What is “good” hay? Oftentimes when we’re discussing the quality of hay we refer to the cutting- first cutting, second cutting, etc. While this is arguably the most common indicator of a hay’s quality it doesn’t necessarily make it the most accurate. When judging a hay for quality we need to consider a variety of factors:
- The hay species (type of hay)
- Where it’s grown and field fertilization
- Leaf vs. stem
- Insect and weed control used in field
- And good old mother nature- how much water and sunlight was available during the growing season?
When choosing a hay there are obvious factors we need to consider: choose a hay that is void of any trash, has a minimal amount of weeds, and is free of dust and mold. Always choose the highest quality hay available within your region and budget. Look for hay that is soft to the touch, the more green and leafy the better! Make sure the hay smells fresh and is void of any mustiness or mold. To create a fully balanced diet for our equine athletes and companions it is important to have a forage analysis done so that we may know the nutrient value of the hay which will then allow us to supplement the gaps our hay is leaving behind as the protein, vitamins and minerals in each hay varies greatly.
The two most common types of hay fed to horses are grass and legume. Examples of grass hays include timothy, orchard and Bermuda. These hays will typically contain around 10% protein and are great for use in adult horses. For a higher protein content for horses in work, breeding or growing look to a legume hay, the most common would be alfalfa.
While alfalfa offers a high quality forage option we need to consider the calcium-phosphorus ratio when feeding an alfalfa or alfalfa-blend as it contains a high calcium content but is low in phosphorus, both of which are vital to healthy growth and development. Be sure to supplement an additional phosphorus source when feeding this legume hay for balanced growth and overall health. (See the phosphorus content of NutriMix here.)
When it comes to choosing hay for your horse you need to consider his individual needs and circumstances. An older retired horse will not require the same amount of protein and nutrients as a young growing horse, and the same can be said for horses in training versus leisure horses. Not every horse will need the best alfalfa hay, in fact some horse will do better on a medium quality hay. The horse’s digestive system is designed to support a constant flow of fibrous feed sources. In many cases it is better to provide your horse with a lower quality hay in greater amounts, while supplementing for the vitamins and minerals they are missing out on, opposed to feeding a high quality or high calorie hay in smaller, limited amounts. This forage restriction can lead to digestive upset and irritable horses.
When considering our horse’s diets one thing we need to keep in mind is that at the end of the day hay is essentially just dead grass. A lush green pasture will provide most the vitamins and minerals a horse requires, but once it is cut and baled to form hay it begins to lose important vitamins and minerals, including Vitamins A and E, whose contents only continue to degrade the longer hay is stored. We need to be sure to supplement the vitamins and minerals a horse needs into his diet without adding too much additional energy, which will make the horse excitable. For optimum overall health consider adding HylEquine NutriMix to your horse’s diet to meet his nutritional requirements without adding excess calories.