been wet and ruined in the field and it will be offered at an extremely low price as a substitute for straw. The storage space in the barn should be calculated to allow for a year's supply so that the required number of tons can be brought in at one hauling and the problem settled for an entire season.

In those parts of the country where sawmills are in operation it is possible to use one of the by-products to take the place of straw. Sawdust can be bought in bulk but it should be avoided if possible. It is hard to handle and requires a large storage bin. It is exceedingly hard to clean a sawdust stall because the small particles fall through a fork and a great deal of the work must be done with a shovel. Shavings are much better and they make a satisfactory bed. A generous layer should be put down and the wet spots cleaned out several times a day along with the droppings. Fine chips or shavings are often available in small bales and are much in demand by raisers of poultry. Cedar tow, a shredded by-product of cedar milling makes a soft and pleasant smelling bedding, but some horses with thin skins seem to suffer skin irritation with its use. I am not sure whether the damage is caused by the sharp particles or whether it is in the nature of a skin allergy.

For a number of years I have discarded all of the above in favor of peat moss. You will probably be shocked by the price of a single bale but in the long run it will be an economy, at least with straw at its present price.

Peat moss is to be had in two types. Horticultural peat is produced primarily for use of the gardener and it is exceedingly fine textured and inclined to be dusty. Poultry peat, on the other hand, is much coarser and makes a far better and cleaner bed. One bale will provide amply for a stall of average size, such as ten by ten or ten by twelve. A larger stall will require a bale and a half or two bales at a time. Its ability to absorb moisture and odors is truly remarkable. The urine which readily goes through straw and makes puddles on the floor, will be almost entirely taken up by peat moss, with the prevention of the holes in the floor that result when the wet spots on the clay are cleaned out with shovel or broom. If properly tended a peat stall will last a month unless the horses drag in too much mud and rain from the paddocks. Each morning the droppings are picked up with a fine fork and the badly dampened spots are also discarded. The easiest way is to have a wicker basket and set it in the middle of the stall. All of the discard is thrown into it and usually one trip to the manure bin will suffice. After the stall has been cleaned the rest is turned with a fork or rake and it may be pushed to the walls if desired. From time to time a small amount of fresh peat is added to keep the proper amount at all times. About once a month the entire bedding is discarded, the floor limed and a new bale opened. Since this major task is infrequent it is often economical to employ a laborer or a neighborhood lad to do this job when it would be out of the question to have him every day. It is no trick at all to clean a peat moss stall thoroughly in ten minutes, and most of the time an energetic five minutes will suffice. At the present writing there are three horses in my barn and I find that twenty minutes is sufficient for morning feeding and stall cleaning.

Horses do well on peat moss bedding. Since it is dry there seems to be less thrush and kindred hoof conditions. Horses that gorge themselves with bedding are effectively limited to the hay provided. In the summer time when the horses come and go at all times the peat stalls practically take care of themselves except for the removal of a few droppings. The horses come in out of the sun and lie down to rest and then go out again when it is cooler.

The advantage of peat is not over when it is removed from the stalls. Straw refuse piles up in astounding quantities and unless you have a very large place it will have to be hauled away at added expense. Peat moss fertilizer is one of the best for your own ground and a large quantity can be used to advantage, particularly in hard clay soils. When the supply exceeds your needs you will find no end of friends and neighbors who are delighted to have it for their own gardens and they will come in with wheelbarrows, trucks, or trailers and clean either your manure bin or you stalls direct and offer gratitude rather than a bill. I am the first to admit that a deep clean straw stall looks better than anything else but for efficiency with the minimum of labor I urge you to try peat at least once.

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