Six Factors that Determine Whether Your Horses are Being Fed High-Quality Hay
A typical horse’s diet is comprised of anywhere from 50 to 90 percent forage. Of that percentage, a good deal is hay. In light of these facts, quality hay is critical to a horse’s health.
Nutritional value plays a huge role in determining the quality of hay. One of the biggest factors in making sure the nutritional value of hay is adequate is how mature a plant is at harvest. Young, less mature plants will contain more nutrients than older plants.
Following harvest, there are six factors that determine if hay has the nutritional value that horses require.
Cleanliness. If your hay is dusty or contains things like dirt, mold, weeds or even trash, it should never be fed to horses.
Color. The highest-quality hay will be bright green. A telltale sign of low-quality hay is a bleached, faded appearance. Yellow, brown or black hay also are red flags. Hay takes on these qualities when it is old, moldy or has not been stored correctly. Nutritional value of hay is lowered when it is exposed to heat, rain and too much sun.
Diameter. Small, fine stems are always a good sign. These types of stems mean the plant was less mature when cut. The simplest way to determine good quality hay is to hold it in your hand. You want hay that is pliable and feels soft. Dry hay that breaks apart easily should not be fed to horses.
Leaf-to-Stem Ratio. The greater number of leaves, the higher the nutrient count. More leaves also are easier to digest. Plants cut when less mature will provide more leaves and less stems.
Seed Heads and Blooms. The fewer number of seed heads or blooms are indicative of younger plants. Timothy hay should be cut before it blooms or in the very early stages of bloom. There should be very few (if any) blooms when alfalfa is cut.
Smell. There is nothing like the wonderful aroma of fresh hay. Hay that smells musty or moldy indicates poor quality and less palatable hay.
Horses are a significant investment. Therefore, feeding them anything but the highest quality hay can compromise your investment. If you are deciding whether or not to feed your horses a particular bale of hay because you are unsure of its quality, always err on the side of caution. Your horses are depending on it!