What is Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) in Horse Hay?

Having your hay analyzed is a great idea.  It is the only way to determine the actual nutrient content of your hay.  It is important to know this so that you can be sure your horse is consuming an adequate diet.  You may or may not need to feed grain depending on the quality of your hay.  The better the quality of the hay you feed, the less grain you will need to feed.  This can be a significant savings.

Guzzling Horses

When discussing hay quality or looking at your hay sample analysis results the acronym ADF is often heard or seen.  ADF stands for Acid Detergent Fiber and is the percentage of the plant material in the forage that is difficult for your horse to digest. This indigestible part contains cellulose, lignin, and silica.

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Alfalfa in The Equine Diet….. The Pros & Cons:

Horse hay comes in two forms: grass and legumes.  Common grass hay includes orchard grass, timothy and coastal Bermuda, less common are bromegrass and fescue.  Commonly fed legume hays are Alfalfa and clover.  The most productive and popular legume hay is Alfalfa as it is a highly nutritious and a high yield crop.

HappyHorseHealthyPlanet_Hay Bales

Alfalfa and the alfalfa–grass mixed hay is thought to be the most important hay in the U.S. horse industry. Not only is it the most nutritious hay for horses, Alfalfa is also considered ideal horse hay because of its availability.  In fact it is the only forage that is produced and sold in every state in the country.

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Analyzing Your Horse’s Feedstuff

Analyzing your feedstuff is an important part of knowing what is in your horse’s ration.  The foundation of the ration should be based on the science of Analysis. The mission of feed or hay Analysis is to provide you with facts about your feedstuff to scientifically balance your ration. Once the foundation ration is established, then experience can come into play to provide your horse with a well formulated, practical diet.

Analysis results and rations can be evaluated on either an “as sampled” or “dry matter basis”. When all feeds offered are of a similar dry matter “as sampled” results may be used. For example, hay and grain generally average about ~90% dry matter. If they are the only feeds in the diet the ration can be balanced on an “as sampled” basis.

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Amino Acids in the Equine Diet

Most horse owners understand the importance of protein in a horse’s diet.  Most understand that protein is used for growth and the repair of muscle and tissues.  Few however can tell you what protein is actually made of. 

Protein is made up of Amino acids much like a wall is made of bricks. There are 22 Amino acids that constitute protein in your horse.  A horse needs all 22 to build proteins in his body. Horses get these Amino acids two ways; they make them in their body or they get them from their food. 

Grazing horses

Of the 22 Amino acids there are 10 that are called essential.  The essential Amino acids come from food.  Essential Amino acids must be provided in the diet because the horse cannot manufacture them on their own in the digestive tract. The importance of providing these essential Amino acids can be better understood when we look at the jobs they do:

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Assess Your Horses Weight, Condition and Needs:

In order for any nutrition program to be effective it has to serve the purpose for the animal you are feeding.  Feeding a Shetland pony a draft horse diet is not only incorrect but also dangerous.


To know what and how much to feed you first need to know your horse’s weight, his current body condition and his nutritional needs.

I say it 20 times a week “Feed by weight not volume” and you will see it again under “W” later in the year.  If the rule of thumb is 1.5-2% of your horse’s body weight in feedstuffs per day then you must know the body weight to calculate the percentage.

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