Five horse hay growers in Minnesota share their tips on growing and selling horse hay, including how they monitor moisture throughout the baling process, how they work around the weather, what types of forages they grow and the investment it takes to grow and harvest hay.
The farmers also share their advice for individuals wanting to grow and/or sell horse hay and their greatest challenges associated with growing and selling horse hay.
Our friends at the University of Minnesota Extension have helped to answer the question, how do you know if your hay is moldy? Equine expert Krishona Martinson, PhD, offers some tips below when it comes to hay testing.
Question: I recently purchased some hay. I thought it was good quality, but I think the hay might be a little moldy. Can I test my hay for mold?
Response: Most forage testing laboratories can test hay (and other feed stuffs) for different types and amounts of molds. The costs average $40 and takes about one week to complete. The sample is collected and submitted similar to a hay analysis for nutrient value.
All hay will have some mold; no sample will have zero mold. Mold spore counts are given in colony forming units per gram (cfu/g). Hay with less than 500,000 cfu/g of mold is considered good quality.
Hay with 500,00 to 1 million cfu/g is relatively safe, while hay with over 1 million cfu/g of mold should not be fed to horses due to the risk of respiratory issues. Most people can start to detect mold around 500,000 cfu/g.
If your hay is between 500,000 and 1 million cfu/g of mold, use precaution by pulling flakes apart before feeding, feeding outside or in a well-ventilated area, using a hay net to restrict the horses ability to bury their nose into the hay, and wetting the hay to reduce the amount of mold spores inhaled.
Alternatively, you could look for a better quality hay or ask your hay supplier to exchange the hay for bales with a lower mold count.
Our friends at the University of Minnesota Extension have created a great guide to questions you should be asking when buying hay. Equine expert Krishona Martinson, PhD, offers some helpful suggestions below:
Q: What questions should I ask when buying horse hay? A: Here are some questions horse owners should ask when purchasing hay:
Have you sold to horse owners before or do you specialize in horse hay?
What is the average weight of the bales? This is very important if buying hay by the bale.
How mature is the hay? Maturity is the main driver of forage quality.
What species are present in the hay? Legumes and grasses have different nutrient values.
Where was the hay harvested? Rule out ditch hay.
Was the hay rained on? Rained on hay is a good choice for horses with metabolic problems; it tends to be lower in nonstructural carbohydrates.
Was the hay stored inside or under cover after baling? Hay stored inside or under cover has less storage loss.
Was the hay field fertilized and/or sprayed for weeds? Show good management and likely a better quality product.
What are the payment options?
Is delivery available and if so, what is the cost?
What is the price? Is there a price break for volume or cash?
Is assistance available with onsite handling and stacking of hay, and if so, at what cost?
How much hay do you have/bale each year? Helps ensure a consistent supply of hay.
When times of severe draught or other weather phenomenon result in poor quality or availability of pastures and hay, horse owners often turn to complete feeds (i.e. feeds that contain a full diet of roughage, protein, vitamins, minerals, and other needed nutrients) or hay stretchers/replacers (designed to replace the fiber component of the hay/pasture that is no longer available). These products can be extremely useful to horse owners to help them through the tough hay times, but they do come with some usage guidelines to keep horses happy and healthy.
Follow the recommended feeding rate.
This is of particular concern if the product is being used as the sole diet. To keep gut health intact, enough fiber must be consumed each day for regular gut function. And, to keep the horse healthy overall, it is critical to ensure they are receiving all the balanced nutrients that they would normally get through a combination of hay, pasture, and added concentrate feed.
Horses tend to crave long stem fiber to chew on, which is missing in the diet made up of complete feed or hay stretchers.
Owners will most likely see unwanted behaviors begin, such as wood chewing, cribbing, or weaving, without some grass or hay to keep their horse’s mouth and mind busy. While the full daily allotment of hay may not be available or affordable, it is a good idea to offer at least a flake or two each day to help prevent these behaviors (and save your fences). Hay cubes are an option if pasture or traditional baled hay is unavailable.
Ensure proper water and salt consumption. Proper hydration levels are essential to keeping the gut moving properly.
In the absence of available forage, providing a complete feed concentrate is a better option than feeding a concentrate that is designed to be fed with forage, by itself. With proper management and attention to detail, both the horse and the owner’s pocketbook can pull through the hay shortage!