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.
This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.
I was called out to farm to review a horse that had started to lose weight. The owner explained to me that the horse had been diagnosed with ulcers, so her vet recommended alfalfa hay. She purchased some nice quality second cutting, and had the test results which showed the hay to be exceptional quality, and containing 1Mcal (1000 calories) per pound. Thus, she could not figure out where the hole in the feeding program was that was causing the horse to lose weight.
In review, her horses diet was calculated at 21.5 Mcal per day, based on his work schedule and body condition score:
- 4 flakes of timothy hay per day
- 4 pounds of grain per day
Since the horse weighed in at 1000 pounds, we chose to go with 2% of his body weight per day in forage, or 20 pounds. The old hay had tested at 800 calories per pound. We balanced the diet with 4 pounds of grain at 1430 calories per pound, or 1.43 Mcal.
- Forage = 16 Mcal
- Grain = 5.7 Mcal
- Total = 21 .7 Mcal
The owner explained that she was feeding the same amount of hay as before, and since it was such good quality, it had to be a grain problem.
When we calculated his old diet, each flake of hay averaged 5 pounds each. That was how we determined 4 flakes would reach the 2% or 20 pound feed rate. I asked if she had weighed the new hay, and she admitted she had not done so yet.
To her surprise, when we weighed several flakes, they all averaged 3 pounds per flake. When I showed her the math, the problem was obvious:
- 1 Flake timothy hay 5lb@ x 4 flakes per day = 20 pounds per day x 800 calories = 16Mcal (16,000 calories)
- 1 Flake Alfalfa hay 3lb@ x 4 flakes per day = 12 pounds per day x 1000 calories = 12Mcal (12,000 calories)
With that simple change in hay, she had cut her horse’s caloric intake by 4,000 calories per day over the past month. Armed with this new information, adding more flakes of hay to the daily ration put the horse right back on track.