FEEDING YOUR WILD HORSE OR BURRO
Information and graphics courtesy of BLM,
from their Getting
which is available at your area BLM Field
Proper horse and burro nutrition is a very complex subject - far too
complicated for an adequate discussion on this page. Although we can make some
general suggestions on feeding your wild horse or burro, you should contact
your local cooperative extension agent or a veterinarian specializing in the
care and treatment of large animals to discuss a suitable diet for these
animals in your region of the country.
First of all, remember that wild horses and burros are used to eating
native grasses and shrubs on Western rangelands. They have never eaten grains,
and do not even recognize them as food.
Start your wild horse or burro on a hay only diet. About three percent of
the animal's body weight (approximately 25 to 30 pounds per day for an adult
horse or 10 to 15 pounds per day for an adult burro) of quality hay should
suffice for an adult animal. Nutritional needs for growing animals and
pregnant or lactating mares or jennies are higher, and care must be taken to
develop a diet with adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals to prevent future
medical problems. Additional feed is also required by horses and burros living
in extremely cold climates, as they burn more energy to stay warm.
The hay should have at least a 10 percent protein content Legume hays such
as alfalfa readily supply more than enough protein to meet this standard. Many
grass hays are deficient in protein, so it may be necessary to add a protein
supplement such as soybean oil meal to the animal's diet.
More important than the type of hay is the quality of the hay you feed your
animal. Hays harvested at the pre-bloom or early bloom stage of maturity have
higher nutrient values than late-cut hays. High proportions of stems to leaves
or mature seeds are indications that the hay was too mature when cut.
The hay should be bright green and smell as if it were new-mown. Check the
inside of the bales for color - sun bleaching on the outside will not affect
the nutrients on the inside of the bale. Brown hay throughout indicates a
loss in nutritional value in the bale. If the hay smells at all moldy or
appears dusty, do not use it as it may cause respiratory problems and colic.
The hay should be relatively weed free. The high moisture content of weeds
often leads to moldy hay, thorny weeds can damage your animal's mouth and
lips, and some weeds are poisonous to horses and burros.
Most of BLM's adoption centers in the West feed the animals alfalfa hay
because it is the best quality hay available in that region of the country.
Alfalfa hay is difficult to find in many areas of the East, and quality grass
hays such as timothy, orchardgrass, bromegrass, and bermuda may be utilized.
We do not recommend feeding your animal fescue (especially to pregnant or
lactating females) or Sudan grass; both may cause serious medical problems.
Mixed hays (combinations of grass hays and alfalfa or other legume hays) are
also excellent feed for your horse or burro. A good information sheet on
fescues provided by Purdue University can be accessed by clicking
While an undernourished wild horse thrives on the high protein content of
an all-legume hay, we recommend a mixed hay or grass hay for your wild burro.
If only legume hays are available, look for first or second cuttings or more
mature cuts that have lower protein contents. In addition to his diet of high
quality hay, provide your new horse or burro with trace mineralized salt fed
on a free-choice basis. Pregnant or lactating mares and jennies and immature
animals may also need extra calcium and phosphorus. Dicalcium phosphate or
ground limestone may be fed free choice separately from the salt.
It is essential that wild horses and burros have free access to clean water
at all times. Adult horses need at least 15 to 20 gallons per day. Your animal
has never seen a water bucket and may be more willing to drink from a water
trough. Automatic waterers requiring activation by the animal must be avoided
until he can be taught to use them. Make sure the water container cannot be
tipped over easily. To prevent the water from freezing or becoming too cold to
drink during the winter months, a tank heater is useful.
After your horse or burro has adjusted to his all hay diet, you may wish to
gradually introduce him to grains. Any change in his diet must be made slowly
to avoid upsetting his digestive system.
Start by sprinkling small amounts of grain into the hay. We recommend
starting with rolled, crimped or crushed oats, which are readily digestible
and tasty to your animal.
You may wish to add ground corn at a later time. Corn has higher energy
values (carbohydrates) and a low fiber content and may cause digestive
problems. However, it is useful in fattening horses and burros.
Equal parts of oats and ground corn make a very good grain ration.
Commercial horse grain rations (often composed of equal parts of oats and corn
mixed with molasses) may also be used. We do not recommend feeding grain
sorghum to your horse or burro.
Whichever grain you choose, make certain it is of good quality. It must be
clean and free of dust, bugs, mold, and musty odors. Be sure to keep your
grains locked away and out of your animal's reach. Accidental overconsumption
of grain may cause colic, founder and permanent damage to his feet, and death
in severe cases.
When he is accustomed to eating grains, an average daily diet for a
1,000-pound adult horse is 15 to 20 pounds of hay and 4 to 8 pounds of grain;
for a 375-pound adult burro, feed 8 to 12 pounds of grass or mixed hay and 0
to 2 pounds of grain. Use this only as a guideline - your animal's needs may
vary. Adjust his diet according to his needs to gain or lose weight.
Since a horse's digestive system is designed for small, frequent meals,
divide your animal's feed into at least two, preferably three meals each day
(morning, noon, and evening). It is important to feed your horse or burro on a
regular schedule. A common practice is to feed one-third of the grain at each
of the feedings. One-half or more of the hay is usually fed at night, and the
remainder divided between the other two feedings. If hay is fed only twice
daily, about two-thirds is fed at night. Webmaster's
note: This ratio is based on the fact that most people feed the evening ration
8 - 10 hours after the morning ration. If you feed twice a day closer to 12-
hour intervals (e.g., 5AM and 5PM), the rations can logically be more
After your horse or burro is gentled, you may wish to turn him into a
pasture to graze. A pasture in good condition provides most of the nutrients
the animal will need. Unless supplemental feed and exercise are provided, a
minimum of two acres of cultivated pasture per animal is required to
provide adequate food and exercise space and to control internal parasites.
Legume-grass mixture pastures are highly recommended since they supply
protein, calcium, other minerals, vitamins, and bulk. Native grass pastures
may need to be considerably larger than two acres to supply adequate forage
for a horse or burro.
Again we emphasize that formulating a balanced diet for your animal is not
easy, and many factors such as age, sex, level of work, physical condition,
and availability of various feeds must be considered. Contact your local
cooperative extension agent or veterinarian for assistance in meeting your
This is not a BLM operated or BLM sponsored site. It
is run by private wild horse and burro enthusiasts. We are thankful to the
BLM for providing the information which is presented here.