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Selecting horse hay

High-quality hay is an important source of essential nutrients in a horse’s diet. A horse’s protein and energy requirements depend on age, stage of development, metabolism and workload.

A mature horse will eat 2-2.5 percent of its body weight daily, and for optimum health, nutritionists recommend that at least half of this should be roughage, such as hay. For a 1,000-pound horse, that means feeding at least 10 pounds of roughage each day.

Hay generally falls into one of two categories – grasses or legumes. Legume hay, such as alfalfa, is higher in protein, energy, calcium and Vitamin A than grass hay.



While hay alone might not meet the total dietary requirements of young, growing horses or those used for high levels of performance, high-quality hay can supply ample nutrition for less active adult horses.

Once the best category of hay for the horse has been determined, most people select hay based on how it looks, smells and feels. Use the following tips from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to select the best hay for your horse:



• It’s what’s inside that counts. Open several bales to look for consistency. Don’t worry about a little discoloration on the outside, especially in stacked hay.

• Choose hay that is fine-stemmed, green, as leafy as possible and soft to the touch.

• Select hay that has been harvested when the plants are in early bloom for legume hay or before seed heads have formed in grasses. Examine the leaves, stems, flowers or seed pods to determine the level of maturity.

• Avoid hay that contains significant amount of weeds, dirt, trash or debris.

• Examine hay for signs of insect infestation or disease. Be especially careful to check for blister beetles in alfalfa. Ask the grower about any potential problems in the region.

• Reject bales that seem excessively heavy for their size or feel warm to the touch, as they could contain excess moisture that could cause mold – or worse – spontaneous combustion.

• When possible, purchase and feed hay within a year of harvest to preserve its nutritional value.

• Keep hay in a dry, sheltered area out of the rain, snow and sun, or cover the stack to protect it from the elements. Check periodically for signs of mold.

• When buying in quantity, have the hay analyzed by a certified forage laboratory to determine its actual nutrient content.

Remember that horses at different ages and stages of growth, development and activity have different dietary requirements. Consult with a veterinarian or a qualified equine nutritionist when formulating a horse’s ration. He or she can help put together a balanced diet that is safe, nutritious and cost-effective.

High-quality hay is an important source of essential nutrients in a horse’s diet. A horse’s protein and energy requirements depend on age, stage of development, metabolism and workload.

A mature horse will eat 2-2.5 percent of its body weight daily, and for optimum health, nutritionists recommend that at least half of this should be roughage, such as hay. For a 1,000-pound horse, that means feeding at least 10 pounds of roughage each day.

Hay generally falls into one of two categories – grasses or legumes. Legume hay, such as alfalfa, is higher in protein, energy, calcium and Vitamin A than grass hay.

While hay alone might not meet the total dietary requirements of young, growing horses or those used for high levels of performance, high-quality hay can supply ample nutrition for less active adult horses.

Once the best category of hay for the horse has been determined, most people select hay based on how it looks, smells and feels. Use the following tips from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to select the best hay for your horse:

• It’s what’s inside that counts. Open several bales to look for consistency. Don’t worry about a little discoloration on the outside, especially in stacked hay.

• Choose hay that is fine-stemmed, green, as leafy as possible and soft to the touch.

• Select hay that has been harvested when the plants are in early bloom for legume hay or before seed heads have formed in grasses. Examine the leaves, stems, flowers or seed pods to determine the level of maturity.

• Avoid hay that contains significant amount of weeds, dirt, trash or debris.

• Examine hay for signs of insect infestation or disease. Be especially careful to check for blister beetles in alfalfa. Ask the grower about any potential problems in the region.

• Reject bales that seem excessively heavy for their size or feel warm to the touch, as they could contain excess moisture that could cause mold – or worse – spontaneous combustion.

• When possible, purchase and feed hay within a year of harvest to preserve its nutritional value.

• Keep hay in a dry, sheltered area out of the rain, snow and sun, or cover the stack to protect it from the elements. Check periodically for signs of mold.

• When buying in quantity, have the hay analyzed by a certified forage laboratory to determine its actual nutrient content.

Remember that horses at different ages and stages of growth, development and activity have different dietary requirements. Consult with a veterinarian or a qualified equine nutritionist when formulating a horse’s ration. He or she can help put together a balanced diet that is safe, nutritious and cost-effective.


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