How to Choose Hay for Your Horse

It’s important for your horse to have good-quality hay, but how do you choose it? Start with these tips.
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Besides water, forage is the most important thing your horse will take into his mouth. And one of the main sources of forage for horses is hay.

It’s crucial that your horse has good-quality hay, but how do you find it? Start by using your senses.

Does it look good? The soft green color that’s attractive to our eyes often means the hay is fresh. But remember—color can only tell you so much. It’s important to have your hay tested to ensure it contains the appropriate nutrients for your horse.

Grab a handful of hay and feel it. Does it feel coarse? Are there small twigs or prickers in it? If it feels bad in your hands just think of how it would feel in your horse’s mouth. Good hay is free of extraneous material and has soft, sometimes even fine, texture in your hands. It should also have a high leaf to stem ratio, as the majority of digestible nutrients are found in the leaf portion of both grass and legume hay.

Take that handful of hay and bring it up to your nose. Breathe in. Does it smell fresh and clean? Or do you detect dust or mold? Choose a hay that smells fresh and free of mold or dust, both of which can be harmful to your horse.

Other Considerations

Not sure where to purchase your hay? A good place to start your search for quality hay is with your county Extension agency or state agricultural department. Often times, they’ll have an idea of who the hay growers in your area are and what the quality of each grower’s hay is. You can also visit local farm or feed stores to see what kind of hay they have available for purchase.

It’s always a good idea to have your hay analyzed. Your county Extension agent can help for this task, as well. Knowing the nutrient profile of the hay will allow you to make smart decisions about what to feed, which will help you ensure that your horse receives the proper nutrition.

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