We have discussed the critical need for forage or hay in the horses ration and mentioned a horse should get a minimum of 1% of the horse's body weight per day in long stem hay. For a 1,000-pound horse, this would be a minimum of 10 lbs hay per day. You should use a good quality hay that provides adequate nutrients. So how do you know the actual amounts of nutrients in the ration you are feeding and if the ration is adequate for your horse? To determine this information, a ration analysis must be performed. Amy Gill, an equine nutritionist, recommends beginning the ration analysis with a complete forage analysis. If possible, it is a good idea to buy large quantities of hay at a time so the hay will be from the same cutting and the analysis of all the hay will be the same.
Also, you can have a hay analysis performed before the purchase is made. If smaller quantities of hay must be purchased, chose someone that has their hay analyzed and will provide the analysis results. The forage analysis should provide the following values: digestible energy, crude protein, percent dry matter, percent acid detergent fiber and neutral detergent fiber, percent crude fat, percent calcium, sulfur, and phosphorus, as well as other vitamins and trace minerals. The percent acid detergent fiber and neutral detergent fiber is a method of determining the maturity of the hay. If these values are too high, a hay belly can develop due to a large amount of indigestible fiber in the hay. However, if this percentage is too low, the horse will not receive enough roughage. The ration can then be balanced for the specific horses being fed depending on their age, weight, and use. After the forage analysis, it can be determined if the ration should be supplemented to meet a specific horse's requirements. Contact your veterinarian for help with a ration analysis for your horses.