How Much Hay Does a Draft Horse Eat Daily: In-Depth Guide

If you’re a draft horse owner, you know how important it is to provide your equine friend with a balanced diet. But just how much hay does a draft horse eat daily? In this in-depth guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about feeding your draft horse, including how much hay they need to stay healthy and happy.

Draft Horse Basics

Belgian draft horses grazing

Draft horses, also known as draught horses, are large, strong, and hardworking equines primarily bred for pulling heavy loads or farm labor. Understanding the basic requirements of a draft horse’s diet is essential for maintaining their health and ensuring they have the energy to perform their tasks. One of the most crucial factors in a draft horse’s diet is the quantity of hay they consume daily.

Types of Draft Horses

There are various draft horse breeds, each with unique qualities, characteristics, and origins. Some of the most popular draft horse breeds include:

  • Belgian
  • Percheron
  • Clydesdale
  • Shire
  • Suffolk Punch
  • American Cream Draft

Each breed may have different dietary needs based on their size, workload, and specific breed characteristics.

Draft Horse Sizes

Draft horses are known for their large size and solid build, which makes them ideal for heavy work. However, there’s considerable variation in size between different draft horse breeds, ranging from 1,600 pounds to over 2,000 pounds. It’s essential to factor in your horse’s weight when determining how much hay they should eat and adjust accordingly.

A 2,000-pound draft horse typically needs around 40 pounds of hay daily. However, different types of hay have varying densities, so it’s crucial to feed your horse based on their weight, promoting a healthy weight and minimizing waste. It is generally recommended that horses consume 1.5% to 2.5% of their body weight in hay or forage daily, depending on their activity level and individual needs.

Hay as a Primary Food Source

A beautiful white draft horse is getting ready to eat hay

Draft horses require proper nutrition to maintain their health and support their daily activities. One of the essential components of a draft horse’s diet is hay, which provides the necessary fiber and nutrients for their digestive system to function properly. In this section, we will discuss the nutritional content of hay, its types, and its role as the main food source for draft horses.

Hay Nutrition Facts

Hay is a crucial source of fiber for draft horses, which helps to maintain a healthy digestive system. It contains essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, required for the horse’s overall well-being. The nutrients found in hay vary depending on the type and quality of hay fed to the horse. Generally, hay consists of approximately 40-60% carbohydrates, 7-20% proteins, and a varying amount of vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, and potassium

The amount of hay a draft horse should consume is based on its body weight. A general rule of thumb is that a horse should eat 1.5 to 3% of its body weight in forage per day. For example, a draft horse weighing 1,800 pounds (815 kg) should eat 27 to 54 pounds (12 to 24 kg) of hay daily

Types of Hay

There are several types of hay available, and their nutritional value varies depending on factors like plant species, maturity at harvest, and storage conditions. The most common types of hay for draft horses include:

  • Grass Hay: Grass hay is made from various grasses such as timothy, Bermuda, orchard, and fescue. It is typically lower in protein and energy compared to other hay types, but it provides sufficient fiber content for a well-balanced diet
  • Legume Hay: Legume hay mainly consists of alfalfa or clover, which has higher protein, energy, and calcium content compared to grass hay. This type of hay is suitable for draft horses with higher energy requirements, such as those used for work or performance
  • Mixed Hay: A combination of grass and legume hays offers a balanced nutrient profile while maintaining sufficient fiber content for a healthy digestive system. This type of hay provides the benefits of both grass and legume hay and can be adjusted according to the horse’s specific needs

When selecting the appropriate type of hay for a draft horse, it is crucial to consider the horse’s age, activity level, and any existing health concerns. It may also be beneficial to consult with an equine nutritionist to develop a tailored feeding plan based on the horse’s individual requirements

Hay Consumption by Draft Horses

Draft horses, known for their strength and size, have unique dietary requirements compared to lighter horse breeds. This section will discuss their hay consumption, focusing on factors affecting intake and methods for calculating daily hay requirements.

Factors Affecting Hay Intake

Several factors can influence the amount of hay a draft horse consumes, including:

  • Bodyweight: Draft horses typically weigh more than lighter breeds, leading to increased hay consumption to maintain their size and strength. A horse’s body weight is the primary factor when determining the amount of hay they require.
  • Activity level: A draft horse’s workload and exercise routine impact its energy requirements. Horses with higher activity levels typically need more hay to replenish energy and maintain proper nutrition.
  • Age and life stage: Young or growing draft horses, pregnant mares, and lactating mares have unique nutritional needs, leading to variations in their hay consumption.
  • Quality of hay: The nutritional content of hay depends on factors such as the type of forage, harvesting, and storage conditions. Draft horses may consume more or less hay depending on the quality of the hay offered.

Calculating Daily Hay Consumption

To accurately calculate daily hay consumption for a draft horse, it is essential to consider the horse’s body weight and the percentage of its body weight that should come from forage.

On average, a horse should receive 1.5 to 3 percent of its body weight daily in forage, which includes high-quality pasture and hay. This range allows flexibility for variations in activity level, age, life stage, and hay quality(source).

To determine the daily hay consumption for a specific draft horse, follow these steps:

  1. Obtain the horse’s current body weight, either through weighing or estimating using a weight tape.
  2. Select the appropriate percentage of body weight for hay consumption (1.5 to 3 percent), depending on factors such as workload, age, and hay quality.
  3. Multiply the horse’s body weight by the chosen percentage to calculate the required daily hay intake in pounds or kilograms.

By understanding the factors affecting hay intake and accurately calculating daily hay consumption, efficient dietary management can be achieved for draft horses.

Signs of Proper Hay Intake

white draft horse eating grass and flowers

When feeding hay to draft horses, it is essential to ensure they are receiving the right amount to maintain their health and well-being. This section provides guidance on the indicators of proper hay intake, focusing on physical health indicators and common feeding issues draft horses may experience.

Physical Health Indicators

One of the most reliable ways to determine if a draft horse is consuming an appropriate amount of hay is to monitor their physical health. According to Horse Rookie, a draft horse should generally receive 1.5 to 3 percent of its body weight daily in forage, which includes a combination of high-quality pasture and hay.

Keep an eye on the horse’s body condition score (BCS), a numeric scale used to evaluate a horse’s body fat and muscle composition. A healthy draft horse should maintain a BCS between 4 and 7 on a 1 to 9 scale, where 1 is emaciated and 9 is obese. Consistently checking your horse’s BCS will give you valuable information about whether they are consuming enough hay or not.

Other physical health indicators to monitor include coat condition, energy levels, and overall activity. A glossy coat, consistent energy, and regular engagement in activities indicate that your draft horse is likely receiving proper hay intake.

Common Feeding Issues

Below are some common feeding issues that may indicate suboptimal hay consumption:

  • Weight loss or gain: Significant fluctuations in weight can indicate insufficient hay intake or overfeeding. Carefully monitor your horse’s weight and adjust hay consumption accordingly.
  • Irregular manure: Unusual manure consistency or frequency may result from inadequate hay intake. Check your horse’s manure output and adjust their hay consumption to ensure they receive adequate roughage.
  • Boredom or stress: Horses left without enough hay may start displaying boredom or stress-related behaviors such as wood chewing, weaving, or cribbing. Providing an adequate amount of hay can help curb these undesirable habits.
  • Hay wastage: If you notice excessive hay wastage, it may indicate that your draft horse is overfed or is not consuming the hay properly. Consider hay feeders or nets to minimize wastage and regulate hay intake.

It is important to regularly monitor your draft horse’s health indicators and address any feeding issues promptly to ensure they receive the right amount of hay to maintain optimal health and well-being.

Best Feeding Practices

A chestnut horse eats hay in the field

Understanding the dietary needs of a draft horse is essential to keep them healthy and fit. Draft horses typically require slightly different feeding practices than lighter breeds due to their larger size and different metabolism. In this section, we cover the best feeding practices, with a focus on hay consumption, supplementing hay with other food, and proper storage and handling of hay.

Supplementing Hay with Other Food

Hay is a crucial part of a draft horse’s diet, providing the necessary fiber to maintain a healthy digestive system. On average, a 2,000-pound draft horse needs around 40 pounds of hay daily. However, depending on the horse’s activity level and individual needs, owners might need to supplement their hay intake with additional feed sources to ensure a balanced diet and provide the right amount of nutrients and calories.

Some options for supplementing hay can include grains, pellets, and commercial feed formulated for draft horses. Tribute Equine Nutrition suggests that draft horses require fewer calories per kilogram of body weight compared to lighter breeds. Thus, be cautious when feeding grain, as excessive intake may contribute to obesity or other health issues.

Storing and Handling Hay

Proper storage and handling of hay are vital for preserving its nutritional value and preventing mold, dust, or other contaminants that could harm the horse. Here are some essential tips for storing hay:

  • Keep hay off the ground by placing it on pallets or a raised platform to allow air circulation and minimize moisture buildup.
  • Store hay in a well-ventilated, dry place, protected from rain or other sources of moisture.
  • Avoid stacking hay bales too tightly together, as this may limit air circulation and create hotspots for mold growth.
  • Inspect hay bales regularly for signs of mold, pests or spoilage, and discard any contaminated bales.

When it comes to handling hay, gentle techniques should be used to minimize dust production, which can cause respiratory issues for horses. Always use clean, dry hands and wear a mask if you are sensitive to hay dust. When feeding a draft horse, break apart hay flakes and distribute them in multiple piles, which can help prevent competition among horses and ensure even consumption.

By following these best practices, you can effectively determine the quantity and quality of hay your draft horse consumes, while supplementing with other food sources as necessary and maintaining a clean and safe environment for your horse.


In summary, a draft horse’s daily hay requirements are essential for maintaining its overall health and well-being. A draft horse typically requires 1.5 to 3 percent of its body weight in forage daily, which means that an average 2,000-pound draft horse will need approximately 30 to 60 pounds of hay per day. Draft horses often have a higher caloric need compared to other horse breeds due to their size and workload. Therefore, it is crucial to closely monitor their hay intake and adjust it accordingly to meet their unique dietary needs.

Hay quality is another important aspect to consider when feeding draft horses, as low-quality hay can lead to inadequate nutrition and poor health. It’s best to provide a mix of grass and legume hay for optimal nutrient balance. Draft horse owners should be knowledgeable about their horse’s specific diet requirements, which can be influenced by factors such as age, workload, and overall health status.

Regularly monitoring your draft horse’s body condition, weight, and overall health will help you make informed decisions about their hay intake. Consult a veterinarian or equine nutrition expert if you’re unsure about your horse’s specific needs. By ensuring a proper and balanced diet for your draft horse, you can guarantee optimal health and well-being throughout their lives.