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Buying Hay for Horses

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Date:  07/16/21
Agent:  Damon Pollard

This is Damon Pollard, Livestock Agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension-Burke Center. Today’s topic is Buying Hay for Horses.

Most of us think that hay is hay, and if cattle can eat it, so can horses. Not so fast. Cattle are ruminants and they have a four-compartment stomach where bacteria do most of the digestive work. These bacteria usually break down toxic contaminants before they have a chance to harm the animal.

The horse, on the other hand, is a simple stomached grazing animal. Horses digest using their own enzymes, like people. If a toxin is present, and these enzymes are not capable of rendering it harmless, it will affect the horse.

This makes it critical that horse feeds, both hay and grain, be free of toxic weeds and molds. When buying hay for your horse, look for hay that is free of weeds and properly cured prior to baling. If you’re buying hay in the field and hauling it home, don’t load any bale that is unusually heavy, as it is probably too wet. Bales that are too high in moisture will mold and can cause problems for your horse.

The hay should have a bright green color and a fresh aroma. If the hay was rained on in the field and then properly dried before baling, some color loss will result, but the hay should still be of good quality.

Once home, the hay should be stored properly. Don’t stack directly on concrete or dirt, because moisture will wick into the bales and cause them to mold. If not storing in a loft, use wooden pallets. Always leave a little space between the bales for air movement, so remaining moisture in the hay can dissipate.

This is Damon Pollard, Livestock Agent with The North Carolina Cooperative Extension-Burke Center.