Nutrition 6 of 24

Good Hay for Horses: A Grassroots Effort

Winter is approaching and I am getting ready to put my hay up for the winter. Unfortunately I, like other horse owners, am finding that while hay prices have skyrocketed in many cases quality has declined. In the past when hay was two to three dollars per bale, few horse owners felt it was a big deal to supplement poor quality hay with additional nutrients, but today, with hay at eight or ten dollars per bale we ought to get a product that meets most if not all of our horses’ needs. We ought to be getting good hay for horses, but we’re not.

Good hay for horses is getting harder and harder to find. Modern farming practices include multiple applications of chemical fertilizers and herbicides, which allow the producer to get more quantity, but do not necessarily produce better quality hay. The bacteria and fungi that make up the ecosystem of good soil are often greatly affected by these chemicals. Healthy soil makes minerals more available to the grass and holds water better so grass can better withstand drought conditions. Natural fertilizers, which support a healthy soil ecosystem, include products such as fish emulsion, molasses, composted manure, and composted tea. These products support the soil ecology and rebuild damaged soil. Chemical herbicides are not needed if the soil is fertile and the fields are mowed at proper intervals. Unfortunately organic farming is more expensive in the beginning compared to conventional methods, but over the years it becomes less expensive as fertile soil produces high yields of nutritious crops.

So if we, as customers, are willing to pay top dollar for poor quality hay for horses then there is little incentive for growers to move to more organic methods. On the other hand, if we become more like cattle owners and insist that our hay for horses be tested before we buy it, then the competition to provide high quality hay will increase. If you do not purchase enough hay in bulk to justify testing each load then request your hay supplier test the hay he stocks or request a test from the grower. A comprehensive test from costs less than $75. Don’t be afraid to look around and find another hay supplier if your current one is not willing to work with you. The push to get good quality hay can literally be a grassroots effort, and you can succeed if you persevere. If you know your hay is not meeting your horses’ needs you can supplement your feeding program with additional nutrients. To maximize the nutrition your horse gets from hay I suggest supplementing with daily probiotics and digestive enzymes. I like the Essentials from Simplexity Health for performance horses and the APA blend, also from Simplexity, for pleasure horses. Prebiotics such as Pro-Bi or KLPP also support your horse’s hindgut digestion and are useful supplements if your hay isn’t providing all the necessary nutrition your horse needs.

About the Author

Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy.

Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinary Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.

She has authored several books and publishes at her blog.

Madalyn Ward DVM