What percentage of a horse’s diet should be made up of forage? According to vets and equine nutrition professionals, 50% to 90% is good enough. Sometimes even more. Most of this forage is often in the form of hay. And that’s why good-quality hay is crucial.
So, how can you make sure that the hay you’re giving to your horse is of the very best quality?
What are the signs to look out for? Check out our 6 tips below:
1) Choose High Leaf to Stem Ratio
If we humans prefer the leafy greens to the stemmy ones, why should we expect any difference from our equine friends? Typically, a higher amount of leaves means higher digestibility for the hay and better nutrient supply to your horse.
When choosing your horse’s hay, look out for more flat leaves and fewer round stems. This is often an indication that the plants were less mature when they were cut.
2) Go for Small Diameter Stems
Plants with smaller or finer stems are also of better quality. Having smaller stems means that the plants were less mature when they were cut.
If you need to test if stem size is soft enough, you can grab a handful of hay squeeze a little. High quality hay feels soft and pliable even in your hands.
3) Fewer to Zero Seed Heads & Blooms
This is an indicator that the hay comes from younger, early-maturity plants, therefore of higher quality. Plants such as timothy are often cut either in the pre-bloom or early-bloom stages of maturity. This is the time when they also have very little or no seed heads.
On the other hand, if you want to feed alfalfa to your horses, then you need to cut the plants at either early or mid-bloom stage of maturity.
4) Look Out for Fresh Smell & Appearance
Always avoid moldy, musty or smelly hay. This is an indicator of poor quality and can tremendously reduce the palatability of the hay. Even your horses love the smell of freshness in their hay. High quality hay should always have a fresh cut smell as well as appearance.
Look for clean non-dusty forage. It’s not just enough to be high quality and fresh, containing dust, mold, weeds and other dirt is just is just a put off.
6) Coloring is Also Important
High quality hay is bright green in color. Bleached, brown, yellow or black coloring could be an indication that the hay is aged, is molded or has been kept in poor storage.
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