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5 Tips to Help You Choose the Best Hay for Your Horses!

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While some people may think that all horse hay is the same, this is far from accurate. There is a wide variety of forages and qualities of hay, and some are much better for your horse’s health than others. Knowing how to choose the best hay for your horse is essential.

To choose the best hay for your horse, break open a bale and check it for mold and freshness. Moldy hay has a distinct musty odor, but fresh hay has a sweet aroma, feels soft, and is flexible. You can also have the hay analyzed to ensure its nutrient content meets your horses’ needs.

Typically, horses should consume up to 2% of their body weight in hay per day, and because they consume so much, it’s critical to give them the best. So if you are stuck in deciding which one’s the best, I suggest sticking around as I will be going over some essential information.

Picture of square bales of hay in a field.

This article is one of a series of articles on horse hay I wrote, the main article being: Horse Hay: An Owner’s Guide.

Hay Basics 

Although choosing the best hay for your horse may sound scary, there are a few simple things you can do to ensure you purchase good-quality hay to benefit your horse’s well-being. Every horse will have its specific needs depending on its age, body weight, and the amount of work it does.

Choosing the correct one for your horse is fundamental in assuring your horse is getting the
right amount of nutrients according to their needs. Knowing how much hay to feed your horse
is also essential in keeping your animal strong.

Types of hay

The two categories of hay are typically known as:
Grass hay
Legume hay
For those who don’t know the difference between the two, the legumes contain higher content levels of protein, calcium, and vitamin A, while the grass hay is known to have lower nutrients.

While both contain beneficial qualities for our horses, it is best to recognize the difference between them to assure you that you are giving your horse the best quality hay for its unique needs.

Grass hay has plants such as bluegrass, timothy, orchardgrass, fescue, brome, and ryegrass, while on the other hand, legumes consist of clover, alfalfa, and birdsfoot trefoil. An interesting fact about hay is that it helps horses prevent laminitis because it provides fiber which steadies their glucose levels.

And, although you may be eager to change your horse’s diet instantly, it is crucial to speak to a Veterinarian to get a professional opinion.

Which cutting of hay is best for horses?

Rain, heat, and geography all play a role in how many cuttings are successful within the year,
Usually, a grower can cut their fields up to three times a year in most areas of the country.

Generally, the second cut of hay is the best because it provides greener leaves more nutrients, and has a fine texture, it also tends to have a sweeter smell compared to the rest. The first cut usually grows thicker stems and has more weeds.

The first cut of hay develops slightly more coarse and includes more grass, while the third cut ends up being the thickest hay, although not all farmers get a third cutting as weather and heat can affect the crops.

A great tip to know is that you can rate hay by its weeds, maturity, and whether or not it suffered any damage caused by the weather.

What should I look for in good quality hay?

One of the best things you can do for your horse is to find the right hay for your horse and sticking with it. This will help your animal improve its overall conditions and help maintain its health.

Hay typically gets selected by their appearance, smells, and how it feels to the touch. You can try choosing them by asking for the ones that are fine-trimmed and soft to the touch, and you should try avoiding any that smell musky as they may have mold.

Purchasing the correct amount and correct type for your horse is essential, depending on age, weight, and workload. Some tips that may help you choose the right one are:

• Avoiding any that seem to be over cured or over-bleached
• Inspect hay for any signs of insect infestation or diseases
• Ask grower any questions or concerns before purchasing
• Try to steer clear from those with visible trash, debris, and a large number of weeds.

Picture of a horse eating from a hay bag, i.e. slow feeder.

Hay for insulin-resistant horses

It’s important to know which type of hay and know the right amount to feed your horse to manage its carbohydrate metabolism. Luckily, various forms of hay will aid in your horse’s wellbeing.

Timothy grass hay is a good choice for insulin-resistant horses because it tends to be lower in starch, and Orchardgrass and Alfalfa are also great selections when you need to monitor the amount of starch that your horse is consuming.

It is best to avoid hays containing wheat, oats, and barley as they all have a high amount of starch that can be harmful to insulin-resistant horses. The main objective is to find one with low carbohydrate percentages and one with lower sugar content.

It may vary depending on various harvesting factors such as when the level of maturity it reached before getting cut, if rain fell on the hay after being trimmed, and depends on what time of the day the cut took place.

For those who are unsure of which hay to use, there are other ways you can reduce the sugar levels on them by soaking them for at least 30 to 60 minutes before feeding your horses to help reduce the sugar content in them.

It is important to remember to remove it from the water before giving it to your horse because it will have the remaining sugar content. To avoid any mold growth, you must feed them the soaked hay right away.

A great thing to consider is changing the feeders used to feed your horse. Using slow feeders such as hay bags helps control the sugar intake they consume. You can ensure that your horse is consuming fewer levels by allowing it to graze in the early hours of the morning, as this is when the sugar levels are at their lowest.

If a morning graze is not available, then an alternative is using a grazing muzzle to help reduce the amount of starch and sugar it consumes.

What hay is best for Laminitic horses?

Laminitis can cause the horse’s coffin bone to separate from the hoof wall, causing their bones to rotate within the hoof. It is a painful process and a deteriorating one for your beloved animal and can become recurring if not treated correctly.

It is usually blamed on horses overeating grains and large amounts of grass high in nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs). Although, there are several causes behind this condition. Finding the root cause of this condition is essential so that your horse receives proper medications and the proper diet.

Generally, a mixture of grass hay and alfalfa is the best hay combination for horses prone to laminitis. But each horse is an individual, so it’s best to consult your vet if your horse is prone to laminitis. Teff hay, although not popular in the U.S., has shown promising results.

In a recent study, Teff hay proved beneficial for laminitic horses because of its low sugar and starch content, making it safe for horses with certain conditions or diet restrictions to consume.

Teff hay is usually grown in warm seasons that originate from Ethiopia as a grain. It recently has become more popular among horse owners in search of lowering their horse’s sugar intake. This hay includes thin stems that are leafy and soft to the horse’s palate, making it easier to feed them.

The great thing about Teff is that it germinates quickly and is usually ready to harvest within 45 to 55 days after seeding takes place.

Conclusion

Overall, we touched base on several hays that our horses can benefit from to prevent recurring.
Laminitis while discovering a few tips that we can take to improve our horse’s condition.

Always make sure to consult with its Veterinarian before changing its diet, as giving your horse the wrong hay can reverse any improvements you seek. Nonetheless, you now have gained a sense of knowledge and confidence in helping you decide which type of hay is best for your horse!