Hay Selection & Storage

Considering that a majority of a horse’s diet is hay, it is important for horse owners to be selective when it comes to feeding and storing hay.  The following article includes helpful tips for picking the right kind of hay and keeping it edible.

Perhaps the most important consideration with hay is finding a reliable supplier. Many people use local farms to establish relationships. It is a good idea to keep consistency with a single supplier. This will increase expectations of regularly receiving high-quality hay and ensure that their provider will be able to supply enough hay to make it through each season. This is especially important for barns with high volume demands. A local provider also offers more convenience than an out of state farm, especially if regular pickups are needed.

Along with securing a supplier, it is equally as important to determine what type of hay will be best suited for the horse’s diet. While there are several types to choose from, the most popular are Alfalfa and Timothy. The main difference between the two is that Alfalfa offers more nutrients than Timothy, specifically protein and calcium. Because Timothy is primarily leaf hay, also known as a grass hay, it will appear greener in comparison to Alfalfa. Alfalfa, a type of hay known as legume hay, contains more stems, hence the additional nutrition. The finer grass hay is easier for horses to eat; therefore they will eat it quickly and do not need to eat as much of it compared to legume hay. Grass hay is ideal for horses that have a tough time chewing or swallowing. Legume hay is preferred for most healthy horses, because it takes longer to eat, which means continuous grazing leading to a healthy digestive track.

Each field usually cuts hay at least twice a season. The first cut, regardless of grass or legume hay, is coarser than the second cut. For this reason, first cut is less expensive than second. In a good year, some fields are also able to get a third cut of hay in their season. This cut will be less coarse and more expensive than second cut. Many horses will not eat hay that is straw-like, as it is too coarse and takes more effort to eat. For that reason, many people tend to feed a mixture of a slightly coarse first cut with a bit of second cut.  Feeling a mixture of cuts depends on both the barn’s budget and the hay season; dry seasons will produce more coarse hay, while rainy seasons will result in more hydrated, thin hay.  

After deciding what type of hay to purchase, be sure the quality is acceptable. Keep in mind that anything that can be found in a field can also be found in a bale of hay. Some bales may contain trash, plastic, sticks or even machinery parts from bailing. Be sure to inspect hay carefully before feeding to horses.

The weight of each bale is important as well. If it is on the lighter side- it is likely to be completely dry. A bale heavier than it should be indicates that there is most likely moisture still in it. When moisture remains in hay too long, it becomes mold, which any horse owner knows not to feed their horse due to their extremely sensitive digestive systems. However, mold in hay can also lead to combustion and spark barn fires. One way mold can be detected is by its mildew-like smell. Another way is to pull flakes apart and if there is residue or excessive dust, the hay has been decomposing due to mold. By constantly checking temperature and moisture levels in bales, barn fires can be prevented. It is also key to check all bales before they are given to a horse and to throw out any questionable bales. As a general rule, moisture levels in hay should be less than 20 percent and bales should weigh between 40-50 pounds.

The way in which hay is stored is just as important as the initial selection. If the hay is poorly stored, the state in which it was originally purchased will not matter. When considering storage options, functionality is fundamental. Hay should be checked constantly for mold; by having it stored in an easy access location, you increase the likelihood of early recognition. Access and proper lighting of each bale should also be considered, as this prevents bales from being ignored or going undetected. Proper airflow will help dry any moist hay; however it is important to have the hay completely protected from rain. This brings us to our final and most important point: always keep hay in a dry place. If the storage space is not completely dry, the hay will easily absorb any water and likely create mold. This means hay should be safe from water coming above, below or on the sides. The dryer the location, the safer the hay will be.

Buying and storing hay is important in any equine facility. ClearSpan Fabric Structures offers cost-effective solutions to meet all the proper storage requirements. Keep hay dry, accessible and properly ventilated with an American-made ClearSpan fabric building. Invest wisely in hay and always be sure to plan accordingly regarding storage requirements.