What Animals Eat Hay? (13 Examples with Pictures)

Last updated on October 31st, 2022

There are endless fauna species that feed on hay. In fact, a majority of herbivorous animals feed on hay to gain essential nutrients.

Animals that eat hay:

  • Deer
  • Horses
  • Rabbits
  • Sheep
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Ducks
  • Tortoises
  • Turtles
  • Chickens
  • Pigs
  • Cows
  • Goats
  • Llamas
  • Chinchillas

Farm animals, in particular, feed extensively on hay in variable amounts.

The same goes for domestic animals that have been raised on farms, though their diets vary according to their nutritional needs.

Having said that, let’s understand that hay and straw are two different things, even though they may look similar.

Another reason we confuse the two is that we can find them together in the same places.

Before you confuse hay with straw, we’ll look at the differences, but first, let’s look at what animals eat hay.

List of Animals That Eat Hay

1. Deer

It is true that hay attracts deer, especially during the winter months when the temperature drops below 50°F and the grass ceases to grow. 

Hay is mainly dried grass, but it is not suitable for deer due to its coarseness.

Herbivorous animals such as deer avoid eating hay because their stomachs behave differently.

However, deer can eat alfalfa hay because it has more nutrients than grass hay. It’s high in protein and digestible energy.

Here is our article going in-depth on why deer eat hay.

2. Horses

horse eating hay

Horses must feed on forage crops such as hay daily.

Active and mature horses need to consume roughly 10 percent of crude protein in their diet and grass hay averages 8.5 percent of crude protein whereas legume hays like alfalfa have 12-15 percent of crude protein. 

Horses can adapt to other feed rations such as wheat middlings, however, the only nutrient missing from this change in diet is fiber.

Depending on where you source this food ration from, most wheat middlings mixture contains barley, starch, oats, and corn contents whereas hay is rich in fiber as well as calcium and protein.

Alfalfa hay’s fiber content ranges from 20 to 28 percent.

Alfalfa hay, milk byproducts, and soybean meals are essential nutrients for active horses to maintain a peak level of performance.

3. Rabbits

rabbits eating hay

Yes, those carrot-eating rabbits that we normally see in cartoons, films, and so on, actually eat hay too!

These mammals are quite sensitive, and that’s reflected in each of their activities.

For instance, they’re particular and sensitive about their choice of food, and you’ll be surprised to hear that rabbits include hay in a good portion of their diets.

It’s also fascinating to learn that rabbits who thrive mostly on vegetables and other nutritious food, can also consume hay at times.

When they’re young, rabbits feed on alfalfa hay and other types of legume hay to gain essential nutrients along with calories and other health benefits.

Legume hay is higher in calcium and protein when compared to regular grass hay since it also provides more energy for the animals that consume it.

Rabbits need these nutrients to keep their teeth and digestive system healthy.

However, as they turn 6 months old, these cute little animals usually switch to grass hay to continue receiving the necessary nutrients because it’s easier for them to consume and digest it at this age.

Yes, rabbits are that intelligent and sensitive! It’s possible for rabbits to consume hay in proportion to their body weight every day.

4. Sheep

sheep eating hay

Sheep eat hay just like other farm animals, such as goats. They have a large appetite, and hay crops are a major portion of their diet.

This is why sheep farmers have made hay a primary food source for their sheep to stay healthy and get all the nutrients.

The Alfalfa hay crop, as well as straw, are the most commonly used type of forage by farmers to feed their sheep and goat livestock.

5. Guinea Pigs

guinea pigs eating hay

Similar to rabbits, guinea pigs, too, eat a considerable amount of hay per day for an animal of that size.

Guinea pigs prefer alfalfa hay over oat hay because it gives them more energy.

They’re also known to include timothy hay, leafy greens, and green grass in their diet.

Since guinea pigs don’t overeat, providing them with a diet with the nutrients they need is essential.

This would include foods that are rich in vitamin C as well as fresh vegetables and legume hay.

Oftentimes, pet owners use hay to supplement their guinea pig’s diet because it helps to maintain a healthy digestive tract.

These domesticated rodent species require good amounts of Vitamin C, nearly a few tablespoons of Vitamin C-rich pellets. 

6. Ducks

ducks eating hay

Yes, you heard that right! These water birds do eat hay as well!

Ducks do eat hay, especially orchard and timothy grass hay, however, it’ll be easier for your ducks to digest this forage material if you cut it into smaller pieces for them to consume since it’ll prevent them from choking.

In fact, they can eat hay like any other farm animal, such as sheep, cows, and goats, which is almost unbelievable for many people!

It probably started in 2017, when farmers witnessed their ducks gorging on hay as if it’s a normal food for birds.

Ducks don’t really thrive on or include hay in a significant portion of their diet. However, it can be used to supplement their meals.

7. Tortoises and Turtles

turtle eating hay

Alfalfa hay is the forage crop that grassland turtles and tortoises need to consume for high fiber content.

You can also include a mix of grass hay and fresh vegetables to supplement their diet.

However, you shouldn’t feed turtles or tortoises oat hay because it provides very little nutritional value to them. 

Young tortoise and turtle species require large piles of hay every day whereas older turtle species can eat every other day depending on their weight and overall health.

However, baby turtles may require some help when feeding them hay.

You’ll need to cut down your hay strands or stacks into smaller pieces to make it easier for small turtles to eat and digest.

8. Chickens

do chickens eat hay

If you have a poultry farm, you may have already seen your chickens eat diverse stuff.

However, most farm chickens don’t regularly consume hay as they’re normally found rummaging through the hay bale for insects and seeds. 

Furthermore, hay can’t be considered a primary food source for chickens, unlike other cattle and farm animals, including goats and cows.

You shouldn’t rely solely on hay if you’re expecting your chickens to lay eggs for commercial uses either.

Chickens must be given a proper and well-balanced diet for them to lay eggs more naturally, and frequently.

9. Pigs

pig eating hay

Pigs were probably one of the animals you had in mind when you read this title.

However, pigs have a bit of a different diet as they usually consume alfalfa hay, which provides them with additional nutritional content such as fibers and proteins when compared to grass, pellets, and vegetables.

People generally abandon these mammals due to their unhygienic nature.

The cost of feeding pigs hay isn’t very high and farmers have noticed that pigs have an enormous appetite for hay, it does make sense to feed farm pigs these dried forage crops.

But sadly, pigs tend to eat a lot of unhealthy stuff that’s harmful to their health.

10. Cows

cows eating hay

This is something we all know. Cows are one of the most common farm animals that happily eat hay.

Cows are born grazing animals, so naturally, they love to feed on grass, dried plants, and other forms of hay.

Farmers, in particular, will see their cows munching on hay, grass, and dried leaves for the entire day, especially when you have piles of haystacks around.

Hay is one of the primary sources of food for cows as it provides them with the essential nutrients they need.

Hay also enables them to become more healthy and strong.

Besides, this forage crop can also improve a cow’s immune system, unlike other farm animals.

In some cases, when cows are injured and unable to graze in the field, hay is one of the staple forage crops that can be served up in bales to them.

11. Goats

goat eating hay

Goats share similar diet routines with chickens. Goats can literally eat anything (well, almost!)

Like other farm animals, goats love to munch on hay, which is a nourishing diet for them, since it provides them with essential nutrients such as protein.

These dried plants can help the goat to survive and stay healthy, even if they don’t include any other food in their daily diet.

12. Llamas

llama eating hay

Llamas usually spend a major portion of their day grazing on fresh grass in lush green pastures.

However, they also feed on hay, which is also a staple diet for many llamas.

Apart from hay and grass, llamas also eat plants and shrubbery as a part of their forage diet.

These domesticated livestock species usually eat an average of 25% less when compared to cows.

Although their main energy comes from foliage, llamas can easily survive on good-quality pastures.

13. Chinchillas

chinchilla eating hay

Chinchillas need a high-fiber diet and alfalfa hay meets this requirement for them since it’s high-fiber legume hay that’s rich in protein, calcium, and energy compared to grass hay.

Some chinchilla species can be quite particular and picky about what they eat, however, they’ll also feed on orchard grass and timothy hay.

High-fiber hay crops, as well as fresh produce, are needed for chinchillas to keep their digestive system healthy.

What is Hay?

Hay is a feed crop grown and harvested for feeding horses, cattle, and other farm animals.

It’s made of legumes and is often produced in a combination of various types of plants grown in the meadow or the field. In short, hay is mainly for plant-eating animals.

Depending on the nutritional needs of different animals, specific kinds of hay are given to different species.

Feeding hay to active horses can provide them with the carbohydrates and proteins they need for optimum performance.

What is Straw?

Straw, on the other hand, is a byproduct of the major grain crops – the most common type being the wheat crop, which is commonly grown around southern US states.

Straw is also referred to as the dead stalks of certain plants after the useful plant parts have been harvested.

What is the Difference Between Hay and Straw?

In other words, hay provides essential nutritional value to the animals feeding on it, whereas straw offers very little nutritional value, especially when it’s dry.

To put it simply, straw is a waste product of wheat grain. However, it does have other uses outside of being foodstuff for livestock. for eg. basketry, biofuel as well as arts and crafts.

Unlike hay, straw cannot be used as food for livestock due to its poor nutritional content.

However, it does work well to supplement the diets of farm animals rather than it being fed as a whole meal.

Straw can be used as comfortable bedding for animals due to its light and fluffy nature.

Unlike hay, which is usually green in color, straw is sometimes pale yellow or golden in color.

What animals eat hay

Hay is rich in fiber, carbohydrates, as well as crude protein, and the animals that consume hay, are horses, rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs, turtles, tortoises, chickens, cows, sheep, goats, ducks, pigs, and llamas.

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