As Temperatures Fall, Consumption Increases

Round hay bales

Round bales can be an efficient way to feed horses hay during winter. 
Photo by S. Kirkpatrick, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.​  


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – It’s time for horse owners to make plans to for the colder weather ahead. For most horses, cold weather does not mean coming in from the cold, but being provided with the necessary nutrients to ensure they are as comfortable as possible. Planning ahead for how much hay is needed for feeding all winter is essential for maintaining healthy horses.

Jennie Ivey, University of Tennessee Extension equine specialist, says ideally, a horse should consume between 1.5 percent to 2 percent of their body weight of hay or forage per day (dry matter basis). For example, a 1000 pound horse will eat 15 to 20 pounds of hay daily. That’s the equivalent of roughly one small square bale of 40-60 pounds every few days. The exact number of bales needed for winter feeding will depend on the weight of the bale.

“It is best to determine how much your horse will need to get through the winter based on their daily consumption” Ivey states, “Next, determine the total amount of hay needed,” she adds.

Low temperatures, high winds and precipitation can increase the amount of energy horses need per day. “That means during extreme conditions you may need to increase the amount of hay horses consume. Supplementation with grain or concentrate is needed when a horse is having difficulty maintaining weight or body condition,” she cautions.

Round bales are also a good option for horse owners, especially for those needing to maintain horses outside. On average, between 7 to 10 horses can consume one round bale (800-1200 pounds) in 3-4 days. Feeding round bales out of a feeder can greatly reduce waste and ensure that horses have access to fresh hay even during inclement weather.

Not all hay is created equal. Ivey recommends having your hay tested for nutrient content to ensure it meets the horse’s nutritional needs. Forge analysis can be performed by the UT Soil, Plant and Pest center ( Ivey also reminds owners to check all hay for mold and dust before feeding. “Dusty hay can lead to respiratory problems, while moldy hay can cause colic,” she says.

For help estimating your horse’s weight, having your hay tested, interpretation of forage tests, or any other equine related questions contact your county extension office or visit the UT Extension website,

As a new member of the UT Extension faculty, Ivey has plans to expand the program. “Stay tuned for new equine extension programming!” she says.

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions.



Dr. Jennie Ivey, 865-974 3157,​