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Importance of Selecting Quality Hay

The selection and purchase of hay or roughage is an important decision for horse owners. Forage is the foundation of every horse’s diet. There are several factors that should be taken into consideration when choosing quality hay, including appearance and testing.

How to Inspect Hay for Quality

Here are tips on how to inspect hay to ensure you are providing your horse with quality nutrition:

  • Hay should smell fresh. Hay that smells clean probably does not contain dust or mold.
  • Hay should have a high leaf-to-stem ratio.
  • Hay should feel soft to the touch, not coarse.
  • Hay should appear green in color.

Dust and Mold

Hay should be fresh, and have a clean smell, free from dust, weeds, dirt and mold. Mold spores and dustiness can lead to several health conditions such as colic and heaves.

Alfalfa hay should be free of blister beetles, which is highly toxic to horses.

Appearance and Feel

There should be a high leaf to stem ratio and fine texture, as the highest percentage of digestible nutrients is contained in the leaf portion of both grass hay and legume hay. Quality hay should be a uniform green color, which indicates that the hay was stored away from exposure to sun and rain. The outside of the bales may be bleached, but the interior should always be green and leafy.

Forage Testing

Forage testing is a valuable tool for determining the value of hay. Typically, a sample is taken, using a hay probe, from several bales and sent to a laboratory to be analyzed for protein, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc and energy. Contact your local Extension Office or feed dealer for more information on laboratory forage testing.

Quality hay is critical to the well-being of your horse. Following these simple tips will ensure a happy and healthy horse.