A Short Guide to Horse Hay Analysis

A horse owner asks if hay analysis is necessary. Our nutrition expert offers an answer and advice on getting a sample.

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A Short Guide to Horse Hay Analysis
Hay testing can be an important step in better understanding exactly what your horse is eating. | Photo: iStock

Q: I’ve considered getting my horse hay tested, but I’m not sure whether it’s worth the effort. If it’s worth doing, how do I take a sample, where do I send it, and how much does it cost?

A: Hay analysis is the most accurate way to determine your hay’s chemical composition and nutrient value. The data you get back is useful in deciding whether a particular hay is a good choice for you horse. Ideally, hay growers should analyze it prior to purchase, but unfortunately fewer growers and brokers fully test hay they sell to horse owners prior. Therefore, you’re often left analyzing the hay post-purchase. If you have a horse with special dietary needs, such as low nonstructural carbohydrate (NSC) levels due to equine metabolic syndrome, purchasing hay before it is tested is a gamble.

Get a Good Sample

The data provided on a hay analysis is only as good as the submitted samples, so getting a representative sample is very important. While you might feel tempted to take a grab handful from a bale to submit to your chosen lab for analysis, this won’t result in data that’s representative. You’ll need to collect samples from multiple haybales. According to the National Forage Testing Association, the first step is to identify a single lot of hay. If testing hay prior to purchase, make sure the sample is from a single cutting, from the same field, and of the same type of hay

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Written by:

Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Clarity Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

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