Gauging the Quality of Hay: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.


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Gauging the Quality of Hay: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Morgan Murphy

Gauging the Quality of Hay: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

When it comes to selecting hay for your horse, you've got to get the best quality forage you can afford. Good quality hay not only provides your horse with necessary nutrients and fiber, but, it usually means less dust and less chance of mold and toxins.

The horse is designed to target forage as their main diet staple. Their teeth and digestive systems have evolved to require a constant stream of fiber, allowing a slow release of energy. By investing in good quality hay, you not only provide your horse with better nutrition but with a food source that he's more likely to gobble up. Cheap hay tends to offer false economy, given that horses are more likely to leave more of their hay untouched.

Quality of your hay is important for the health of your horse*

What to Look for When Judging Hay Quality.

If you've been around horses for a few years you've no doubt seen people open a bale of hay, grab a handful, then eyeball and sniff the hay. Here's what they're actually evaluating.

Hay Color
The first thing you need to check for in your hay is color: Good hay should be green, not yellow or brown. It can vary from a light shade of green to a deep forest green depending on the origin and cut.

Hay Smell
Hay must be sweet smelling! Your first whiff of the bale should prove fresh and pleasant. Musty smelling hay is absolutely unacceptable

Mold Contamination
You can determine the presence of mold through sight and smell. Moldy hay can smell musty. Mold appears as black or white clumps on the hay.

Debris Issues
Make sure your hay is free of debris. Poor quality hay has been known to contain branches as well as dried rodents. You want hay which is free from weeds, leaves and wire remnants. Trying "fluffing" the hay to check for dust. Dust spores are undesirable, so, if you do see them, try soaking the hay prior to feeding.

Hay Texture
Hay should be pillow-like with a light feeling texture. Harsh, stemmy hay has very little nutritional value. Good quality hay feels light to the touch and will not scratch your hands.

While these guidelines should prove helpful, the only way to get a truly accurate picture of the nutritional quality of hay is to do a hay analysis. If you buy your hay in bulk a couple of times a year, it is well worth having a hay analysis done. This will give you an idea of the nutritional breakdown of your hay and will allow you to supplement with more accuracy. Consult with your veterinarian for proper feed and supplementation guidelines.

The average horse requires 1-2% of their bodyweight in hay each and every day to meet their minimum nutritional needs as well as to stay busy chewing and eating. If your horse is kept in a stall for long periods, we encourage you to feed at least 3-4 times per day to keep his rations evenly distributed throughout the day. By only feeding horses 1-2 times per day, you risk creating ravenous horses who scarf down their larger rations too quickly, risking digestive and colic issues. You also risk allowing your horses to spend more time being bored, which opens the door to extremely bad habits such as cribbing. (Cribbing can lead to equine ulcers, which are extremely expensive to treat.)

Again, when it comes to hay quality, consult with your veterinarian about the hay options in your area and then prepare to pay for the best product you can afford. It is one of the smartest investments you can make in your horse's health and well being.

*Image courtesy of Barbara Summers

  • This is so helpful Morgan - we have had some great hay and then some horses would not touch, I have wanted To learn for some time to see and smell the differences - I feel much more confident now