Finding the right diet for your horse can be challenging. Depending on age, health, and activity, a horse’s diet can fluctuate. Horses need forage as their main diet, followed by grains and some supplements to have a full-balanced diet.
Every once in awhile I get customers asking if I have any oat hay to sell. I also get customers who see my oat hay stacks and wonder if it’s good for horses. The answer? It depends. It depends on the oat hay, it depends on the horse, and it also depends on what else you’re feeding your horse.
Not all oat hay is created equal. Depending on when the oats were cut and baled, it could be green with lots of oats and high in nutrition or it can be yellow with more straw and not very palatable. The rule of thumb is that the oats are cut when they’re still green, the oats are in a milk or dough stage, and they weren’t baled bone dry so the oats shatter from the bales. It’s always a good idea to ask the farmer about these things or inspect the bales themselves.
However, not every horse is going to love oats. Oat hay is typically starchier than alfalfa or grass so insulin-resistant horses will have problems with it. Younger horses also need more protein as they grow so oat hay is typically for mature horses.
If the oat hay was cut at the right time, horses typically enjoy eating it because it has oats in it. Think of it as eating the marshmallows in lucky charms. Who isn’t going to love that? Although oat hay doesn’t have high protein like alfalfa (18-22%), oat hay still has higher protein (12-12%) than most grasses (8%). Another benefit is that it’s typically cheaper than buying alfalfa so depending on how much you buy, you can save yourself some money in the long run.
Keep in mind that straight oat hay is not a long-term solution. Oat hay is best consumed with a mixture of grass or alfalfa. I’ve heard of people using a 50/50 oat hay/grass mixture or 4 parts oats to 1 part alfalfa. I recommend starting with a small amount of oats first to see how your horse reacts to it, then gradually increase the amount over time.