It’s true that hay is for horses, but do horses really care about the quality of their hay? Many horse owners will tell you that the answer to that question is an emphatic “Yes!”
When it comes to feeding horses, the truth is that good hay is essential to good health. Horses often refuse to eat poor quality hay, and even if they do eat it, there is very little nutritional value in it. Moldy or dusty hay can even harm a horse, in some cases causing hay-induced colic.
Unlike cattle, horses are less able to digest stalky grass, so leafy hay is always best. The healthiest hay for horses is a mix of leafy grass and clover. This is referred to as meadow hay. But meadow hay, while the most nutritious, can vary greatly in quality.
In order to make sure you are getting the best quality meadow hay, pay particular attention to the following:
Appearance: The higher the leaf content, the better. The presence of small, immature seed heads are considered ideal by many experts.
Color: Pale green to pale gold is the best color for hay. Remember to check the color on the inside of the bale. Hay on the outside of the bale could be bleached from the sun and isn’t always a good indicator of quality.
Moisture Content: The moisture content of baled hay is approximately 16 percent. When cutting open a sample bale, look for dark discoloration which can indicate mold. While mold is not always visible, in most cases you can smell it. A sharp, musty odor is a clear sign of mold.
Weight: Baled hay that is very heavy means it has too high of a moisture content. If it’s especially light, you can be sure it is too dry and lacks nutritional value.
Texture: Horses want their hay soft to the touch with flexible stems. Flexible stems also are a good indicator of quality. If the hay is producing a lot of dust, avoid it.
Leaf Shatter: While some leaf matter will crumble when hay is handled, too much disintegration means the hay has few nutrients.
While hay from the current season is best, if hay is well-stored it can last a few seasons. As long as it has been kept off the ground and kept out of the rain it should be good to go.
Finally, if you are going to the trouble of finding the best hay for your horses, make sure you feed it to them properly. The ideal feeding option is an elevated and covered round bale feeder. Such hay feeders prevent a loss of hay due to weather and humidity and at the same time help to maintain the nutritional value of hay.
The Hay Manager, LLC
24064 478th Avenue
Trent, SD 57065