Whinny’s Wisdoms

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

A Deep Dive into Hay: Selection, Evaluation, and Storage for Optimal Equine Health

Greetings, esteemed equestrians and discerning horse enthusiasts! Whinny, your resident field mouse investigator, returns with a comprehensive exploration into the world of equine forage – hay. While the average farmyard observer might see just a pile of dried grass, we delve deeper to understand the intricacies of hay selection, evaluation, and storage for optimal horse health. Since hay forms the foundation of a horse’s diet, ensuring its quality through proper management is essential for responsible horse care. 

Deconstructing the Haystack: Grass Species and Nutritional Profiles

Beyond the basic categorization of “hay,” a multitude of grass species exist, each offering a distinct nutritional profile. Let’s dissect some prominent players:

  • Alfalfa: This nitrogen-fixing legume boasts exceptional protein (20-25% crude protein) and calcium content, ideal for supporting growth in foals, pregnant or lactating mares, and performance horses. Alfalfa is low in sugars which can make it a good option for horses prone to issues with sugar. However, because of the high calorie content it should only be a portion of the roughage for overweight horses (pronounced easy keepers). 
  • Timothy: The “gold standard” for many, Timothy hay offers a balanced combination of fiber and moderate protein (10-14% crude protein) levels. This makes it a staple for adult horses in moderate work or maintaining weight. Being a grass hay, sugar content can vary a lot based on conditions at the time of baling.
  • Orchardgrass: An increasingly popular option, Orchardgrass hay provides a balance between fiber and protein (10-15% crude protein) content. This makes it suitable for a wider range of horses, from performance animals requiring sustained energy to those needing weight gain compared to Timothy hay. It’s also palatable and easily digestible. Orchardgrass, much like Timothy, can have highly variable sugar content.
  • Bermudagrass Hay: A warm-season favorite, Bermudagrass hay is known for its high digestibility and fiber content. This makes it well-suited for horses in lighter work or residing in warmer climates, like Florida. It has a lower calorie content than the other three options here so can be a great option for overweight horses.

The Art of Hay Evaluation: A Multi-Sensory Approach

Identifying high-quality hay goes beyond just grabbing a random bale. Studies have shown that touch and smell can readily identify quality hay. Here’s how to transform into a hay evaluation extraordinaire:

  • Visual Inspection: Fresh hay boasts a vibrant color – green for legumes like alfalfa, golden brown for grasses like Timothy or orchardgrass. Avoid hay with excessive dust, signs of mold (indicating moisture damage), or a bleached appearance (signaling sun exposure).

  • Tactile Assessment: Dive in (figuratively, of course!) and feel the hay’s texture. High-quality hay should be pliable and soft, not brittle or dusty. The stems should snap with a slight bend, not crumble.

  • Olfactory Exploration: Engage your nose! Fresh hay should emit a pleasant, grassy aroma. Musty odors point towards spoilage from moisture or mold growth, while a sweet smell might indicate excessive sugar content.

  • Botanical Scrutiny: Keep an eye out for excessive weeds or signs of pests like insects or rodents (ahem, not that I would know anything about that). These can impact the hay’s palatability and potentially harbor contaminants.

Whinny Wisdom: Feeding hay in slow-feed hay nets will keep your horses occupied for longer without increasing their calorie intake, reduce wasted hay significantly, and keep their hay off the ground which will reduce their exposure to environmental contaminants like botulism, EPM, parasites, and more!

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Hayven Secrets: Storage Strategies for Peak Quality

You’ve sourced the perfect hay – fantastic! But the journey doesn’t end there. Proper storage safeguards quality and prevents spoilage. Here are some expert-level storage tactics:

  • Environmental Control: Location is paramount. Select a dry, well-ventilated space with protection from rain and direct sunlight. Moisture is the archenemy of good hay! Aim for relative humidity below 60% to prevent mold growth. This can be tricky in humid environments like Florida. Buying less hay, so you can quickly rotate stock, can help.

  • Off the Ground: Don’t let your precious hay become a buffet for moisture and hungry critters like yours truly. Store bales on pallets or platforms, allowing for air circulation around them.

  • Bale Management: Consider the practicality of bale size. While large round bales might seem economical, they expose a larger surface area to potential spoilage and require specialized feeders to minimize waste. Small square bales offer greater manageability and reduce waste.

  • First-In, First-Out (FIFO) Implementation: Ensure a steady supply of fresh forage by adhering to the FIFO principle. Use older hay first to maintain a consistent quality for your horses. This principle should be used with everything your trusty steed consumes!

Conclusion: Hay There, Healthy Horses!

By understanding the intricacies of hay selection, evaluation, and storage, you will empower yourself to provide your horses with the optimal fuel for peak health and performance. Remember, a balanced diet starts with high-quality roughage, and a keen eye (and nose!) can make all the difference. Got more hay questions? My esteemed doctors and technicians can give you answers! Give us a call to schedule a nutrition consultation today! 352.472.1620.

Until next week!

P.S. If you want to learn more about equine nutrition, check out this video on my YouTube Channel about different types of feed! It’s something every horse owner needs to understand, just like hay. Make sure you explore my other videos while you’re there!

Whinny’s Wisdoms is the official blog of Whinny the Clinic Mouse at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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