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What is in Horse Hay
 By Winniefield Park   •   12th Aug 2017   •   1,309 views   •   0 comments


My hands are sore, my muscles are tired and my legs and forearms are scratched and bruised. That means we must be haying. Itís been a rough year again for those trying to get hay off of the fields. Constant rain has been a problem in my area, with barely two sunny days in a row, followed by torrential, ground flooding, lake swelling downpours. In other places, drought is a problem. A little balance would be good in a summer of extremes.

Nevertheless, as an old farmer said, there has never been a summer without hay. The problem is the quality of the hay when extreme weather makes things difficult. A lot of the hay being baled here is very coarse, with heavy stems. That might be okay for cattle, but not so great for horses. If the hay is too dry, the leaves of the plants get broken, and are lost during baling and fall to the bottom of feeders where they are often wasted. Making good horse hay is truly skill mixed with common sense.

Lots of things affect horse hay. Different plants grow at different rates, so the composition of the hay changes depending on the growing conditions and the time of year the hay is cut. But wait, isnít all the green stuff just hay? Nope. Hay is made of different plants. Basically, there are two types: legumes and grasses. Grasses in horse hay include timothy, orchard grass, brome grass, bermuda grass, bluegrass, and some people might feed oat or barley hay, but this isnít common. Legumes includes clovers and alfalfa, or as it is called in some places, lucerne.

The type of hay youíll feed your horse will depend on where you live. In the north, east and west, timothy, brome, orchard grass and alfalfa are most commonly fed. In the warmer south, horse owners are more likely to feed bermuda grass.

For those of us who have pleasure horses, especially those with Ďeasy keepersí good grass hay is all our horses need. This provides the nutrients and energy required for good health. Performance horses, mares in foal or nursing foals, or hard keepers may benefit from legume hay, most commonly alfalfa. Alfalfa hay is more nutritious, and has higher protein than grass hays. Horses really like alfalfa hay, so it's good for those horses that are picky eaters. The downside of feeding alfalfa is that it is higher in calcium than grass hays, which can cause a mineral imbalance. Because it is higher in calories from sugars, itís not suitable for horses prone to Equine Metabolic Syndrome. Easy keepers, ponies and horses with EMS would probably be better off with grass hay.

Clover is usually mixed in with grass hay, so even though it is similar in nutritional values to alfalfa, we donít tend to feed straight clover to horses, although some farmers do grow it for cattle. Mixed in, it enhances the nutrition and calories of grass hay. Red clover can be a problem. A mold that can grow on red clovers can cause slobbers, a messy, uncomfortable watering of the mouth, that isnít harmful be does look alarming. Alsike clover, identifiable by itís small pink flowers and solid green leaves, as opposed to leaves of red clover marked with a white ĎVí, can cause photo-sensitivity, ulcers in the mouth, and something called big liver disease. So, itís wise to ask your hay supplier what clovers are in the hay and inspect bales before committing to buying them.

Grass hay is lower in calcium, calories and not quite as nutrient dense as legumes. Grass hays grow quickly in the spring, but slow down as the season progresses. So, first cut hay may be the best for those easy keepers and horses that arenít working too hard. Second, and third cuts may be more rich in alfalfas and clovers, as these keep growing despite a bit of dryness and heat. Grass hays are higher fiber than legume hays, they are good for horses with EMS and for any horse fiber is essential for a healthy digestive system.

With all hays, itís important that your horse always has clean, fresh drinking water available. When horses graze, they get a lot of their moisture from the grass. But, because hay is dry, theyíll need to drink to make up the shortfall.
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