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Answer Exchange

  • Q:

    A recent delivery of timothy hay has a brownish-green color; it is definitely not bright or light green. Horses are eating every morsel, though their manure looks dark and dry. The horses are two easy keepers, both draft-crosses, and because of their metabolism and breed, this is the only thing they get to eat (no pasture or concentrates). Your thoughts?

  • A:

    Both color and texture of hay can serve as guides in determining maturity and quality. You noted your horses are eating the hay, and this suggests it is free from weeds and mold, but it is best to perform a visual inspection and smell-test to confirm its suitability for feeding. Good-quality hay should not smell musty or moldy. Is there a difference in bale color once the bale is open? Perhaps the discoloration is just on the outside of the bale?

    Hay analysis is a valuable tool for assessing hay quality and nutritional value. In combination with visual inspection, a hay analysis can test the amount of indigestible fiber, protein, minerals, and estimated digestible energy (or caloric) content. Having this information can help you develop balanced feeding plans for your horses and highlight areas that may need additional supplementation such as trace minerals and vitamins. Hay analysis tests are often available from your local county extension office or you can use a commercial lab such as Equi-Analytical.

    While many horses, like yours, can maintain their weight easily on all-forage diets, they often do not consume all of the nutrients required for topnotch health. You may want to consider adding a concentrated vitamin and mineral supplement (like Micro-Max or Gold Pellet in Australia) or a ration balancer to your horses’ diets. The addition of one of these products will ensure that all nutrient needs are met, if fed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

    If the manure is significantly dryer than usual, be certain to double-check water sources. If horses drink from an automatic waterer, be sure it’s dispensing water properly with no stray voltage. Sometimes people will offer a second water source for horses that seem to be off the principal source. Insufficient water intake is a leading cause of colic, so ensuring horses have clean water is a fundamental of horsekeeping.

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