Should you feed your horse’s hay or grain first?


For many barns, it’s a matter of convenience and organization to feed one before the other. But in terms of horse health and digestion, feed the hay first.  This might need to happen in the mornings if your horse is in a dry lot instead of pasture. This also applies if your horse has hay overnight, but it’s gone by midnight.


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Your horse’s digestive system likes to have forage at all times.


  • Clearly, this is fantasy land for many of us – due to lack of pasture, medical issues, barn routines that vary from one stable to the next, and how forage is fed where your horse lives.


  • Hay nets and slow feeders all day and night are ideal – but not found everywhere or through all parts of the year.


  • Some parts of the country only pasture the horses part of the time – night in summer, day in winter.


flakes of hay

Forage first.


Horses may end up with an empty stomach.


  • When grains, concentrates, fortified feeds or other types of horse feed is given, some horse will bolt their meal.


  • This makes the stomach hurry up and send the meal, either semi-digested or undigested into the hindgut. This is where the trouble can brew. Here, the microbes will have a party as all of that hardly digested starchy sugary goodness comes for them to eat in one big pile. Which can change the pH of the hindgut. Which can cause inflammation. Which can lead to toxins and dead microbes crossing the intestinal barrier. Which can lead to laminitis.


  • When a horse has some forage in his belly already – he will eat slower and digestion is slowed down. Those starchy sugars can break down more in the stomach before they hit the hindgut. It’s really that simple.


horse feed in a scoop


Help your horse digest his feed slowly.


  • Use slow feeders.


  • Feed grains/concentrates/feeds after your horse has been eating hay for a while.


  • Mix some chopped up hay (chaff) with his grains/concentrates/feeds to slow down him down and make him chew a bit more.


  • Use a slow feeder designed for pellets and non-hay meals.


  • Feed many small meals a day.


slow feeder for horse feeds and hay pellets

There are slow feeders for grains and pellets.


So the question comes up – how long should my horse be eating his forage before I can give the good stuff? Purina did a study about this using a 20-minute interval. Results showed that feeding hay first will slow your horse down.




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