Using Your Senses to Find Quality Hay

Jul 23, 2020

Tara Jo Bina
Countryside Feed Livestock Nutrition
It makes sense to feed your horses the best quality hay possible, especially when forages should make up 50 – 90% of their diet! Good hay is a part of a healthy diet, but poor-quality hay can cause many metabolic problems. Determining if hay is good quality can be difficult if you are not accustomed to it.
One of the best ways to evaluate hay is to use your senses:
  • Look for hay that has a high leaf-to-stem ratio, stems with small diameters, and few seed heads or blooms. These are indicators of hay cut at early maturity which usually contains higher nutritive values.
  • Good clean hay should not be excessively dusty or moldy. Colic and heaves are problems that can arise from feeding dusty and moldy hay.
  • Make sure alfalfa hay does not have blister beetles as they are toxic to horses.
  • Find hay that has a consistent green color. Some bales may be sun-bleached on the outsides if they have been stored in sunlight, as long as the hay is a nice green a few inches into the bales, they are ok.
  • Quality hay should smell fresh and not musty.
  • Look for hay that is soft when squeezed in your hand. This indicates finer, more palatable stems.
Using your senses to evaluate hay is great, but adding a forage analysis to your criteria can help make sure you are getting hay that will cover your horse’s needs. This includes sampling several bales with a hay probe and sending the hay off to be analyzed for crude protein, energy, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, copper, and zinc among other nutrients.
Contact your Countryside Feed representative to discuss selection of quality horse hay and to look over forage tests.

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