Topics : Pastures : Pasture and Hay for Horses
Pasture and Hay for Horses
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Additional pasture information via the Forage Information System (FIS)
Hay for Horses
High quality hay can provide most of the nutrients needed for a mature horse. High quality hay is cut early and is leafy, green in color, and is free of must, mold, dust, and foreign material such as weeds and stubble. This type of hay is usually rich in energy, protein, minerals and vitamins, and is readily consumed by horses.
In the past, there has been a belief that horses should not be fed a legume hay because it would cause digestive disorders. Grass hay, especially timothy has been the preferred hay. However, research has dispelled the notion that legumes do not make good hay for horses.
Straight legume hay or legume-grass mixed hay are highly acceptable when they are cut early, leafy and free of molds or other dusts. Respiratory or digestive disturbances frequently associated with feeding hay are more related to dust and mold than to mixtures. In general, well managed legume-grass hays are higher in protein and minerals than straight grasses under similar management. However, protein and mineral levels are readily changed by time of cutting and other hay-making practices. With good management most hay species or mixtures can be satisfactory for horses. Alfalfa hay, while normally high in protein, may contain an excessive amount of calcium in relationship to phosphorus (wide Ca:P ratio) when fed as the sole source of forage to young, growing horses.
To be sure of the nutritive quality of the hay which is being fed, have it analyzed. For more information on testing the quality of forages check with your local county agricultural extension agent.
Hay Production Tips
If you plan to buy hay for your horse, then consider the factors discussed above. However, if you plan to grow and harvest your own hay, follow the steps listed below. They will help you to consistently produce high yields of high quality hay.
Choose adapted species, varieties and mixtures. In general, simple mixtures consisting of a single legume such as alfalfa and a single grass such as timothy are preferred over straight legume or straight grass seedings. The Penn State Agronomy Guide is an excellent source of information on species and mixture selection. It is available through your county extension office.
Today a number of chemical preservatives are being marketed which if properly applied at the time of baling make it possible to bale and store hay safely at moistures up to 25 percent. Research indicates that hay treated with most chemical preservatives is safe to feed to horses as long as no dust or mold is present.