Hay is For…

— Written By Barbara Linder and last updated by Dawn Stone

As the saying goes, “hay is for horses.”  There is a wealth of truth in that statement. Just as fruits and vegetables are the most essentials part of a human’s diet, hay (forages) is the most essential component of an equine’s diet. A horse’s daily diet is comprised of 50-90% forages.

Randolph County is ranked #3 in hay production in North Carolina. In Randolph County, cool season grass hays such as fescue and orchard grass are most commonly grown and fed to horses and other livestock. Whereas legume hays such as alfalfa are higher in protein, grass hays are higher in fiber, more tolerant to our changing seasons and tend to have higher sugar content than warmer season grasses such as Bermuda.

Grass hay acts as a staple to the diet by providing a continual source of roughage, which is essential for a healthy digestive tract. Grass hays are lower in calories than legume hays and therefore are less likely to cause excess weight gain.

imagesHorse owners should purchase the highest quality hay they can afford. Horse owners need to make sure the hay is clean, is a desirable stage of maturity, is readily consumed by the horse, and is free of dust, weeds and mold. If your horse leaving large amounts of hay uneaten, it could be dusty or moldy.

Hay growers and hay consumers should get their hay tested in order to know its nutritional content. When equine owners know the nutritional content of the forages they are feeding, they are then able to regulate the amount protein and energy of concentrates fed, if any, thereby saving money and making their horses healthier. For growers, it is important to test forages for nitrate levels to avoid production losses.

From the results of a hay test, one is able to determine the moisture, fiber, calories, and protein composition of the hay. Determining what is in your hay will help you determine what else your horse needs to make his or her diet complete. Often, horses that are not in competition and that are easier keepers can exist solely on high quality forages (grass and hay).

To take a hay test, simply take 2 to 3 handfuls of hay from the middle of a few different bales and place in a zipper lock bag. Hay can be sent to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Food and Forage Laboratory and tested for $10. Visit Cooperative Extension and I will be happy to assist you in reviewing your results and discussing a nutrition plan for your horse.