Putting Hay in the Field ~ When and Why?

horse owners, hay in field, awol

Unless you are lucky enough to have amazing grazing all year round, you will probably need to put hay out for your horse at some point. But to many horse owners it can be unclear why and when you should be putting hay out for your horse.

Why should you hay your field?

Own Photo of Scottie and Milly.

While there are several different reasons why you should put hay out for your horse, virtually all of these come down to one thing – to keep the horse eating. But why is this important?

Keep Condition

Having plenty of access to forage is very important to keeping the horse healthy. Horses spend the majority of their time eating. If they are left for long periods of time without forage, they can easily drop condition and are at risk of developing gastric ulcers.

Protect Your Horse

Horses have a behavioural drive to find food. If there is no grass or hay available for them to eat, they will look for other things to eat. They may eat poisonous or toxic plants or even chew branches and stones which can damage their teeth.

Reduce Stress

When a horse hasn’t got food to eat, they have to find something else to occupy themselves. Being left without food for long periods of time can lead to a horse waiting at the gate, fence walking and developing other stress related behaviours.

Save the Grass

The final reason you may decide to put hay out for your horse is to save the grass. When the fields are starting to look a bit bare, when you put hay out, most horses will eat the hay before moving to graze the grass. Therefore you can save the grass for later in the year. I like to put hay out when I section off part of the field to try and keep Scottie distracted so that he doesn’t break into the sectioned off part of his field!

When should you hay your field?

snow, hay in field

Most people tend to hay over winter. However, you may not need to start putting hay out for your horse just because it is winter. Also, you may need to hay at other times of the year too!

Bare Fields

The main time you should put hay out in the field for your horse is when the field is looking bare and there isn’t much for the horse to eat. This tends to happen a lot over winter when it is too cold for the grass to grow and fields tend to get muddy. However, fields can run out of grass at other times too. This Summer was so warm and dry that we had to put hay out in our fields as our grass was so dry and wasn’t able to grow without rain.

Extreme Weather

While you may still have grass in your fields, if you have bad weather you may need to still put hay out for your horse. A good example of this is when it snows. Most horses won’t find grass under the snow so will need hay if they are going to be out in the field. Similarly, if it has been very wet, a large part of the field might be under water. So you may need to put hay out to make up for the grass the horse can’t get to.

Top Tips for haying your field

  1. Multiple Piles/Nets
    Whether you have somewhere to safely hang haynets or if you are putting the hay in piles or feeders, make sure you have multiple piles or nets. For groups of horses this means that a horse lower down in the herd should still get access to the hay. If it is just one horse in the field, putting multiple piles of hay out encourages the horse to move around, rather than stand still at the hay all day.
  2. Keep Hay out of the Mud and Wet
    If you are putting hay on the floor, try and put it on a dry area in your field. I tend to put mine near the gate, just past the boggy bit.
  3. Keep an eye on how much hay your horse is eating
    If they are polishing off all the hay, they might not be getting enough hay. If they have got lots of hay left, you might be giving them too much (and wasting expensive hay) or the grass might be starting to grow back.

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