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I always see things about how your hay must be good quality.

What is the quality of hay depend on? Is it the type? How it’s grown? How it’s stored? What makes a hay good quality?

Also, if you’re going to buy hay what can you look at and ask to see if it’s good quality?
 

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Good quality is a hay that is of a horse approved variety and has minimum weed content. Fresh is relative. Even older properly stored hay can be good quality. You don't want dusty or moldy hay. Typically it comes from improved pasture that is maintained and fertilized.
 

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For your area availability will be Bermuda ( Coastal) and Bahaia (Argentine or Pensacola) for grasses and perennial peanut for the legume unless you buy alfalfa that has been trucked in.
 

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Pardon the phone. It is having a tantrum.

You want it to smell fresh and be clean. No discernable moisture. Should be greenish if from this year. Some cuttings are better than others but that can be dependent on several factors.
 

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What makes good hay is the content (few weeks, appropriate horse hay), but also when it's cut (early or late summer will affect its maturity - you don't want overmature hay because it will be coarse and may have gone to seed), how and when it's baled (it needs to have time to dry, but not burn in the sun), and how it's stored (you don't want any dust or mold, obviously).

It should smell a bit sweet, but again, that depends on the type of hay. It shouldn't be brown, but it can sometimes be yellowish if it's been stored for some time. Ideally it still has a green tint. I prefer somewhere between a really fine grassy hay and a really coarse, straw-consistency hay.
 

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Winter rye would be the other available to you.

The only way to know protein and sugars is to test.
 

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Much of what was said is good information about what defines 'good quality' hay. However, where freshness can usually be discerned by color or scent, your senses can't tell you about the important contents of your hay or their proportions to one another. Starch/carbs/sugar, vitamins and minerals, and protein are all important to know. Some vitamins help certain minerals be absorbed in the horse's gut, and there are proportions of one mineral to the next that are appropriate for horses. ('x' amount of copper per 'x' amount of iron.)

Each type of horse-appropriate hay is different - you could plant them all in soil that has all needs available, and the different types of hay will pick and choose what they absorb. If the hay was grown in an area that has high iron in the soil or water, the iron to (other mineral) proportions might be inappropriate for a horse. In this case, you can also feed a mineral supplement. It is common to have to do this in order to achieve a close-to-optimal mineral balance.

If the pasture was over-fertilized with nitrates (such as from manure fertilizer), this is not good hay. Manure slowly releases nitrogen into the soil, and if left on the soil for a long time (in an effort for it to be an effective fertilizer), it can produce grass with a high nitrate content. High nitrates are often presented in hays with high protein content. Dr. Kellon states "Some types of hays (e.g. Sudan, sorghum, Johnson, grain hays) are more prone to nitrate accumulations than others but it can happen with any hay type."

Hays with high sugar content are likewise undesirable. Wild horses subsisted off of wild, native grasses that had a long growing period. They also ate tree bark and whatever else they could forage. Their diet was varied and low in sugar - more suited to slowly digesting (fermenting) and sustaining a vast array of digestive bacteria. The qualities of these wild, native grasses have proven difficult to imitate in domestic situations, even when we say that 'meadow grass' etc. IS a "native grass." (http://www.safergrass.org/articles.html) Hay, typically farmed, is meant to grow fast and be resistant to environmental changes and disease. Unfortunately, sugar is the component that helps grass be more commercially viable. When grass is cut, it also produces more sugar as a defense (this is why overgrazed, short, or recently cut turnout pasture is not desirable for horses.) Furthermore, grass produces sugars during the day (photosynthesis) and turns sugar into fiber during the night (plant growth.) So if you have pasture, it's best to let your horses graze it at night. If you get your hay from a provider, you might choose to ask which cutting you're getting (this was already mentioned). If you're really bold, you can ask what time of day the hay was cut. Some providers will look at you like you're nuts, but you can explain that simple fact about plants having less sugar and more fiber during the night/early morning. They probably won't have an answer for you anyway, but at least you tried. The more we ask these questions, the more 'in demand' the answers will be.

Seeing the bigger picture: so grasses produce sugar in sunlight. Well, on the flip side, cloudy days and lower temperatures can produce higher nitrates in hay. This information alone is a good reason to have this discussion about hay production, and again I point to http://www.safergrass.org/articles.html

Finally, some hays are taken from undesirable, uncontrolled locations - such as the side of the road. This is common. Do you want your horse eating grass that had to grow around car-exhaust, oil, and other substances as road repair work was done? Especially considering that rain will wash all of that road 'duff' into the side of the road. Always ask your provider where the hay came from.

A consistent supplier for your hay provider (feed store or wherever) is also preferable. The more consistent your horse's diet is, the better it is for him as he will form gut bacteria around that hay. (Most of us know that a major shift in the type/amount of gut bacteria can play a part in colic or founder.) It will also be easier for you to anticipate mineral balancing needs.

So how do you figure out what your hay is composed of? There are laboratories that you can send a hay 'core sample' to and receive a sheet of this information in return. Only some of the information on the sheet will be useful - much of it will be only appropriate for bovine nutrition. Why? Owing to the commercial nature of cows, there have been many nutritional studies tailored to maintaining bovine health and maximizing 'yield'. Cows have a very different digestive system than horses, so some of the 'cow' results cannot yet be used to interpret nutritional qualities for horses. You will need to learn how to interpret your results from a perspective of 'what is good for horses?' Your vet might be able to help you there. If you're into learning more, Dr. Eleanor Kellon offers the class 'NRC Plus' on her website. (I highly recommend it.)

Here is an example of the process: https://www.horsejournals.com/analyze-interpreting-your-hay-test
(I cannot guarantee that I agree with everything on that page, but it illustrates the basic 'testing' idea and gives good info about nitrates/nitrites. I do not agree on the approach to reading 'dry matter' vs 'as fed' -- you feed your horse 'as fed', and so results under 'as fed' (or 'as sampled') are more realistic to feeding your horse.)
 

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"Each type of horse-appropriate hay is different - you could plant them all in soil that has all needs available, and the different types of hay will pick and choose what they absorb."


That isn't completely true. They do not pick and choose. Some plants are better at taking up certain nutrients over others and their tests will revel that. But if it is available and in a soluble form then it will be carried into the plant at some percentage. That is why some plants do better in certain locations than others. Get too much of anything the plant will not tolerate and it doesn't grow. Don't provide enough and again - it won't grow. Soil plays a large part in what is available. In areas where forage is not irrigated then you won't find a heavy mineral load from water as rain water is not subject to dissolving available nutrients (particularly minerals from soil strata) in large quantities as it moves through. Grasses each have an ideal PH range that they grow in. Allow the soil to move higher or lower in PH and that grass dies out to be replaced by a grass that performs better. On acid soils lime is added to raise the PH and increase bermuda growth which limits the availability of iron. Everything works in concert. While I maintain my pastures so that grasses are favored there is also a selection of broad leafed plants available to balance out what the grass picks up as they pick up different concentrations of what is available.



"If the pasture was over-fertilized with nitrates (such as from manure fertilizer), this is not good hay."



Over fertilizing with a manure that has not been composted will result in plant death. The level of nitrogen simply burns the plant material in contact up. Chicken manure is one of the worst offenders. Yet, my grower has a chicken operation and only uses waste from the chicken houses to fertilize. Never have we had issues with toxicity. A good producer knows the level of manures that can be placed on fields without this happening. Over applying in moderation is a waste and over applying to the point you kill your forage means you not only destroyed your profitability but put yourself in the hole as you now have to reestablish your forage crop. As a commercial composter we sold by the 40 yard truck. As an experiment I had 40 yards delivered and spread in an area that raised the level by 2.5 to 3 feet. I was hoping to kill out the bermuda that was there as a bonus. The area was covered with newspaper prior to spreading. Not only did the bermuda make it through as well as encroach from the surrounding areas but after that I could not kill it. Had the most beautiful lawn. Never watered either. This was under drought conditions.



Once applied nitrogen is released quickly whether into the air as a gas or into the soil through contact with moisture (rain or irrigation) Nitrogen doesn't sit in the soil waiting to be picked up unless it is in a good bio diverse hummus, top soil or compost layer that can stabilize it. Even then it will not accumulate to toxic levels as that would kill the microbe population that supports the living layer. It moves on and moves rather quickly. Commercial fertilizers are more typically the culprit and while many are ammonia based or from urea they are not from manures but processed in commercial operations.



"Dr. Kellon states "Some types of hays (e.g. Sudan, sorghum, Johnson, grain hays) are more prone to nitrate accumulations than others but it can happen with any hay type."


The difference is the degree of accumulation and that is determined by species. Accumulation can occur but the levels reached in other grass species is not as high as in the species she has mentioned.





"The qualities of these wild, native grasses have proven difficult to imitate in domestic situations"


Wild grasses (unimproved native species) developed over eons of time to perform ideally in non cultured "perfected" systems. The animals adapted accordingly. Improved pasture for cattle is meant to put weight quickly on young growing stock intended for slaughter. You won't see long term problems because those animals are taken out of the equation before they reach maturity. For those that keep production herds the fields are maintained differently. While you can keep cattle intended for food on pastures you raise your herd and sale replacements from you can't keep those herds on that improved pasture long term without serious issues cropping up. You certainly don't want your horses grazing that pasture except for short periods and you don't want that as your primary source for forage for the same reason though you can feed it in limited quantities to horses that aren't prone to laminitis.



"So if you have pasture, it's best to let your horses graze it at night."


That all depends on the type of grass available and whether it is a monoculture as well as whether you add inputs intended to push the growth, the type of inputs, the amounts and the frequency you apply them. A properly maintained pasture that is rotationally grazed and of a variety that is not bred to produce high sugar would not necessarily be a pasture that you would need to restrict grazing to night only. Unless you had a horse sensitive to any raised level of sugar.



Which cutting is not what determines quality of the cutting. The conditions that occur during that growing period, the amount of time allowed between cuttings and the inputs applied to each cutting as well as amount of time that is allowed to pass before cutting after the input is added.


Another thought on nitrogen - It is one of the building blocks for protein/amino acids. There needs to be some degree of accumulation for it to be available. It accumulates at the base primarily and if your grower is not scalping his fields you aren't feeding the base of the plant. Have to have that for regrowth. Over grazing to the extent that the animal is eating down to that part is what loses you your pasture and you end up with dry lot syndrome.
 

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I agree with the importance of knowing the minerals and sugars in your hay. I have my hay analyzed at a lab so I know what to add and what to avoid (excess iron is common). It's a 30$ lab test and then I can put together a customized diet for my horses (I use Mad Barn because they have a wide variety of mixes appropriate for my area, and will also do a custom mix). It's actually cheaper in the long run than randomly feeding a complete pelleted feed or even a ration balancer because I'm not giving my horses stuff they don't need, and could actually be detrimental. I add the powered or pelleted supplements to plain timothy hay cubes, and sometimes to molasses-free beet pulp if I have a horse that needs a little extra calories without the sugar.
 

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" I do not agree on the approach to reading 'dry matter' vs 'as fed' -- you feed your horse 'as fed', and so results under 'as fed' (or 'as sampled') are more realistic to feeding your horse.)"


The reason for listing both "as fed" and "dry matter" has to do with comparative analysis. "As fed" is the percent of nutrient available with the moisture content of that particular sample. The "dry matter" information is the percent available as a percent of the sample with absolutely no moisture. If you are comparing sample to sample or different feed stuffs the in order to be accurate in your comparison you should know the amount present in the dry matter. The difference between as fed and dry matter becomes important when you are looking at moisture content as you do not want hays with over a certain moisture content though that should be expressed as it's own value listed under moisture content.


If you aren't looking at comparative analysis then the "as fed" gives you the value you are feeding at that time with the hay you sampled provided the sample was done correctly.
 

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Is it the type? How it’s grown? How it’s stored?

DreamerR...the answer to that is yes to each question.
Ground must be prepared and nutrients added that are deficient in that ground...
Different specific grass seeds produce plants that thrive and produce better nutrient rich leaves...
So much has to do with when the field is cut, how long it is cured and how it is cured, how it is fluffed and baled and at what moisture level...don't forget how tight those strings are applied...it all makes a difference to the product you purchase and feed.

If you are buying a bale or two from the local feed store, then near all the time the haymen supplying the store has had the hay tested and presented to the store the details of that test...
To be very honest though, testing of hay is great for the sample and vicinity nearby of ground the grass grew-in...
If you are taking and analyzing hay that was grown and baled on a field of 300 - 500 acres, then you expect there to be variables in what the hay reads because ground is different...you are searching for a average, period.
If you are not purchasing tonnage, like 3 ton or more {about 120 bales} to feed to a single animal...then your supply is going to change to often and so could the specific variables in each delivery. Truth.
Hay stores get new loads weekly, so those numbers can change specific with each load although each load may be the same variety of hay type.

I buy 3 tons of squares and then do round rolls as one runs out another arrives {I have no place to store rolls out of the weather}
My haymen bales his many fields dependent upon how the ground tests, hay tests... horse squares are premium hay, as are horse rolls...
His cattle rolls are not "worse" in quality but baled possibly not as premium moisture content and he takes no chances of inferior hay fed to horses that a cow will tolerate.
I've been told that round rolls of hay are often better quality and nutrient rich than squares so do check with where you are purchasing and what you are purchasing.
I don't know if this is true or not...
I can tell you based on what is on the trailer when my roll is delivered is a noticeable difference in horse versus the cow hay rolls...
My horses eat the hay his horses eat so he is not feeding junk/garbage to his animal I am positive!
Last load of squares had just come off the field, still warm from the sun and smelled divine and tasted so good when chewing some pieces...
Yes, your own taste buds will tell you differences in your hay if you just let it happen.
Let your own senses speak to you...
When you walk through a hay storage area, breathe...and let your brain tell you what is just discovered in that scent.. :cool:
:runninghorse2:...
 

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Until they come out with a Plug In called fresh grass.......hehehe:)
 
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