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Winter Feeding

I live in ND, our winters get harsh. They will always have access to fresh water and shelter. I plan to have 5 round bales of average quality grass bales, multiple small alfalfa rich bales, and Total Equine. At the moment I’m thinking 1 flake of alfalfa bale, 2 lbs of TE, and hand pitched grass bale to equal out to about the 15lbs. Any tips or things I should change? The alfalfa and TE would be fed at different times of the day, just looking for what’s best for the horses obviously.

We need more info on the horses - sizes, ages, workload, clipped/blanketed, typically easy/hard keepers? And how many horses will be kept together? Is this their normal/typical living arrangement over the summer too?

One thing I’ve found is that not all horses - even the same breed, size, condition - stay in the appropriate condition eating exactly the same thing over winter.

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I live in kansas, so our winters aren’t too bad. However, I will feed soaked warm beet pulp to my herd mixed with their grain. My herd has free choice brome 24/7, and the beet pulp ups the fiber so I’ve noticed I actually am using less round bales than I was previous winters.

In the winter/cold weather I prefer to feed free choice hay. If the horses are easy keepers, I’ll feed them in slow feed nets.

I also like beet pulp for the fiber and another way of added water into the diet in colder months.

But again, you have to look at the horses as individuals. What works for one may not for another. I think a good baseline is free choice hay, beet pulp, and a ration balancer. Then I’d adjust up or down from there.

If I’m understanding correctly and depending on the size of your horses 15 pounds of grass hay/24 hours doesn’t sound like enough hay for those kind of temps. I think of hay as fuel to generate heat during cold snaps. Our temps are nothing like ND and I’d feed (round figures) twice that much grass (Timothy) hay/day during cold weather. My easy keepers only get a Ration Balancer and hay. I’d consider feeding the grass hay free choice (net if needed).


15lb twice a day or once? If once, that’s not enough food, let alone hay, especially for your climate.

Is there a way to keep a round bale out with the horses?

Consider a different feed. Total Equine (unless the LSC feed) is very high NSC, and it’s not a well fortified or balanced feed. You’d be far better off with 1-2lb of a ration balancer which will provide exponentially better nutrition.

From the post- it looks like it may be in addition to round bales? Am I misreading it?

I read that OP is planning on pulling about 15lbs off the round bale. I could be wrong.

OP, if you mean 15lbs of grass hay per day, I doubt that will be near enough. My horses get free choice hay in winter (very mild winter climate, with low quality pasture available) and they eat about 30lbs a day by choice. This is in addition to compete feed or ration balancer (depending on their needs). I would strongly consider leaving the round bales out and allowing them to eat free choice if possible.

About Winter Feeding There are 2 and they are both 10, minimal work load in the winter. Typically easy keepers but one came up from FL this past spring so it will be new to him. Blankets wont be 24/7 but will be used for extremes along with being stalled. 15lbs of grass hay twice daily as I dont want them to be standing with their heads in a bale all day just because they’re bored and not being worked as often. This should cover everyones questions I believe. The alfalfa is to help on those extra cold days as well.

I think it depends on the quality, nutrients and protein in those round bales. If its just your basic mixed grass hay, it may not have enough calories or nutrients to maintain condition over a long, cold winter (feed as the sole forage).

The best indication of how your horses will fair over the winter is to have the hay tested or ask if the supplier has test results they can share.

The horse that just moved up from Florida may need extra calories the first winter, since they are not accustomed to cold and snow and wind, etc., and they may not have a full blown thick winter coat.

What types of horses are these? Because that can make a difference too (like a thin coated TB vs. a wooly coated draft cross).

I admit I know nothing about Total Equine horse feed. Is that a complete feed or ration balancer or what?

The daily alfalfa is a big thumbs up from me!

The written word can be so confusing and this is to say, my apologies but I’m still unclear on amounts ‘per horse’. Are you describing 30lbs of hay (15lbs x 2) per day for the two horses to share? Or 30lbs (15lbs x 2) ‘per animal’ per day?

Also as to your comment about heads in a bale, if you’re in a cold harsh winter climate you want them to have access to do exactly that whenever they choose.


If it were me, I would start feeding free choice grass hay and keep an eye on condition. If they start needing more calories, add grain - nothing fancy, just plain oats. and make sure they get salt so they drink enough. Also adding a bit of alfalfa won’t hurt but not enough calorie difference between that and good grass hay to worry about; the main reason for alfalfa is to keep a balance between calcium and phosphorus. Another thing you should consider is giving a bit of dry molasses with the grain - copper is almost non-existent in this general area. One thing you really need is a place for them to get out of the wind as that pulls heat from them real fast

I have kept horses for years in similar, if not colder, climate - I am on the north side of the border.

I never fed free choice when living in MN. My 2 were fairly easy keepers too. One thing I would change is do not be set on just 2 feedings. I would routinely feed 3-4 times a day when the temps got into the single digits and below and I fed a lot of hay at every feeding. A flake of alfalfa at every feeding will help too.

Another is your thoughts on blanketing/ stalling . If you are going to blanket you need to keep it on once the temps get cold. If they have good shelter they can use as they choose that would be better than stalling them as they will stay warmer if they can move around.

I never blanketed and my horses were never cold( that I could see) I fed outside unless it was snowing, overly windy or just downright brutal.

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If you’re saying a total of 15lb twice a day, for a grand total of 30lb a day, then for 2 horses, unless they are in the 700-800lb range, that is in the range of half of what they need.

Each horse needs a starting point of 2% of their ideal body weight in hay a day. That’s 20lb for a 1000lb horse.

And some horses, in your area, may need 3-4% of their body weight to stay warm and maintain body weight. But the addition of alfalfa will help some, digesting 3-4lb of alfalfa can raise internal body temp by about 1/2*, and that can last for up to 6 hours.


Not sure if you have enough hay to get through the winter if you only have 5 round bales and you are feeding 30 lbs a day. Or maybe your round bales are massive.

Also, you don’t want to make frequent changes to the horse’s diet. Are you going to feed the same amount of alfalfa every day? I would not feed more on extra cold days simply because it’s extra cold. Feed the same amount every day. Or maybe I’m misreading your post.

Of course you can feed more hay, alfalfa or not on extra cold days. People do it allll the time. 20lb for a month, the one day you’re tossing 25 or 30lb? Not a problem. We don’t have snow on the ground most of the Winter, but most Winters we’ll get 2 days or a week where there’s enough snow the horses can’t pick on Winter grass, so you’d better believe I give more hay to make up for that.


I agree with @JB. I make numerous feeding changes over the winter based on temperatures/weather conditions, and my three seniors’ body condition. If I fed each of my three the exact same thing all winter long, I’d end up with a very obese pony and a very ribby 28 year old. We go through much more hay in winters were it gets really cold, versus mild winters, where it pretty much stays above freezing.

OP. its always better to put up more hay than you think you’ll need, as you don’t want to have a situation where you run out and then can’t find any in mid-Feb! Ask me how I know. :wink:


Hindsight is great isn’t it? I always buy enough hay to get me into July of the following year with a “slush fund” of 40 bales in case it’s an unusually brutal winter. No fun trying to find decent hay in early spring. Better to bite the bullet and buy enough early on.


You and me both @DinkyDonk. Looking for hay in the spring gives me anxiety. In case the op isn’t back for a bit I’ll go ahead and answer my own question from post 11.

If you are throwing down 30lbs of hay daily total for two horses that is nowhere near enough in a harsh climate. They have to have access to as much as they need to keep the ovens fired up in order to stay warm and keep the weight on.

If you’re talking 30lbs each then I’d say you’re more than good to go. I free feed hay myself in large-hole slow feed nets (don’t like the tiny holes) and they seem to regulate themselves nicely with no wastage. I find it easier than weighing hay.

Good luck.

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Fwiw, I track my hay consumption week over week and feed about 15 ton a year to four horses–10 very nice grass or grass alfalfa mix and 5 alfalfa. That is Sept-Sept with recreational grazing. I buy once a year, and am a couple planting zones warmer than you.

Five rounds for the whole winter (until you get into first cut/sustainable grazing?) sounds really light. Better to do the math and buy enough to feed 2% body weight per day + a bit extra in case of a really brutal winter or terrible start to the hay season next year.