Hay and water are the two most important things that you feed your horse. And hay should be the foundation of your feeding program. But, not all hay is created equal. The nutrients in hay vary by region and by when the hay was baled. If you are buying large quantities of hay from a farmer, it’s a good idea to take a hay sample and have it analyzed.
Once you know the actual nutrient quality of your hay, you can build your feeding program around it. If you feed a good quality hay you may be able to stop feeding grain altogether!
The first evaluation of hay is visual:
- Is it stemmy or grassy? Older, more mature hay, is generally less palatable and may look more like straw.
- How leafy is the hay? Nutrients are concentrated in the leaves so leafy hay will likely be more nutritious.
- What color is the hay? Hay cut at the optimum time for baling is green. It’s not usually an issue if the outside of a bale is bleached a bit yellow, but try to avoid hay that’s yellow throughout the bale. That typically indicates that they hay was cut when it was too mature.
- Is the hay dusty? Musty or dusty hay may have been baled while damp and the dust can be an indicator of mold spoors.
To assess the nutrients in hay, you need to have a chemical analysis performed, although many farmers will be able to give you a rough idea of their hay’s nutritional content. Use a core sampler to penetrate into the center of several bales (15 0r 20) then mix the samples together and put them in a clean, tightly sealed plastic bag. Mail it to the forage testing lab as soon as possible.