Horse Care Tips

Draft Horse Diet: How Much Do They Really Eat?

Draft horses
Written by Aimee B.

Grain Recommendations for Gentle Giants

The majesty and power of draft breeds, such as Percherons and Shires, are incredible! Whether you’ve considered owning a draft horse or are simply curious about various breeds, there’s a lot to learn about these fantastic horses. Known as gentle giants, draft horses are generally calm and dependable horses.

But just how different is a draft horse’s diet? We’ll provide an overview of the nutritional requirements of draft breeds. From hay to recommended grains suitable for large breed horses, we’ll dissect how much feed a draft horse really needs daily. Spoiler alert: it may not be as much as you think!

Draft Horse 101

Draft horses have been used to perform heavy farm labor for centuries. Their size, strength, and calm demeanor made these horses valuable tools for plowing fields, pulling logs out of the woods, and any other job requiring brute force.

Although their use for work declined significantly after the invention of machinery, they continue to perform various jobs worldwide today. You can still see these horses at horse-pulling events or driving competitions.

The Budweiser Clydesdales are one of the most famous examples of draft horses.

Other draft horse breeds include:

  • Percherons
  • Belgians
  • Shires

While the above list includes some of the most common draft breeds, there are many lesser-known breeds as well. A few of these include the American Cream Draft and the Suffolk Punch.

How Much Does a Draft Horse Weigh?

Although draft horses are generally over 16 hands high, certain breeds retain the stocky build without the added height. Given these height differences, there is some variability in draft horse weight. Generally, draft horses weigh between 1400 and 2500 pounds.

Draft horse grazing

Photo Cred: Canva

Draft Horse Care

Caring for a draft horse is similar to caring for any other horse breed. Draft horses require regular veterinary and farrier care. Similar to other breeds of horses, draft breeds need plenty of clean, fresh water. Caring for a draft horse is similar to caring for any other horse breed.

How many calories does a draft horse need?

Energy requirements for draft breeds are different than for other breeds. This is partially due to their calmer demeanor and combined with their metabolism and musculature.

Although calorie requirements vary depending on age and activity level, the average 2,000-pound draft horse requires over 22,000 calories daily.

Hay for the Draft Horse

Forage should form the basis offor the draft horse diet. Generally, your average horse should receive 1.5 to 3 percent of its body weight daily in forage. Forage can include a combination of high-quality pasture and hay.

Feeding horses based on the weight of the hay or grain is the most accurate way to ensure your horse’s nutritional needs are met.

Hay from different parts of the country can have vastly different densities, so a flake of hay from one bale isn’t the same as another.

Draft horse breeds are prone to obesity, which is one reason to feed based on weight rather than volume. They often don’t need feeds that add additional calories. Still, many draft horses need vitamin and mineral supplementation for copper, zinc, and selenium.

It’s always wise to consult your veterinarian if you’re unsure about your feeding regimen.

The following table assumes you’re feeding 100% hay and no pasture. Less hay would be required if your horse has access to high-quality pasture.

Hay Needs by Horse Size

Horse Type Horse Weight Lbs of Hay Needed per Day
Miniature Horse 200 lbs 4
Pony 500 lbs 10
Horse 1000 lbs 20
Warmblood 1500 lbs 30
Draft Horse 2000 lbs 40


Draft horses in field

Photo Cred: Canva

What are the best feeds for draft horses?

Most draft horses are “easy-keepers,” meaning they don’t need extra calories to maintain weight. Draft breeds, however, are also more prone to Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM), a condition causing muscle pain and stiffness when sugar is stored abnormally in the muscles.

Horses with this condition should consume a diet with less than 20% non-structural carbohydrates (NSC).

If your draft horse does need supplemental grain, these three options are low in sugar and generally recommended:

  1. Micro-Max by Kentucky Equine Research (Micronutrient supplement) – provides vitamin and mineral supplementation without excess calories for easy keepers
  2. Essential K by Tribute (Low NSC ration balancer) – provides vitamin and mineral supplementation without excess calories for easy keepers
  3. Senior Sport by Tribute (Low NSC feed) – high fat and fiber textured feed for active horses or ones that need more calories to maintain weight
Pregnant draft horse

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How much should draft horses eat?

Draft horses need between 1.5 and 3 percent of their body weight in high-quality forage daily. They may not need additional calories from any additional feed but often benefit from vitamin and mineral supplementation.

Draft horses should always have access to clean, fresh water.

Q: Do draft horses eat more?

Due to their larger size, draft horses need more forage daily than lighter horse breeds. But draft horses have slower metabolisms so, comparatively, their needs may be slightly less than other horses.

To provide a more apples-to-apples comparison, in order to maintain their body weight, non-draft riding horses need around 33 calories per kilogram, while draft breeds need only 25 calories.

Nutritional needs also vary depending on the horse’s life stage.

Q: How many bales of hay does a draft horse eat?

It depends on the size of the bale and the type of hay. An average small square bale weighs between 40 and 75 pounds. A draft horse weighing 2000 pounds needs around 40 pounds of hay daily. Still, because different types of hay have different densities, there isn’t one definitive answer.

It’s important to always feed based on weight to promote your horse’s healthy weight. And feeding by weight minimizes waste, helping your wallet!

Q: How much hay does a Percheron eat?

The average Percheron weighs 1900 pounds, which translates to around 38 pounds of hay daily. They can weigh up to about 2300 pounds, and a horse of this size would need 46 pounds of hay daily.

Q: How much does a Belgian draft horse eat?

A Belgian needs around 40 pounds of hay daily. Belgians are generally easy keepers and may need only a ration balancer for vitamins and minerals.

Q: Best feed for Shire horses?

Shire horses often benefit from vitamin and mineral supplementation and high-quality pasture and hay rather than textured or sweet feeds. Generally, it’s best to keep NSC content less than 20% for many draft horses.

Q: What do Clydesdales eat?

All horses, regardless of breed, need a forage-based diet. Clydesdales often don’t need many excess calories and can maintain good body condition with a simple vitamin and mineral supplement.

Belgian yearlings

Photo Cred: Canva

Parting Thoughts

When it comes to feeding draft horses, nutritional requirements are very similar to other types of horses, with a few exceptions.

Most draft horses are easy keepers and don’t need extra calories to maintain weight. And some draft horses are prone to sugar storage problems, leading to muscle pain. Keeping NSC content low in horses with these issues is critical.

It’s best to consult a veterinarian or nutritionist who is experienced in working with large breeds for advice on specific feeding needs. And always ensure clean, fresh water is available at all times.

Following these tips will help your draft horse stay healthy and happy for years to come!

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About the author


Aimee B.

Aimee grew up riding and showing in western pleasure and horsemanship through 4-H. She began riding dressage 7 years ago and is currently training her 3.5-year-old Friesian/Quarter Horse.