Use Caution When Bedding Horses on Rye Straw

Rye straw can contain ergot alkaloids, which can be poisonous to livestock, including horses. Here’s what to watch for.

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Use Caution When Bedding Horses on Rye Straw
Ergot bodies resemble mouse droppings and form in the place of healthy seed of many cereal grains and grasses. Pictured here are grasses with ergot bodies, including tall fescue and ryegrass. | Photo Credit: Courtesy Cynthia Gaskill/UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

Due to a shortage of wheat straw in the United States, more equine operations are switching to rye straw for bedding. Experts at the University of Kentucky’s (UK) College of Agriculture, Food and Environment say this is generally a good option, but there are several unique considerations when using rye straw.

Unlike wheat, where the grain is harvested first and the remaining stems are cut and baled, the whole rye plant is usually harvested and baled. This means the straw still has its seed heads, which contain awns or appendages that could cause gum irritation if the horse consumes the bedding. Thus, it’s important to watch horses bedded on rye closely to ensure their gums don’t become irritated.

Additionally, molds can develop on the stems and seed heads of rye during wet harvest conditions. As with any hay or straw, only purchase bales that are clean and dust free

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