Best Horse Hay

Elaine Sutton
• Monday, 14 December, 2020
• 7 min read

Different types of hay for horses can vary in nutritional value, taste or texture. We will explore all the types of hay that are commonly fed to horses.

hay horses horse animal natural
(Source: www.alternativeanimal.com)


If a horse has a heavy workload, or needs more energy and caloric intake, legume hay can be a good fit. The higher percent of calcium in legume hay can present a problem with the calcium/phosphorus balance.

Legumes are different from grasses because they have a relationship between phobia, which is a bacterium, and nitrogen in their roots. These bacteria “fixes” the nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia, then into ammonium which the plant can then use to make protein.

Clover Red CloverClover hay can provide energy, protein and fiber, however, if clover molds, it can cause slobbers and bleeding in horses who eat the molded hay. The flower blooms are small, bright yellow, and form in clusters at the end of the stems.

Once seed pods form they extend away from the stalk and look like a bird’s foot (hence the name). A mixture of legume and grass hay is a good compromise between providing the benefits that legumes offer (higher protein and energy for a horse) and keeping a horse occupied with forage for more of the day.

Timothy hay is a common favorite among horses and owners. It usually has a higher amount of protein than other grass hays but has a better balance of nutrients such as calcium and fiber.

hay horses grass hays type legume bale vs round
(Source: www.alternativeanimal.com)

Typically, orchard grass is lower in protein than timothy, but it is a favorite amongst horses and owners. Bermuda grass grows well in a variety of conditions so it is a common hay for horses.

But Bermuda grass provides a good source of forage for horses. Bermuda is typically the cheapest grass hay you can purchase for a horse.

There are some loose correlations between Bermuda grass hay and colic. It could just be a coincidence between colic symptoms and feeding dry forage though.

The resulting oat hay is high in protein and other nutrients, making it a nutritious option for horse hay. Oat hay is also quite high in sugar, so it is not a good option for insulin resistant horses.

Additionally, the stalks can be thick so some horses won’t eat it because of texture. Rye Grass Rye Grassy grass is gaining popularity as a forage for horses as it is quick to establish and grow and provides good nutrition.

hay horse feed bags there way feeders mangers nets ground automatic options think getting into
(Source: www.paulickreport.com)

It is quite sensitive to moisture fluctuations though, so care must be taken with overwatering or irrigating it (and it may be difficult to get during a drought). Rescue grass grows relatively tall, with broader blades than timothy hay.

It should be noted that it can be harmful to pregnant mares due to an neophyte fungal infection of the grass. Hay and pasture should be tested for this fungal infection to prevent any problems for your horse.

Rescue hay has a palatable texture than other grasses, and can be low in sugar. You don’t want a damp or musty smell Bales should be consistent (too heavy indicates mold or too much moisture, while too light can indicate over drying or lack of nutrients for your horse) Hay should be green.

Color can vary based on grass type and exposure to sunlight. Keep in mind that even though some of these hays may sound better in their description, ultimately the best hay for your horse is the one they will eat.

Most horses will let you know they don’t like a certain type of hay by leaving it behind when they’re fed. A horse ’s protein and energy requirements depend on age, stage of development, metabolism and workload.

hay horse moldy bale pssm round equine heaves horses eating copd barn mold grass feed stable supplements avoid nutrition stables
(Source: stablemanagement.com)

A mature horse will eat 2 to 2.5 percent of its body weight a day, and for optimum health, nutritionists recommend that at least half of this should be roughage such as hay. While hay alone may not meet the total dietary requirements of young, growing horses or those used for high levels of performance, high-quality hay may supply ample nutrition for less active adult horses.

Use the following tips from the American Association of Equine Practitioners to select the best hay for your horse : Avoid hay that is over cured, excessively sun-bleached, or smells moldy, musty, dusty or fermented.

Examine the leaves, stems and flowers or seed pods to determine the level of maturity. Avoid hay that contains significant amounts of weeds, dirt, trash or debris.

Store hay in a dry, sheltered area out of the rain, snow and sun, or cover in the stack to protect it from the elements. When buying in quantity, have the hay analyzed by a certified forage laboratory to determine its actual nutrient content.

Remember that horses at different ages and stages of growth, development and activity have different dietary requirements. Consult your veterinarian or a qualified equine nutritionist when formulating your horse ’s ration.

hay quality signs horse forage premium stampede makes diet
(Source: stampedepremium.com)

The American Association of Equine Practitioners, headquartered in Lexington, Ky., was founded in 1954 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the health and welfare of the horse. Currently, 4AEP reaches more than 6 million horse owners through its nearly 10,000 members worldwide and is actively involved in ethics issues, practice management, research and continuing education in the equine veterinary profession and horse industry.

You may have already tried to do some research on the best hay to feed your horse and most likely the more you’ve read, the more confused you become! So here is a consolidated overview of some differences between hays to help you decide which is the best hay to feed your horse.

The nutritional profiles of different types of hay can vary considerably, especially when measuring fiber, protein content, digestible energy and mineral composition. The younger the hay is when it was cut, the higher the protein level will be.

Non-Structural Carbohydrates (NSC): This term is used to describe the sugar and starch content in hay. NSC’s are important, since these are the carbohydrates that are broken down and absorbed into the blood stream as glucose.

Horses that are insulin resistant are typically put on low NSC “low-carb” diets. Calcium (Ca) and Phosphorus (P): The balanced ratio between these two minerals, which varies among different types of hay, is very important because the two work closely together.

horses hay horse roughage fibre feed hygain forage type vs goat sheep pasture being
(Source: www.hygain.com.au)

In other words, a horse needs at least as much calcium in his diet as phosphorus, never the reverse. If a horse is fed hay that contains more protein than they can utilize, the excess will be broken down and the waste will be eliminated in the urine as urea, which is then converted to ammonia.

Higher Calcium Levels Another major difference between alfalfa and grass hay is the mineral profile. And, of course, the mineral content in all hays will vary depending on the region in which it was grown as well as the soil conditions.

Alfalfa hay is very popular since it is readily available and is reasonably priced; it is the only forage that is sold in every state in the U.S. Not only is alfalfa easy to find, but horses also love the taste and almost always prefer the taste of alfalfa over grass hay. Horses that have Equine Metabolic Syndrome (insulin resistance) and are prone to laminates may be sensitive to alfalfa, most likely because alfalfa has more sugar and is higher in starch than most grass hays.

So if your horse is insulin resistant and you are considering feeding him alfalfa hay, it would be best to discuss this option first with your vet. Grass hay is also quite often a good choice for senior horses, as it’s easier on the kidneys due to its lower protein content and is also easier to chew and digest.

Grass hay is also a good hay choice for “easy keepers”, meaning horses that easily gain weight or struggle to keep their weight down, especially ponies or miniature horses. Because of the high fiber content, grass hay is a convenient solution for these easy keepers since it can satisfy the horse ’s appetite, without adding extra calories and protein.

hay horses bale round horse square eating snow quality there factors understanding putting ranch rescued categories geocache
(Source: horses-world.com)

These are just some different types of hay typically fed to horses, along with some of their differences, that hopefully will help you in deciding which is the best hay to feed your horse. If you’d like to learn more about different hays and their typical nutritional profiles, a comprehensive resource to visit is Equi-Analytial.com.

And of course, make sure you speak with your equine veterinarian about which hay would be best for your horse based on his own individual nutrient requirements.

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