by Patti Kuvik

Relying on tradition or advertising to formulate your horses ration can be misleading - the only way to be certain of what your hay or feed contains is to have it analyzed by a forage laboratory. Many grass hays are more than adequate in calcium and protein despite the traditional thought that they require the addition of calcium. Sugar and starch content can vary dramatically depending on growing and cutting conditions. Some pellets and feeds do not provide adequate levels of certain nutrients and some nutrients may be in excess of desired levels (this is especially true of iron).

While most healthy horses can tolerate wide variations and imbalances, knowing what’s in your feed can help provide optimum health and performance.

Where to Get Your Hay or Feed Analyzed

Dairy One Forage Lab
730 Warren Road
Ithica, NY 14850
Submittal form

Tests to request:
F-321 Forage NIR ($14) and
M-329 Wet Chemistry Minerals ($10)
Test # 10 – Basic ($28) plus
Sugar ($9) and Starch ($5).

These will give you Protein, DE (digestible energy/Mcal), NFC, NSC (sugar and starch), major mineral, trace minerals. The NIR test also shows fat, lignen and estimated lysine. Results are reported as “%” or “ppm” and require some math to put it into a useful format. Also contains dairy information not needed for horses.

Equine Analytical Laboratories
730 Warren Road
Ithica, NY 14850
Submittal form:

Test to request:
(601) Equi Tech ($29, NIR)
(603) Trainer ($49, wet chemistry)

This is the “equine” division of Dairy One. The comparable tests cost a bit more, however the report format also shows results in grams or milligrams based on the “amount fed” you indicate on the submittal form.

There is lots of information on the website, including a “basic” version of the NRC tables. Their Starter Packages include a discounted hay probe.

Other Forage Labs

Litchfield Analytical Services
Test 4T ($26) plus sugar ($17) and starch ($20)
Equus Plus ($49)

Dairyland Laboratories
Test N7H ($16.50) plus M4 ($17)
Does not include starch, NSC

How to Send Samples

These websites all have sections on taking a good hay sample. A hay corer will provide a more accurate, representative sample for analysis.

For pellets, obtain about a cup from several bags, mix them together, then place about a cup of the mixed samples into a zip lock bag.

The laboratories will provide mailers, but using a priority mailer (envelope or box for hay, a box for pellets) from the U.S. Post Office works fine. Mark the plastic bag containing the sample with a description of the sample (such as “Lakin Lite Pellets” or Timothy Hay”). Enclose a check for payment and the submittal form in an envelope with the complete Lab address on it. (Be sure you put your email address on the submittal form to get fast results via email.) Place the envelope and the sample in the mailer and send via Priority Mail. You should receive your results within one week.

What to Do With the Results

If you are comfortable with numbers, I can provide you with an Excel spreadsheet or a “paper and pencil” worksheet that you can use to calculate what your supplement needs are and assist with in depth interpretation of the results. These are based on guidelines developed by Eleanor Kellon, VMD, which expand on the basic recommendations in the NRC (National Research Council) Nutritional Requirements of Horses (Fifth Revised Edition 1989). Current research in equine nutrition supports many changes from the last published NRC recommendations, which, in general, are “minimum requirements” rather than optimal levels and balance. However, the 1989 NRC still provides the basic guidelines for protein, energy (Mcal) and general safe or maximum tolerable levels for many minerals.

Because minerals are synergistic and many affect the absorption and utilization of other minerals and nutrients, it is important that they be balanced. For example, most horse owners are aware that calcium should be one and one-half to two times the amount of phosphorus in a horses ration; but may not know that calcium and magnesium should also be in a similar ratio. And fewer are aware that high potassium in hay may affect a horse’s normal “salt hunger” because of the sodium conserving mechanism of the body.

The general balancing ratios developed by Dr. Kellon are:

Major (Macro) Minerals:
Calcium 1-1/2 to 2 times phosphorus and magnesium
Potassium 3.3 to 10 times sodium (3.3:1 is the ideal target)

Trace (Micro) Minerals:
Iron 4 to 10 times copper (4:1 is the ideal target)
Copper less than 4 times NRC value (based on kg of dry feed)
Zinc and manganese 3 times copper, with manganese lower than zinc

Healthy horses can tolerate fairly large deviations from these ratios but many circumstances call for staying close to ideal targets. Pregnancy, lactation and growth increase the requirements for protein – both amount and quality – and calories, and lessen the tolerance for imbalance, as do strenuous work and stressful conditions (climate, travel, environment). Metabolic conditions, age and illness also lessen the tolerance for imbalance.

Other factors may affect balancing a ration, including long standing excesses or deficiencies, high levels of toxic minerals (molybdenum, aluminum, etc.), area water mineral levels, iron overload (which requires specific blood work to diagnose). These conditions may require addition of minerals beyond the normal “safe” levels, diluting the ration with forage from a different growing area or outright rejection of a forage or feed.

Nutrition Consulting

If your hay or feed falls outside acceptable parameters or if your horse has performance or health issues, it can be helpful to consult with an equine nutritionist. Good resources are extension services and university veterinary schools. Veterinarians who specialize in reproduction or equine sports medicine are apt to be current in nutritional research. Many feed company representatives are nutritionists; however some are merely sales reps; the same can be true of many supplement “direct dealerships”.

Be cautious of any “magic bullet” feeds or supplements and of anyone whose advice is biased by the products they are trying to sell you. While many feeds, supplements and herbs are useful and helpful, you should understand what they are and how and why they work.

(Contact Patti directly at, Patti's blog:


National Research Council Nutritional Requirements for Horses
Fifth Revised Edition (1989)

The NRC Nutrient Requirement Tables are available on the Equi-Analytical website at under the "Putting results to work" tab.

The entire NRC Nutritional Requirements for Horses book is available online in PDF format at You can also purchase a hardcopy at this site.
The "Daily Nutrient Requirements" for DE, protein, lysine and major minerals are in Tables 5-1A through 5-1G beginning on page 42. These are based on weight/use of the horse. Trace minerals are in Table 5-3 on page 48. These are based on their concentration in the amount of feed (% or ppm per kg of feed).

Equine Supplements & Nutraceuticals by Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD, is available from Breakthrough Publications, (and other sources such as Amazon).

For further assistance in feed analysis, interpretation of results and ration balancing, Patti Kuvik can be emailed at, Patti's blog:

©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.

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