Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hay is for horses: Selecting hay

There is nothing so beautiful as a green, soft, fragrant bale of hay. When I lived in North Carolina, Harv was at a coop barn. I joined with a few other boarders in buying our hay in Southern Pines at a place called Gourmet Hay. For $9, I could get an 80 lb bale of timothy hay so gorgeous I would happily consume it myself with a little ranch dressing. As a one-horse owner in a very economical boarding situation, I could afford to buy really nice hay. Harvey was as sleek and fat as a seal and loving life.

That was in 1998. Hay is a touchy subject now. Regional droughts and the incentives for producing corn for biofuel have led to hay shortages and high prices. To buy hay now, you have to make compromises. Most of us can spot obvious problems like mold, foreign matter, stemminess, etc. But it never hurts to know more, not only about buying it, but about growing it. Below are some articles on selecting, growing, and harvesting hay.

Selecting horse hay

Choosing good hay from Today's Horse
A "bulleted-list" style summary of the characteristics of good and bad hay -- sight, smell, weight, etc.

Selecting and Storing Horse Hay from University of Minnesota Extension Service
Looks at content/species, touch, moisture, maturity, smell, cutting, color, mold, bale type, rain, and bale type.

Horse hay and selection: Sorting out truth from fiction
Debunks myths about feeding hay, such as most horses can't eat round bale hay and that horses shouldn't get alfalfa hay.

Evaluating hay quality from University of Maryland Cooperative Extension
Discusses stage of maturity at harvest, leafiness, color, foreign material, and odor/condition.

Choosing hay for horses from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension
Topics covered include: clean hay, nutrient value of hay, matching hay type to horse type, is hay a balanced diet?, and a list of common questions and answers.

Selecting quality hay for horses from Purdue University Extension
Similar to other extension publications but with unique sections on forms of harvested forage, methods of testing hay, and interpreting test results.

Evaluating hay for horses: Myths and realities from University of California Davis.
Concise and readable.

Choose the best forage option for your horse from University of Minnesota
Discusses options for extending hay, including cubes, beet pulp, complete feeds, and older hay.

Drought feeding of horses from North Carolina State University
Discusses alternative forages such as legume forages, wheat middlings, soyhulls, peanut hulls and beet pulp. Forage with an acid detergent fiber (ADF) less than 32% adf (indigestible fiber) may be safely fed to horses.

Ten tips for choosing hay from Equisearch (tips from AAEP)
Ten things to consider when visually inspecting horse hay.

Equine Nutrition: Forages from Utah State University
Discusses the types of forage and how the equine digestive system handles forage.

Deciphering hay quality from Equinenews
Discusses the methods of lab testing hay and how to interpret the results.

Trends in horse hay from UC-Davis
Discusses nutritional content and particularly a trend toward low carbohydrate hay.
Go to this Web site if only to see the horse-cow graphic. It's about feeding laminitic/insulin resistant horses. I don't know a lot about this organization but the author is a consultant who has some articles published in reviewed journals.

A few resources on harvesting hay

Harvesting alfalfa hay from the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension
This article is definitely geared toward the farmer, but if you want to feel knowledgable about alfalfa, it's worth reading. Well written and interesting

Harvest Management for high qualty alfalfa hay
White paper by a UMass faculty member. Again, geared to the farmer but interesting non-the-less.

Chapter 8: Hay and Pasture Management from the Online Agronomy Handbook (University of Illinois Dept of Crop Sciences)
Sixty six pages, and frankly beyond the needs of the average horse owner. Sections on evaluating older hay and hay quality are good reads.

Pasture and Hay for horses from Penn State
Covers hay and pasture management in Pennsylvania.

1 comment:

  1. I am very thankful for your list of resources which I will peruse later. I paid $3.50/4.00 a bale in 2006, here in the Midwest and this past summer '07 paid $7 for good grass hay and was happy to get it at that. If I'm going to be paying that in the future, it will benefit me to be as educated as possible. I have noticed lots of differences though and desire to be more educated. Some bales have wheat straw in them! Not much, but enough to warrant my attention. Thanks for taking the time to accumulate the info!


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