Last Updated on July 26, 2022
Knowing how can you tell good quality hay for horses is essential to ensure that you are feeding the very best hay to meet your horse’s needs. Hay comes in varying types with different levels of nutrition, and the way it is grown and cut can also affect the quality. Let’s find out everything you need to know about how can you tell good quality hay for horses!
What Types Of Hay Do You Get For Horses?
You may think that all hay is the same, but there are in fact many different types of hay! Choosing the right kind of hay for horses is vital to ensure that they have a healthy and nutritious diet. The correct type of hay for horses may not necessarily be the same as the type of hay fed to sheep or cattle.
One of the other common misconceptions is that all hay is made from grass. In fact, many hays also contain legumes, a family of plants that are high in protein. The correct mix of legumes and grass in hay is essential to provide a nutritionally balanced diet.
Good quality hay for horses will contain a combination of the following grasses and legumes:
Alfalfa is a legume grown for hay, that contains high levels of protein. Many people will be familiar with feeding alfalfa to horses, either as dried hay or chopped chaff. For the highest nutritional value, most alfalfa is harvested just before it flowers.
Although alfalfa is highly nutritious for horses, it does not make up a balanced diet and should be fed alongside grass hay. The high protein content can also be problematic for horses that are prone to weight gain and obesity. It is ideal for high-performance horses that require a lot of energy in their diet.
Clover is also a legume crop but is not as easy to crop and harvest as alfalfa. Horses love the taste of clover hay, but it can be difficult to make good-quality clover hay as it tends to go moldy. In terms of nutritional content, clover is very similar to alfalfa.
Timothy grass is easy to grow and highly palatable to horses, making it one of the most popular grasses in hay crops. It is lower in protein than alfalfa and ideal for horses that are at rest or at low activity levels. It does not contain enough protein to sustain a horse that requires large amounts of energy.
Homestead Harvest Stampede Timothy Grass Pellets
Orchard grass is higher in protein than Timothy grass but not as high as legumes like clover or alfalfa. It does also have the advantage of the perfect balance of calcium and phosphorus. This grass hay is ideal for horses that are in moderate work.
Fescue Grass – How Can You Tell Good Quality Hay For Horses?
Although fescue grass is commonly fed to horses in the form of hay, there are some health concerns about this type of grass. Ideally, it should be tested for a fungus that grows on the seeds, which can cause serious health problems in horses. Many horse owners find it easier to avoid feeding fescue grass to horses altogether.
Reed Canary Grass
Reed canary grass is ideal for horses that are prone to weight gain, as it is less palatable than most other types of grass hay.
Cereal hay is made from the dried stems and leaves of wheat, barley, and oat plants, and may also be referred to as straw. This is very low in nutritional content, but it is high in fiber. Cereal hay is often fed to donkeys, as well as horses and ponies that are prone to weight gain.
How Can You Tell Good Quality Hay For Horses?
Hay should be visually inspected to check that it is dry and free from mold and dust. Good quality hay has a larger proportion of leaves, with few coarse stems and seed heads.
In terms of color, good quality hay should be green-yellow with a sweet, fragrant odor. If the hay is brown, bleached, or smells musty, it is not good quality hay. The hay should also be free of foreign objects such as plastic trash or weeds.
The only way to evaluate the nutritional content of hay is to get a full nutritional analysis. Assessing the types of grasses and legumes in the hay can help you to identify whether it is suitable for your horse.
Summary – How Can You Tell Good Quality Hay For Horses?
So, as we have learned, the question of how can you tell good quality hay for horses depends on the requirements of the horse. The most common type of hay blend fed to horses is a mix of alfalfa and Timothy hay, which provides a good balance in terms of fiber, protein, and energy. Good quality hay should be free from dust and mold, and have a pleasant, sweet aroma.
How Do You Pick Good Hay For Horses?
Good hay for horses should smell sweet and be free from dust, mold, and unpleasant odors. It should be greeny-yellow in color, and brown hay should be avoided.
What Type Of Hay Is Considered The Best Hay For Horses?
Although each horse is different in terms of its nutritional needs, there is one type of hay blend that is commonly fed to horses. This is a mix of alfalfa and Timothy hay, and provides a good balance in terms of fiber, protein, and energy. If obesity is a concern, then the alfalfa should be swapped for a lower quality grass hay.
What Is Poor Quality Hay For Horses?
Poor quality hay for horses is cut after the grass has gone to seed, greatly lowering the nutritional content. Any hay that is damp or dusty will also be high in mold spores, which can cause respiratory problems in horses.
What Hay Is Bad For Horses?
Any hay that is dusty, moldy, or has a bad odor is not good for horses. Horses should not be fed pure legume hay, such as alfalfa or clover; these should be mixed with a good quality grass hay.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE