How much daily food would a particularly immense unicorn need?

My character is a unicorn - not one of those MLP pony unicorns, but a true, real-life unicorn. As such, he is based on commonly accepted tropes of unicorns from mythology history. His species is assumed to be similar to some of the largest breeds of horses.

In addition, as an individual, he is especially large and buff, with truly herculean strength. As a warrior of his culture who trains and exercises to an extreme, he is essentially the unicorn equivalent of a Schwarzenegger-level body-builder.

War Unicorn

The character design was based on the appearance of the War Unicorns from Heroes of Might and Magic III, which have bulging, rippling muscles (especially compared to their un-upgraded counterparts) and are powerhouses dwarfed only by dragons and the like. Yet, I picture him even still somewhat more buff than this.

My assumption is that such a creature's needs would substantially exceed any real-world pet ownership suggestions for horses, due to being both larger and more physically active than most in reality. How much food and energy would this massive creature need? How does he compare to real-world equines, or to humans (to which he might adventure with)? How difficult would it be for a herbivore to actually ingest that much food daily?

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    $\begingroup$ How much does he weight and how tall is he (from hoove to shoulder)? $\endgroup$ Apr 10 '18 at 23:48
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    $\begingroup$ You say massive, but how massive is it? Draft horses are, compared to your average mustang, massive with rippling muscles. War horses from the medieval days of plate mail were also massive with rippling muscles (had to carry both the armored human and your own armor). The world-record draft was 6'10" tall and 3,300#. Methinks this question is already answered by looking into the care and feeding of these existing animals. $\endgroup$ Apr 10 '18 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Renan It is hard to give proper statistics, as I imagine that the fantastical elements at play are significant. Has any real-life horse trained with the motivation of a human body-builder or the dedication of a human warrior? I figure that their human-like intelligence would lend them the potential to go above and beyond even hard-working terrestrial horses. $\endgroup$ Apr 11 '18 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH This is true, I do not imagine the character matching that kind of intense world record, which is an abnormal exception. I imagine more taking the upper bound of what is considered "normal" and then going a little further. $\endgroup$ Apr 11 '18 at 0:26

Perhaps a good place to start is to look backwards through horse sizes. When I first read your post, I thought of a Clydesdale. The average Clydesdale horse will eat around 22 Kg of feed per day (I'm not including water requirements here because I'm assuming that there is plenty of this to go around) and they don't have to eat all day to consume that much. If they did, they'd be pretty poor draft horses but they can work quite hard despite consuming that much food.

Scaling down, we get to ponies, which consume around 9 Kg of food per day.

The important thing to note here is that draft horses like Clydesdales are bred to pull heavy loads. They're not bred for the agility that ponies have, but they certainly have more stamina. When you talk about your unicorn being buff, it's important to note that you can only have ONE of these attributes. The unicorn can have great endurance and stamina, be good at working with very heavy loads, OR it can be a rapid strike weapon, dodging and weaving with agility inside a war zone but needing to get out within a certain time limit or find itself exhausted in enemy territory.

Sprinters and distance runners are built very differently.

But, let's scale UP your unicorn from a Clydesdale, for the sake of argument. The Clydesdale eats approximately 2.5x what a pony does, and if you scale up by the same factor for your unicorn, it would need to eat around 55 Kg of food per day.

That's a solid eating effort to be sure, but doable with plenty of time to spare for exercise / combat / logistical supply chains / whatever. Don't worry too much about muscle bulk and food makeup; equine creatures have been living on their diet for millions of years and build up a considerable muscle base as it is; after all they can pull carts, carry us around, etc. without short term difficulty. There is some medical evidence that heavy strains or loads either early in life or constantly through life is problematic, but that is out of scope of this question.

The point is that if you're after a tank rather than a guerrilla strike weapon, this scaling up model gives you some idea of what might be possible with your unicorn. There are still some limits to how big you want to make this creature because power to weight ratio doesn't scale well, but if you make it (say) no more than 20% larger than a Clydesdale, AND feed it 55Kg of food, AND its metabolism is designed to convert extra energy into muscle, you should get close to your specification with that much food.

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    $\begingroup$ You could scale up further to the size of a small Indian elephant, which I found takes in 150 kg / day of elephant food (not too dissimilar to horse food). $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Apr 11 '18 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ Could you express/convert the food amounts in calories instead of weight? It would be easier to compare to a human that way, and after all, this unicorn is a person, not an animal. $\endgroup$ Apr 11 '18 at 11:14
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    $\begingroup$ @SouthpawHare sorry I must have missed it in your question, I thought we were talking about an animal. Generally speaking, food intake for horses is measured in weight because they more or less only eat one thing and your local supplier doesn't sell hay by the calorie. The primary reason humans measure food by calories is that we eat such a wide variety of different things. THAT SAID, a good approximation is 400 food calories per Kg of hay, meaning 55 Kg of hay per day translates to around 22k food calories, or around 10 times the recommended food intake of a human. I hope that helps. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Apr 11 '18 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ @TimBII The character is of human intelligence and hangs around with human friends, so it's useful to know how his consumption compares to other people. $\endgroup$ Apr 11 '18 at 13:42

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