what animals eat hay

What Animals Eat Hay?

Written by: Annemarie Dutton
Last updated on:

Most animals get food from their environment. For example, wild animals eat insects and fruits found in the forests. Meanwhile, farm animals eat what is available, such as hay.

Hay is often confused with straw as both are found on farms.   

Hay vs. Straws

Hay is a natural feed crop for farm animals like horses and cows. Straws are the dead stalks of grain crops like wheat, a by-product after the more valuable parts of the crop have been successfully harvested.

Hay is more nutritious than straw which is considered a waste product of grain crops and not good for animals.

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List of Animals that Eat Hay

Most animals on this list are farm animals. However, there are a few undomesticated ones that eat hay.


Chickens have a diverse diet. They are independent food gatherers and peck at almost anything they see, including hay. 

Chickens eat only a small amount of hay as It is not their primary food source. If a chicken is intended for commercial use, it should eat something other than hay.


Cows enjoy eating hay. Their primary food sources include grass and dried vegetation. 

Cows will not stop eating even when they are supplied with unlimited haystacks. Hay makes them stronger and healthier. It is also a farmers’ go-to resource when cows are injured and cannot move on their own.


Goats are as independent as chickens when it comes to eating. They munch anything in front of them. They are not picky eaters and eat hay. 

Hay gives them the protein they need for leaner meat. Farm animals like goats can survive only on hay and other dried plants.


Sheep have a huge appetite, and hay is part of their natural diet. Sheep farmers include hay as their primary food source to keep their animals healthy. Hay provides sheep with essential nutrients for everyday survival.


Ducks are greedy farm animals. They eat a wide range of foods and hay is one of their favorite snacks. 

Since they are surrounded by farm animals, ducks eat hay. It’s not a major part of their diet, but they eat it to prevent hunger.


Rabbits eat hay, especially the alfalfa type. They also eat other legumes, which gives them the calories and nutrients their bodies need. 

Cartoons might not depict rabbits eating hay, but they do. Hays are naturally healthy and easy to access.

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Pigs have a large appetite for almost anything, including hay. 

Most farmers tend to stock their pigs with hay legumes since it is healthier and cheaper. Pigs can get fibers and proteins on hays and other dried crops.


For horses, hay is a daily necessity. Horses are more active than other farm animals, hence they need more crude protein which is found in hay.

For example, hay grass contains at least 8.5% of crude protein. Meanwhile, legume hays such as alfalfa have 12% to 15% of crude protein. A mature horse should consume at least 10% of crude protein every day to sustain its energy level.

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs eat alfalfa and timothy hay but not oat hay which gives them more energy. They also eat green grass and leafy greens. Guinea pigs need more Vitamin C, which is present in legume hay and fresh veggies.


Although llamas love grazing on green pastures and fresh vegetation, they also eat hay. It is one of their staple diets if shrubbery and plants are not available. 

Llamas have a healthy diet, but eat 25% less than cows do. Their main energy source is foliage, but they also get it on pastures and hays.


Chinchillas are small rodents that eat hay. Like any other animals, their body demands a high-fiber diet, and luckily, alfalfa hay fulfills this need. 

Although some chinchilla species are picky eaters, they still feed themselves with legumes and timothy hay.

Hay Types and Its Nutrients

To help you understand different hay types, consider the following.

  • Timothy Hay contains 7% to 11% of crude protein and 0.38% to 0.51% of calcium. It is time-sensitive, and animals should consume it immediately.
  • Alfalfa Hay yields 17% to 20% of crude protein and 1.19% to 1.41% of calcium. It is rich in protein that animals need the most.
  • Oaten Hay has 15.6% to 16.3% of protein and 0.32% of calcium. It is high in protein but low in calcium. This is why farmers don’t usually feed their farm animals with oaten hay.
  • Orchard Grass Hay has 8% to 13% crude protein and 0.26 to 0.27 calcium content. It is like timothy hay but not time-sensitive.

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