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Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

Tips on Buying Good Horse Hay

 By Dorinda Troutman, RMR Staff Writer

 

August 2013 issue  

 

 

      Happiness for a horse owner is having a barn or shed full of top quality hay by the end of summer. In order to cut costs and ensure the best for your horses, it makes good business sense to know the difference between quality and poor hay.

      Good hay is vital to a horse’s overall health. Diets with low levels of grass hay have been indicated in colic, cribbing and wood chewing. The most economical feeding maximizes hay and/or pasture, and adds grain or supplements to meet additional requirements. To get the most value from hay, use a hay feeder, which can save up to 20%.

      Horses love alfalfa hay, but it is expensive and has more protein (16% to 20%) than mature, inactive and non-lactating horses need. Spring pasture has 20% to 25% protein — which is why horses can get into trouble with laminitis (grass founder) on such a rich diet. Good baled, grass hay has about 6% to 10% protein — which is perfect for maintaining the health of most horses.

      If a person is buying or selling a lot of hay, running a chemical analysis is helpful. Core samples should be taken from at least 20 bales in a lot and analyzed for moisture, crude protein, fiber, and mineral content. Ask your county extension agent for help in finding a laboratory and in reading results.

      You can tell a lot about hay quality by looking, feeling and smelling. Hay that is moldy or dusty, even in small quantities, should not be fed. Open a bale or thrust your hand in and pull out a handful from the center of the bale.

      1.  Look for clean hay (no dust or weeds) with plenty of soft and flexible leaf matter (more leaf than stem) that feels good in the hand. Hay with long stalks, less leaf and mature seed heads may have too much fiber and not enough protein. Clean, soft, leafy hay is more palatable, has more nutrients, and will have less waste.

      2.  Good hay is pale green in color. It will be higher in vitamins, protein and minerals. Hay that has been sun-bleached on the outside of a bale but is still pale green on the inside is fine.

      3.  Hay should ideally be baled with the moisture content at about 15% to 17%. After a month of proper curing, baled hay should have about 10% moisture. If it is higher, it may be moldy, which lowers feed value and can be toxic.

      The sweet smell of good hay is intoxicating. Mold is usually in the center of the bale with a darker discoloration, but you can smell mold even without it being visible.

       If the hay smells sharp, musty or almost metallic, it is moldy. If there is any heat inside the bale, it is too high in moisture and it will become moldy.

      Store hay with a little space between bales, and store fresh-cut hay for a month before feeding it to your horses. Buying poor-quality hay is never a bargain. Good-quality hay keeps your horses healthy and will save you money in the longer run.

     Buy only as much hay as you can store in a dry environment. An average horse will eat about 600 to 700 pounds of hay per month. Large, working or lactating horses and horses kept outside in the winter will eat more. Hay that is properly stored will be good for a year or more.

      

Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

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