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10 Tips for Purchasing Horse HayBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · December 12, 2016

Most horsemen buy hay based on the type of horse being fed. The way it looks, smells, and feels also come into play. These are qualitative factors, and they are important. When appraising hay, keep in mind the following 10 points:

  • Ask for one or several bales be opened so the inside can be evaluated. Slight discoloration of hay on the outside of bales is not a concern, especially in stacked hay.
  • Avoid hay that is excessively bleached or discolored, or that smells moldy, musty, dusty, or fermented. Avoid hay that contains significant amounts of weeds, dirt, or other debris.
  • Choose hay that is as fine-stemmed, green, leafy, and soft to the touch as possible.
  • Check for leaf loss. If the leaves of alfalfa or clover hay fall off too easily from stems, the horse may not have a chance to eat them.
  • Examine the leaves, stems, and flowers or seed pods to determine the level of maturity. Select hay that has been baled when the plants are in early bloom (for legumes) or preferably before seed heads have fully formed in grasses.
  • Inspect hay for signs of insect infestation or disease. Be especially careful to check for blister beetles and other insects in alfalfa.
  • Reject bales that seem excessively heavy for their size or feel warm to the touch. These may contain excess moisture that could cause mold or spontaneous combustion.
  • When possible, feed hay within a year of harvest to guarantee the best nutritional value.
  • Store hay in a dry, sheltered area, or cover the stack to protect it from the elements. Allow some air circulation when covering with plastic or tarps.
  • Feed hay in a way that reduces wastage. Hay feeders or nets are useful.

Forage should form the foundation of your horse’s diet. Ensure that your horse consumes at least 1.5% of its body weight each day in forage. If possible, spread out forage consumption throughout the day. Not only will this help your horse maintain an appropriate weight but it will encourage gastrointestinal motility, which decreases the likelihood of colic.