How to Safely Switch Your Horse’s Hay

Here’s what you need to know about how to make a change in your horse’s hay or forage safely and effectively.
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How to Safely Change Your Horse
Weather patterns, supply and demand, and health issues are reasons owners might change hay types or switch to alternative forages. | Photo: Courtesy Dr. Krishona Martinson

How to make hay changes safely and effectively

“Thou shalt make all feed changes gradually,” could be listed as one of the 10 commandments of horse ownership. The National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Horses: Sixth Revised Edition (2007) states that owners should make any changes in the amount or form of a horse’s feed—grains, concentrates, hay, and pasture—­gradually due to the animal’s sensitive digestive system. This reduces risk of colic due to digestive upset. But sometimes things don’t work out as planned and you need to make a quick switch. Let’s look at scenarios that might call for a sudden change in hay type and how to make the shift safely and effectively.

Dwindling Supply & Changing Demand

Weather plays a critical role in hay production. Each grass and legume species requires a specific temperature and precipitation range for optimum growth. For example, orchardgrass grows best at soil temperatures of 50-65 degrees Fahrenheit with about 18 inches of annual rainfall. In years when growing conditions for plants are challenging, horse owners could find the hay supply drastically reduced. The most common weather-related reason for hay shortages across the world? Drought.

RELATED CONTENT: Feeding Horses in Drought Conditions
RELATED CONTENT: Feeding Horses in Drought Conditions

Drought occurs when a high-pressure system locks in over a geographical area, causing below-normal amounts of precipitation. The worst drought in U.S. history, known as the Dust Bowl, caused major agricultural damage in the 1930s. More recently, in New South Wales, Australia, a severe drought with some of the lowest rainfalls on record caused hay prices to more than double, leaving farmers unable to feed their livestock

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Written by:

Kristen M. Janicki, a lifelong horsewoman, was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition. Kristen has been a performance horse nutritionist for an industry feed manufacturer for more than a decade. Her job entails evaluating and improving the performance of the sport horse through proper nutrition.

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