If you have horses, it is important that you are providing them with the highest quality hay possible. While many hay dealers will tell you that they only sell “horse quality hay,” it is important to realize that this is only a marketing term. If truly want “horse quality hay,” it is up to you to find it.
Alfalfa hay is an excellent choice for horses but not just any alfalfa hay will do. In fact, there are significant differences between dairy, dry cow, and horse quality alfalfa.
Dairy hay is the most expensive hay. It is bright green and leafy. Its protein levels range anywhere from 22 to 26 percent. Such hay is not suitable for horses. Dry cow hay is less expense than dairy and horse hay. The protein content of dry cow hay ranges anywhere from 10 to 22 percent. It is often off color, very mature, and may contain a little mold. While dry cow hay is fine for cattle in the feedlot, it is not fine for horses.
So what is good horse hay? It is soft, dry, clean, and should have a good stem to leaf ration. The color of good horse hay is bright and it is free of weeds and mold. The stems of such hay can be fine, medium or heavy. Its protein level should be from 14 to 20 percent. When purchasing alfalfa hay for your horses make sure it is actually produced specifically for horses.
Many people still believe that alfalfa hay is not suitable for horses because it is too rich. But that is not true. Alfalfa hay is very nutritious and is a great choice for horses, even foals or brood-mares. Horse-quality alfalfa hay is high in protein and nutrients. While some horse owners believe that high protein levels in alfalfa hay can be linked to orthopedic diseases, equine experts tell us that this is not the case. In fact, horses will filter out any extra protein.
When purchasing hay, it is important to remember that just because it has been stored for a long period of time that doesn’t mean it has lost its nutritional value. As long as the hay has been stored in a dry environment such as a barn, only Vitamin A will be depleted, and that usually occurs in the first six months of storage. Energy, protein, calcium, phosphorus and other nutrients and minerals remain consistent after even two years.
Your horses depend on you for quality hay. Knowing the difference between dairy, dry cow, and horse quality alfalfa will help you provide them just that.