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Can horses survive by just eating grass?

Discussion in 'Horse Training' started by Rookielearner, Feb 5, 2014.

  1. QRTXhorseman

    QRTXhorseman Senior Member

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    "I had a friend tell me that horses can survive by just eating grass. Thought that didnt sound quite right. Dont horses need grain and hay too for survival? Isnt grass more of a complimentary food compared to hay and grain?"

    The answer to this question is somewhat complex. A horse can survive on natural vegetation if there is enough variety. Just like people, trying to live on one source of food alone will not provide the variety of nutrients required for good health. That is why horses pastured in paddocks of lush grass of a single variety have problems. A variety of grasses and leaves of moderate nutritional value being grazed on throughout the day and night is the natural diet of a horse. Of course, even in the wild, vegetation can vary, and some horses do better than others.

    Also, realize that most hay is just dried grass. I say most, because there is also alfalfa hay. Alfalfa is a legume rather than a grass. Too much rich food like alfalfa and grains can actually be more detrimental to horses than a variety of natural vegetation of less nutritional value. Too much rich food can cause ulcers among other problems. The idea of feeding less of this rich food at greater intervals does not solve the problem. A horse's digestive system is designed for more continuous intake of foods of lower nutritional value along with plenty of fiber.
     
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  2. DancingArabian

    DancingArabian Senior Member

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    Hay is just dried grass. It actually has less nutritional value than grass.

    Horses don't need grain. Plenty of horses out there don't ever get grain (mine doesn't). You can supplement their feed with a vitamin/mineral supplement if you want or need to.

    Horses don't need human interaction. They're not dogs. They weren't bred to crave it. They don't sit in the field wondering where their owner is.
     
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  3. prairiesongks

    prairiesongks Senior Member

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    "Hay is just dried grass. It actually has less nutritional value than grass."

    It is true that most hay is dried grass, but not true that all hay has less nutritional value than grass.......the quality of any hay depends on many factors including weather, time of swathing and baling, type of grass that was hayed, soil, amount of trash (foreign weeds) that is in it, etc. There are a few notable deficiencies in hay--Vitamin E and A, Omega 3, beta-carotene for example--that may need to supplemented. In our area, if weather conditions and timing of haying are right, hay is very nutritious and will maintain many horses without a problem. Horses are browsers by nature, seeking out those forages that are tasty thus getting a variety in their diets. We've always had the majority of our horses on 24/7 pasture, only supplementing those who are harder keepers with grain and hay as needed for the individual. Most winters, this one be a noticeable exception, our horses will only eat grass hay if the pasture is snow covered---they prefer that dead grass over grass hay. This winter has been extremely hard with dangerous wind chills and lots of snow. Our area has also been in an exceptional drought for over 3 years so the grass hay is not the quality we prefer. Thus all our horses are being supplement with alfalfa and grain to maintain their weight.

    As for horses craving human company, in 40+ years of owning horses, I've had only one who truly craved human contact. He is a rescued TWH who was trained on pads and never turned loose with other horses to learn herd dynamics or develop a friendship with one of his kind. This gelding will come in from pasture for attention whenever he hears us outside. The other horses will come in too, not because they want human contact, but because they associate us with food---they all with nicker at us, seem to enjoy a scratching, but will leave if no food is offered. Horses are also very curious about what is happening in their world----if I am working around the barn or fixing fence, I normally have the herd following me to see what I am doing.......they aren't seeking my attention, they want to see what is changing in their world and are hoping that I have a few treats in my pocket to share. Our TWH mare does enjoy the grandkids---she will come in from pasture as soon as she sees them pull in, but as a horse with a long history of abuse, these kids are not threatening and usually will scratch her itchy spots and hand out lots of treat. She's looking for the benefits these little people give her, not specifically their company.
     
  4. equinitis

    equinitis Senior Member

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    Mine do just fine on grass only, well grass, weeds, mesquite, the occasional fence post or cardboard box that blew in. They certainly don't miss me when I don't see them for days on end.

    They come, most of them, willingly enough if I spark their curiosity. 30 of them make it hard to fix fence no matter how hard they are trying to help!
     
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  5. JBandRio

    JBandRio Senior Member+

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    Yeahbut - those things automatically make it less nutritious than when it was grass :) A given cutting of hay can be more nutritious than another given cutting, either from the same field, or a different type. But once you gut it, it loses certain nutrients as you said, so is by default less nutritious :)
     
  6. prairiesongks

    prairiesongks Senior Member

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    Agree....but I wanted to emphasize that it is how the hay is produced and handled that affect the quality of a given hay......and even some hays that are properly grown and harvested will have sufficient nutrients to maintain a horse without supplementing them. If this were not true, feral horses would be showing signs of nutrition deficiency as would our horses in a normal winter who will eat that dead pasture grass and turn their noses up on grass hay. When the vets were trying to figure out what issue we were dealing with on Ted, they did pull blood from our mini gelding to compare to his since the mini only gets grass hay with a tiny handful of grain......they were trying to figure out if Ted had eaten something that he should not have. Interestingly, the mini's blood levels on Vitamin E and A were about the same as Ted's who was on the maximum amount of Senior grain that does have those vitamins added.
     
  7. zorthiria

    zorthiria Full Member

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    As with all things horse related.... it depends... Horses have very different nutritional needs. some will require more supplementation than others. The facility I learned to ride at took in about 15 horses from a camp in California that shut down. The camp that shut down had been feeding every single horse on the property the exact same amount of food. The 11 stock horses that came in with that group were so fat they could have been rolled down the aisle as easily as led. the 3 TB's that came in were a body score 2-ish. The 18.1 Hano was a hide covered skeleton... I was always a little amazed that he survived. I cried when he came in. He was my first realization that people don't always take good care of the animals they are blessed with.
     
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  8. JBandRio

    JBandRio Senior Member+

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    Feral horses aren't eating hay though :) They're eating "hay on the root", which still contains some levels of E, A, and Omega 3. As well, they tend to consume a much larger variety of forages, so even if the native grasses are low in something, it's pretty possible they are picking up enough of it elsewhere via weeds, flowers, leaves, etc.

    Winter grass still has things deficient to non-existent in hay. If they get to eat enough of the grass, even if they're eating more hay, they could still be getting enough, but it's from the grass, not the hay.

    What time of year was the mini's blood drawn? Since E is a fat soluble vitamin, it can take some time to become low.
     
  9. Rerider22

    Rerider22 Full Member

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    Some horses can survive on grass alone. They were doing fine before humans.

    Now hard keepers like TBs, I don't know any personally that can survive on grass alone without grain or hay.
     
  10. CessBee

    CessBee Senior Member

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    You should tell that to my TB mare haha!
    [​IMG]
    Here she is on just grass. Well with an insignificant amount of "feed" to be making the difference, so she can get her hoof supplements.
     

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