Understanding the Different Types of Animal Feed

If you feel overwhelmed by the different types of animal feed available for horses, you’re not alone. Many horse owners are unsure what to feed their horses in the face of so many choices.

The key to choosing the right animal feed for your horse is making sure you understand the options available, and the pros and cons to each.



Hay, or “forage,” is the feed that most resembles the grazing that horses would do in the wild. Grass hay provides a lot of filler and more “cool” energy. Alfalfa hay offers “hot” energy, perfect for heavily worked, pregnant, lactating, or growing horses.

Pros: The filler in hay helps horses to feel fuller and contributes to a healthier gut. Devices such as slow feeders can keep horses eating longer, leaving them less time to grow bored between meals.

Cons: It’s tough to know whether your horses are getting the nutrients they need unless you test the nutritional content. Hay is also bulky, messy, and difficult to store, move, and feed.


As an alternative to hay, you can buy pellets that are made up of grass hay, alfalfa, or a mix. The hay is simply cut and compressed into pellet form.

Pros: Pellets are easier to feed, store, and transport, with less mess and waste. Their nutritional content is also guaranteed, so you know what you’re feeding. For horses that have trouble chewing, pellets can also be soaked to make a mash.

Cons: Horses generally eat pelleted feed more quickly, leaving them more idle time when they can easily grow bored.


Grains such as oats, sweet feed, and senior feed are often fed in addition to hay. Because this type of animal feed tends to be rich and sugary, it offers “hot” energy.

Pros: Grain offers a guaranteed nutritional content, and the extra energy can be beneficial for horses who need it. Senior feed is especially loaded with nutrients, and can be much easier for horses who have trouble chewing.

Cons: Diets that rely too heavily on grain don’t provide enough roughage, and can lead to problems such as colic. The “hot” energy can also lead to behavioral problems if it’s more than the horse needs.

Ultimately, whatever you decide to feed will be determined by your horses’ needs, but an understanding of the types of feed available will help you make the right choice for your horse.