Horse Health

Hay before grain, or vice versa?

Hay before grain, or vice versa?
Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.

Grain Fed on Empty Stomach Increases Acid

By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.



When a horse has access to forage 24/7 it creates a physical barrier for grain, leading to a less dramatic rise in insulin. Phot Courtesy Kim Roe

I receive a recurring question: which should be fed first—hay or grain? If you’re feeding correctly, this issue is truly a moot point, because the horse should have access to forage in hay and/or pasture 24/7 with no gaps. Therefore, when fed concentrates, the horse’s digestive tract should already have hay flowing through it.

But if you feed starchy cereal grains (oats, wheat, barley, etc.) on an empty stomach, the horse will produce more acid than normal, which can potentially lead to ulcers. Furthermore, grains leave the stomach quickly, increasing the risk that they will not be fully digested in the small intestine (especially if large amounts are fed), and end up in the hindgut where starch can be fermented by the resident bacterial population. This can lead to endotoxin-related laminitis.

A better approach is to have hay present in the stomach first. It creates a physical barrier for the grain, making it leave the stomach less quickly. The fiber in the hay mixes with the starch, and the whole mass enters the small intestine to be digested. Fiber is not digested until it reaches the hind gut, but its presence slows down the digestion of starch (no comma) and obstructs the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, leading to a less dramatic rise in insulin.


Published in June 2017 Issue

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Horse Health
Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an internationally respected, independent equine nutritionist. She provides a world of useful information for the horseperson at Sign up for her informative, free monthly newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Her books are all available through her website with special pricing offers. And for the growing community of horse owners and managers who allow their horses free choice forage feeding, Dr. Getty has set up a special forum as a place for support, celebrations, congratulations and idea sharing. Share your experiences at Reach Dr. Getty directly at

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