Horse Hay. It's Fundamental To Your Horse's Health.

Horse hay, or forage is the basis of any horse feed program. Like any food, the quality of that forage is fundamental to the health of your animals. Now, if you've just hit this website and haven't read far enough to have guessed quite yet.., I am a self admitting country gal and with that comes the usual rigermerole of animals including several horses.

As I alluded to before, for the last 3 years with the new grass shoots of spring, I have had a hay feeder go down from a variety of ailments.., which.., according to my vet, were all systemic from the rich and abundant food that I had been providing in the form of pasture and of course hay.

Sick animals are a disaster to a farm. A sick horse can't be ridden. There are the vet bills. There is pain for the animal. Care becomes a 24/7 job.

Yes, there are many living souls in this family, but the head food hunter is me. I over feed the animals the same way I do myself.., and to know about it and continue is a unconsciable form of animal abuse. It is not just about the over eating and fat, it is also about the need of this farm and families overall health. Now there is a difference between the animals and ourselves. If I eat I will finish when it is time to stop. Animals on the other hand will stop when they are full.., or not.

What is hay?

Horse hay is about foraging and forage is the plant material that is eaten by hay feeding humans and animals. In the early days, as a hunter and gatherer society, one of our primary methods of food was the foraging of plants from the wild. Forage is the basis of any horse feed program and it is no exaggeration to say that money out of your wallet can be related to the quality and nutritional value of your hay.

Grazing is the act of feeding on plants. Horses are a grazing animal. The word grazing comes from an old English term relating to "grass". Grazers eat forage.

Generally speaking horses graze horse hay as their primary source of feed and nutrition. And even if your horses do not, it is important that the best forage is provided to mirror your horses needs for both your animals and pocket book.

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.

About the horse..,

Horses were born to eat forage. And taking you back to your schools anatomy class, about 65% of the digestive capacity of the horse is in the lower gut.

Reading journals, it suggests that horses require a minimum of 1% of their body weight per day in dry matter with the indiviudual piece being below 1" in size for digestibility and appropriate rate of passage.

For quality, the same perameters apply to horse hay quality as to general hay bale quality. So, we need to look at the maturity stage at harvest, what species have been used, leafiness, harvest conditions, storage, foreign materials including weeds are all important factors affecting quality.

As we discussed previously, color can be a unreliable and over rated indicator of quality. Studies have shown that horse hay that has been rained on is only slightly lower in nutrients than its non rained on counterparts. This does not take into consideration other indicators however, such as leaf loss and dampness causing mold.

Harvest maturity generally reasons to being more mature and therefore less digestable. This relates to the hay's maturity at each cut as well as which cut the hay is coming from. As plants mature, the concentration of structural carb's and lignin increases and and crude protein decreases.

Carb's and cellulose are partially digested by the the bacteria in the horse's lower gut but lignin is not digested at all. It is estimated that if lignin increases 1% that the digestibility of the horse hay can decrease 3-4%.

It is important to look for leafiness in your hay bale. As forage plants mature, leaf to stem ratio's decrease which is not as good, as leaves contain more digestable carbs and protein to their counterparts the stem. Hay baling for reduced leaf shatter is something that is very important to watch for.

I have had my share of bales which came with foreign matter. I have had the usual sticks, brambles, weeds and once some string. Recently I read a story about a family who nearly lost their son's pony when parts of the baling equipment were found in the horse hay. Molds and dust of course can also result in respitory issues for your animals.

Horse hay should be harvested when the moisture content is not greated than 29%. Over this can result in a moldy product. Improper harvesting can decrease digestibility, sugars and starches and decrease in digestible dry matter.

Studies show.., A horse is designed to digest primarily forages Horses have fewer digestive upsets and behavioral vices when hay is the main portion of their rations.

Horse Hay requirements..,

Horse feed requirements depends on the classification your horse falls into. However, nutritional guidelines show that 50 to 100 percent of horse's nutrients can be supplied by hay. However, your horses rations are calculated on the base that they will eat 2 to 5 percent of their body weight each day in the dry matter.

Classifications (as noted through a variety of research):

Maintenance: Mature, maintaining weight, no to minimal exercies.

Minimum required per pound - • 10% protein • .3% calcium • .2% phosphorus • 1 Mcal of digestive energy per pound

Growth: These guys require a higher quality than the maintenance group. Over feeding and under feeding in the growth group is very problematic.

Minimum required per pound - • 15% crude protein • .7% calcium • .4% phosphorus • 1.4 Mcal of digestive energy per pound

Work: The intensity and duration of work will increase the requirments of this group from 25 to 100% above the maintenance minimal requirments. The minimum requirements of a mature horse doing moderate work is..,

Minimum required per pound - • 11% crude protein • .35% calcium • .25% phosphorus • 1.2 Mcal of digestive energy per pound

Pregnant: During the first 8 months of pregnancy, this group is the same as a mare being maintained. During the last 4 months of pregnancy, however, there will be a continual increase to a minimum of ..,

Minimum required per pound - • 11% crude protein • .5% calcium • .4% phosphorus • 1.1 Mcal of digestive energy per pound

Lactation: This group comes into play 3 months after foaling. The requirements are about 80% above maintenance and then 50% for the following 3 months.

Taking this information and relating it to Horse Hay..,

If a riding horse is going to eat 2% of its body weight per day in hay alone, a 1000 pound horse will eat 20 pounds per day. At a 40 pound bale weight this becomes a 183 bales a year if we were to feed straight hay.

As is quite reasonable to assume as true, horses at different stages of growth and activity have different requirements.

As an extra note..,

• Legume hay is a concentrated sournce of energy and protein which is an advantage when it comes to feeding growing horses and performing athletes. These rich levels of nutrients can, however, cause some horses some health issues. Purchasing a lower quality hay or mix can provide benefits that better match what some horses need.

• If you choose to feed straight alfalfa, you should include with it a high phosphorous mineral supplement to bring your horses calcium / phosphorous ration to a better balance.

• And with a high mineral content horse hay, your equine may drink more water than before.

Hay Storage..,

Hay that has been stored or baled with excessive moisture can develop mold. Mold canalter the digestibility of the hay as well as produce "heat". Excessive heat can be created from the incorrect stacking of horse hay and can result in the product to (heaven forbid) the barn to burn.

When horse hay is first stored it may increase in temperature, principally through sugar respiration. As hay storage time increases, the hay will lose dry matter and will increase its neutral and acid detergent fibers.

Feed what you need..,

So as we can see, there are as many types of horse hay as there are horses that we will continue to become familiar with as we try to find the best horse hay which mirrors the horses needs and our pocket book.

More Information:

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..,

Looking at the Hay Bale: the amount of money that you have to extract from your wallet can certainly relate back to the quality and nutritional value of your hay..,

PLEASE NOTE: This web page is based on the research and conversations that I have had with various people and professionals on the subject of horses health and feeding requirements. A vet, horse nutritionist or other professional should always be consulted with any equine concerns.