Hay is for Horses, and Cattle, Goats, and Sheep, Too!

There are a number of different types of hay. Knowing which type is best for your livestock’s nutritional needs will ensure your animals stay as happy and healthy as possible. While some animals will do better on a particular type of hay, much will depend on what is available in your region.


Cattle are able to tolerate dusty or even slightly moldy hay. The quality of hay will also depend on the type of cattle you are feeding. Mature beef cattle do well on plain hay but lactating cows require more protein. Palatable grass hay works well, as long it is cut while green and still growing. Coarse dry hay will need to be supplemented with some legume hay, however.

Young calves do best with fine, soft hay. Such hay also contains more nutrients and is easier for these young animals to chew.

Dairy cows need the most nutrients. Grass hay, therefore, is not enough for these animals. Neither is alfalfa hay that contains few leaves. Dairy cows need fine, palatable alfalfa hay to stay healthy and continue to produce milk. When the temperature drops, always provide your cattle additional roughage in the form of grass hay or straw.


For kids, pregnant, and lactating goats, legume hays such as alfalfa, clover, or soybean work best. Mature goats do well on a grass-legume mix and some grass hays, but not on coarse grass hay since their mouths are small. If goats are fed coarse hay, they usually eat the leaves but not the stems. As long as hay does not contain toxic plants, a few weeds in the hay is acceptable when feeding goats.


Grass and alfalfa hay work well as horse feed. When feeding horses hay it is important to remember that mature horses do not need high protein or calcium levels. The exception would be nursing mares.

The way hay is harvested is important when it comes to feeding horse. Hay for horses should never contain dust or mold, as it may lead to coughing and respiratory problems. Good grass hay is the most ideal feed for mature horses. For pregnant or lactating mares, or young growing horses, add some legume hay and grass.

If you are unable to find good grass hay, alfalfa may be your only choice but be careful. Keep in mind that you will need leafy hay for weanlings and more mature hay for adult horses. Fine-stemmed, leafy alfalfa is too rich for horses and can lead to overeating. It also doesn’t provide the fiber necessary for good digestion. Stemmy alfalfa, on the other hand, is usually too coarse for horse feed.

As a general rule of thumb, grass hay is best for horses. Alfalfa or other legume hay can be an excellent feed to mix with grass hay for animals that need more protein. Alfalfa is also a good winter feed because heat is created by the digestion of protein.


Sheep prefer fine, leafy hay and will not eat coarse hay. Immature grass hay or leafy alfalfa is usually the best feed for sheep. Mature sheep can eat good-quality grass hay, but lambs do better with a legume that has been harvested while growing, allowing for finer stems. If fed on wet or muddy ground, sheep will generally waste a lot of hay; they will eat more of it when it is kept clean and dry in a feeder, such as a round bale feeder.

The Hay Manager

Cattle, Cow Hay Feeders | Horse Hay FeedersSheep Hay Feeders

Calf Life Saver | Gate Release Timer Mineral Feeder

For over 17 years, The Hay Manager has been  innovating and improving hay management tools to the farming industry. Besides manufacturing round bale feeders.