Forage should constitute the bulk of your horse’s diet, but not all of it needs to be provided as long-stemmed forages like baled hay. Forage cubes and pellets are other options that may be beneficial for horses in different management situations.

Typically, hay cubes and pellets will only make up a small portion of a horse’s total forage intake. They are often used to provide additional energy and protein in a horse’s diet or as a low-sugar and low-starch feed alternative for metabolic horses.

However, in some cases, horses may be fed hay cubes and pellets in larger quantities to substitute for long-stem forage. For example, horses with respiratory issues, dental problems, or limited availability of suitable hay may need more of their diet supplied by these alternative forage sources.

Continue reading to learn more about the nutritional composition of forage cubes and pellets, benefits for horses, feeding considerations and sample diets that incorporate these feeds.

Forage Cubes and Pellets for Horses

Forage refers to edible plant material, primarily leaves and stems and excluding grains, that horses graze as their main source of nutrients. Forage provides essential fiber to support healthy digestive function and meet equine energy requirements.

In the equine diet, the most common forage sources include long-stemmed grasses and legumes (i.e. alfalfa) in the form of fresh pasture and hay.

However, hay cubes and pellets offer a convenient alternative to traditional forage sources. These compressed forms of hay are ideal for supplementing or completely substituting fresh pasture and baled hay, especially if the quality or quantity of available forage is limited.

Commercial forage cubes and pellets also allow for more precise dietary management, ensuring that horses are fed appropriate levels of sugar, starch and protein. Additionally, these processed forms of forage tend to have lower levels of respirable dust and are easier to chew for horses with dental issues.

Types of Hay Cubes and Pellets

Hay cubes and pellets come in many shapes and sizes, but their nutritional value primarily depends on the type of forage they are made of. Common grasses and legumes that are processed into pellets and cubes include:

  • Timothy
  • Orchard
  • Teff
  • Bermuda
  • Alfalfa

To produce hay cubes and pellets, the hay is first ground into smaller particles. For pellets, the hay is ground more finely than for cubes, resulting in a smaller average particle size. [1]

Hay pellets can be milled into varying sizes, including larger pellets measuring 3/8 to 1/2 inch (1 to 1.3 cm) and smaller pellets measuring about 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) in diameter.

Hay cubes are typically 1.25 inches square (3 cm2) and range from 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 cm) in length. [1]

Nutritional Composition

The nutritional composition of forage cubes and pellets directly depends on the type of forage from which they are made. Different forage products serve different purposes and can be chosen based on the individual needs of the horse. [1][2][3]

  • Alfalfa: In general, alfalfa cubes and pellets have higher energy and protein levels compared to grass hay and pellets. Alfalfa is recommended for horses with elevated energy and protein needs such as growing horses, mares in the late stages of pregnancy and early lactation, and performance horses.
  • Grass Hay: Grass hay cubes and pellets have lower energy and protein density compared to alfalfa. They are useful as carriers for feeds and supplements in diets for horses at maintenance or those in lighter exercise loads.

Some forage cubes and pellets are fortified with added ingredients, such as vitamins and minerals, to enhance their nutritional value for horses. Fortified cubes and pellets are typically designed to replace all or most of a horse’s concentrate and forage rations.

However, most forage products are unfortified, providing a nutritional profile similar to the grasses they comprise. [1][2] When feeding unfortified forages, it is important to provide additional vitamin and mineral supplementation to ensure the horse’s diet is balanced and nutritional requirements are met. [3]

Average Nutrient Composition of Forage Cubes and Pellets

Nutrient Unfortified Timothy
Unfortified Alfalfa
Fortified Timothy
Digestible Energy 2.0 Mcal/kg 2.38 Mcal/kg 2.0 Mcal/kg
Crude Protein 9%