We have almost made it through the winter months and the stock pile of hay might be looking thin. As spring approaches the best hay for horses will be growing. Also, sooner than we think it will be time to pile the stock hay again.
When the bales of hay start rolling off the flatbed here are some simple tips and tricks to look for to make sure you are purchasing quality forage for your livestock or horses.
1. Hay should smell fresh; like the type of hay that it is (example: alfalfa hay, oat hay, etc.)
2. Hay should be green in color (not brown).
3. Free of weeds, wires or any foreign objects (hardwire disease in horses or cattle can be life-threatening)
4. Free of mold. Mold could grow on best cattle alfalfa hay that was too wet when it was baled. Ingested mold spores can pose serious lung damage to animals.
5. Seed heads should be enclosed and leaves intact. If the hay has gone to seed, it was probably too dry when it was baled.
6. Check the moisture content. Farmers have gauges to test the moisture content, so just ask what that reading was. Horse hay should have a moisture content of 10-17% and a crude protein of 10%.
7. Check the Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) value. Hay with an ADF value of 30-35% is good for horses. The lower the value, the more digestible the hay is. Avoid hay that has over a 35% ADF value.
8. Quality hay forage is usually the mainstay of a horse or livestock diet (about 2/3 of their nutritional diet). So, try to buy your hay as early as possible to be able to select the best forage possible. Waiting until summer or fall may mean that you are getting the leftover product that the farmers had a hard time selling because of its poor quality.
9. Before purchasing the hay, check whether it is free from mold, fresh green and contain no dust at all. Besides, the bale (the hay pack) must not be hot or even warm.
Having a good relationship with your local hay farmers can help ensure you are purchasing a quality product for your animals. However, it is still a good idea to follow the simple tips outlined above to make sure you are getting the best quality forage possible.