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franklin county times

Buying hay for horses

By By Lance Bruce
August 4, 2004
One of the hardest things to find if you are a horse owner is top quality hay.
Horses, because of their digestive systems, require a high quality, easily digestible hay that can be difficult to find. With the tremendous amount of rainfall that occurred this spring and early summer, hay has been hard to harvest. Several producers have been able to harvest some good hay through the downfalls, but many had to wait for dry weather. This caused grasses to reach a stage of growth when quality starts to decrease.
Hay harvested at a mature growth stage is usually very stemmy, which makes it much less nutritious and digestible. Overly mature hay has higher levels of crude fiber and lignin; which both cut feed value. Hay that is fine-stemmed, soft, and leafy is the hay you should seek.
The season hay is harvest will also affect the quality. Hay usually will have more nutrients if harvested in late spring. As summer progresses, the quality typically will decline, then rise a little in early fall. Many horse owners prefer midsummer hay because it often will cure better, and is less likely to become moldy.
Hay that smells moldy or musty should be avoided. Moldy hay will usually have a white or bluish powder or excessive dust. Horses that consume moldy hay could develop health problems. Be sure to check hay as it is being fed to make sure it is free of mold and foreign objects.
Weeds are another factor to consider when buying hay. Several weeds can be harmful to your horses, if eaten. Weed-free hay is very hard to find. If a hay producer sprays the field, make sure the recommend time has elapsed before the grass was harvested. Hay fields harvested too soon after a herbicide treatment may have residuals of the poison that can lead to toxicity in a horse.
Color of the hay also can be an indication of quality. Hay that is bright green in color is usually a sign of rich vitamin content, especially carotene, which the horse converts to Vitamin A. However, you shouldn't necessarily turn down hay because it is not green on the outside. The inside of a bale often has good color.
Many horse owners like to feed alfalfa, which is shipped in from the Midwest or Northern states. Alfalfa is primarily fed to young, growing horses and to broodmares because they need more protein. Alfalfa is also higher in energy than grass hay. The same consideration should be given to alfalfa because the quality can be affected by stage of growth at harvest, and the season harvested.
Another concern of alfalfa is blister beetles. Blister beetles inhabit alfalfa fields and when alfalfa is baled, the beetles get baled up with it. When fed to horses, the beetles will sting, which could cause major health problems.
If you have hay you would like tested for quality call the Lauderdale County Extension Office at 482-9764.

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