The Hay Bale. Looking at the different types of hay.

Hay Feeders can be particular about their hay bale.

And as we alluded to before in Hay Feeders, the amount of money that you can expect to extract from your wallet can certainly relate back to the quality and nutritional value of your hay.

Hay Feeders may use grazing of forage as their primary source of feed and nutrition. But even if your pets or livestock main stay is not limited to just hay, it is still important that the best forage possible is provided both for your animals and your pocket book.

When it comes to economical feeding programs, quality is a consideration regardless if you are producing or buying or selling hay.

So again, the question is, "what is the best hay?" When we are standing on the farm, pondering the quality of the hay bale, how can we tell the "good / bad" difference at a glance?

Factors Affecting a Hay Bale..,

Maturity. That is the maturity stage at harvest. Although different types of forage can mature differently, generally speaking you are looking for a high proportion of leaves with few or no course stems and seed heads. Early harvest equals leafy growth and higher amounts of starches, sugars, proteins and minerals. This is because the plant is in the vegetative state. Mid season hay equals elongated stems and developed seed heads. The more mature plants have become the lower the nutrients and higher the fiber. Now fiber may sound great to many of us, but for some grazers, the higher the fiber the less digestable the food. A good hay bale has a higher proportion of leaves to elongated stems and fewer still seed heads. The seed heads represent the reproductive state.

Leafiness. This is the ratio of stems to leaves. Reports say that the leafiness gives 60-90 percent of the nutrients, protein and vitamins to the feed. High leaves also shows a good harvest and handling methods. In general a high leaf count will have a greater energy count than the hay with fewer leaves.

Foreign Matter. Make sure your hay is free from foreign matter. That is.., free from garbage, sticks, weeds, poison materials, etc. Weeds for example can have poor feed value and in some instances be toxic to some livestock. Foreign materials are usually divided into injurious and non injurious materials that will affect the animal if it were eaten.

Condition. Look for dust and mold as well as color and odor. Was the hay baled on or before proper moisture? Is the hay bale stored in a dry and ventilated area? Hay which has not been stored well can have nutrient loss or be moldy. Hay bales should be a bright greeen with a sweet fresh odor. Brown or bleached or mushy suggests low quality. There could be some discoloration from sun bleaching or dew. This is not considered as serious a loss as the loss of green from maturity, rain damage or excessive fermentation.

A brown hay bale with a distinctive musty moldy odor or even visible mold, results in a loss of dry matter, digestible protein and energy .., and will destroy the carotene and other vitamins which may be required for your live stock.

Types of Grass..,

Orchard Grass: This grass matures early. The first cutting maybe too coarse by the time ideal harvesting conditions become available. This grass should be harvested in the boot to early heading stage.

Timothy: This grass matures later. It produces plump brown seeds that when they shell easily, indicate full maturity.

Brome Grass: This grass also matures later.

Legumes: Examples of this grass are Alfalfa and Clover. These bales are more difficult to dry because of the coarse stems. They are usually higher in protein, energy, calcium and Vitiman A. Because this type of feed is more difficult to dry, it is prone to over drying which results in the loss of nutritious leaves which tend to shatter and not make it to the bale. Leafiness is critical with legumes as they tend to lose their leaves during handling.

Alfalfa: Alfalfa is cut in the bud stage and should have buds at the tips of the stems but no purple flower petals. It should be leafy and stems can be more fine than coarse and pliable. If this grass is cut after it has blossomed it can be stemmy in appearance, have large woody stems and fewer leaves.

However, Alfalfa, in particular, can be deceptive to its age of maturity. Cool temperatures and cloudy weather can retard maturity and promote higher quality at any given age. Conversely, increasing temperatures and day length also development which means a hay bale development is faster in summer than spring or fall. This means that the cutting of Alfalfa at the first bloom stage is actually older than the bloom stage of the 2nd and 3rd cuttings.

Clover: For top quality, this hay bale will optiomally be cut at 20% bloom stage. Maturity can be determined by observing the color and condition of its blooms and the maturity of its seeds. Color is not an indicator of digestability. It can also be deceiving as early cut, rain damaged hay that is off color can have a higher nutriant value to a hay bale which is bright green and late cut hay.

**Generally hay bales made of grass are lower in protein and energy and higher in fiber to legumes which you have to consider for your horses health

Does assessing hay bale "quality" convert to hay bale feed value?

The quick answer to this is "no". Although a good looking hay is more likely than not to be of a greater feed importance, you will have to get a forage analysis if you need more than a visual measurement of proper nutrient content.

What information can you get from a forage analysis?..,

There are several specifics you can get from a chemical analysis of your hay.

Dry Matter: This is a measurement of everything other than water. This includes proteins, fiber, fat, minerals and other nutrients.

Crude Protein: This is an estimate of the plant protein as a percentage of the dry matter above.

Neutral Fiber: This shows the plant fiber in the feed and is expressed generally as a percentage of the total dry matter. The higher the neutral fiber is the less the animal will probably eat before it's stomach is full.

Digestible Nutrients: This measures the total digestible protein, starches, sugars, fiber and fat as a percentage of the total dry matter.

Net Energy: This is an estimate of the mega calories of energy per pound of dry matter and refers to the fraction of a forages energy content available to keep animals alive to the fraction of energy available for animals to gain weight or milk production for example.

Relative Feed Value: This is an index which ranks digestibility and intake potential. A high score means high quality. However, a relatively high score is still high for an animal in a maintenance or light production phase of life.

Minerals: Mineral content is expressed as a percentage of the dry matter or as parts per million.

If you are wanting to submit hay bales for sampling..,

• Keep in mind to submit a sample from each field or cutting

• Take a sample from the hay bale’s core not the hay from the surface

• Take random samples

• For square bales, take the sample from the end fo the bale which will be from several flakes

• Seal the hay sample in a plastic bag and remember to keep the sample cool until mailing

• Avoid having the hay samples arrive at the lab for over the weekend by trying to send them early in the week

The reality and roadblocks to lab testing..,

• Cost justification

• The inability to reveal other concerns such as dust, mold, foreign materials, leaf shattering etc.

Other options.., Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy is said to be faster and less expensive than chemical testing with a shorter turn around time which makes for a slightly less elaborate hay bale purchase.

More Info..,

Hay Feeders: For the last 3 years I have had a horse go down from a variety of ailments.., which were all systemic from the rich and abundant food that I had been providing in the form of pasture and of course hay..,

Horse Hay: How is the quality of horse hay measured? It is the horse hay composition, delivery methods and quantities where opinions become as varied as the breeds of horses eating the stuff..,

Article: Pasture Management

PLEASE NOTE: This web page is based on the research and conversations that we have had with various people and professionals on the subject of horses health and horse wormer requirements and is not intended to replace veterinary care for your animals. We do not accept liability for errors or omissions. A vet, horse nutritionist or other trained professional should always be consulted with any equine concerns, or before changing any feeding or care regime.