Hay is the way!! If you do one thing for your horse, let it be feeding him the best hay you can afford. Horses are designed to eat forage and the bulk of their diet should be hay or pasture. With that being said, let’s look at 7 ways you can be sure it’s good hay.
1) 1) SOURCE: Try to purchase hay from a recommended source or supplier, preferably from someone who can provide a laboratory analysis of the hay. A good resource for testing http://www.foragetesting.org/index.php
2) SMELL: Don’t buy hay with excessive dust or a musty smell. These can indicate mold formation and the presence of mycotoxins, which could be harmful to your. Sweet smell is attractive to people and horses, and it is also a good indication of having readily available energy (sugar). Much like soft touch, a sweet smell is an incentive for the horse to eat the hay and get its full nutritional value.
3) QUANTITY: Buy as much hay as possible at one time to provide a consistent supply to minimize changes in your horse’s feed supply. See if the hay supplier will sell you a few bales that you can inspect and feed to your horses before making a larger purchase.Good resource for suppliers http://www.hayexchange.com/
4) HANDFUL: Grab a handful of the hay and give it a hard squeeze. If it hurts your hand, it is too stemmy and mature to be good quality horse hay. A horse’s mouth, lips and tongue, are very soft; hence, softer hay will be consumed more readily, and there will be less waste. Even though some hay may meet or pass the nutritional requirements of a horse, it also has to be attractive and edible, or it will be wasted.
5) SEED HEADS: Look for seed heads in grass hay, if they are numerous, large and well-formed, and there are large stems present, the hay is probably too mature and fibrous to be acceptable for horses. As forage plants mature, the nutritional value changes. Plants have more fiber and less protein as they mature. Indicators of maturity for legumes are flowers, and seed heads for grasses. Thick stems in both cases are indicators of maturity.
6) COLOR: Inspect the bale and if you see a bright green color, and lots of small leaves and small stems, the hay should be good quality for horses. Green is more attractive to those of us taking care of the animals, and it also is a good indication of having vitamin A. Bleached color indicates exposure to sunlight or rain and very likely oxidation of vitamin A, but other very essential nutrients are still there! Despite the color, any type of hay needs to be supplemented with an appropriate vitamin-mineral mix.
7) CUTTING: Just knowing whether the hay is 1st, 2nd or 3rd crop does not predict nutrient content. The stage of maturity at which the hay was cut is the foundation of its nutritional value. Plants that grow under cooler temperatures build more digestible fiber. Therefore, 1st crop hay may have more fiber, and the fiber will be easier for the horse to digest and use.
Hope this helps in your haying buying!
Peace and good rides, til we meet again…
Sources: University of Minnesota-Extension Dr. Marty Adams, PhD