Did you know that there is more than one type of hay that is good for your horse?
But the real question is, will your horse eat it?
As an experienced horse owner, you know that most horses are picky eaters. You spend hundreds of dollars on hay, only to watch it get ground into the pasture.
Keep reading to find out the perfect hay combination that will have your horse eating every morsel.
Why should I feed my horse hay?
A horse’s digestive system is designed to constantly process forage.
Unless your horse has a medical condition that requires their feed to be restricted, then your horse should (ideally) always have access to a food source.
But, if my horse always has hay, won’t they overeat?
If your horse is stall bound they are more likely to get bored and will just eat continuously. Keep an eye on them and make sure they are getting fed the right amount of food at the right times of the day. Talk to your vet about the proper feed schedule for your horse.
If your horse is in the pasture during the winter then they will need an extra source of food. Hay (and possibly the odd flake of alfalfa) will come in handy to make sure that your horse is getting all of the calories they need.
Keep reading to find out the best types of hay for your horse.
Types of Hay for Horses
How do you know what type of hay is best for your horse?
The ideal way to tell is to start with what they are used to eating locally and go from there.
All hay has different nutrients in it depending on the region that it’s grown. If you are moving your horse to a new location you should bring at least two weeks of hay with you. When you get to the new location you will need to slowly introduce your horse to their new feed. This will prevent them from having any sort of stomach upset.
There are 3 different general types of hay for horses: legume, grass, and mixed.
Grass hay can be separated into 2 basic groups: cool-season and warm-season.
What is the difference between cool-season and warm-season grass hay?
The most popular cool-season grasses in the United States are timothy, orchard grass, ryegrass, and occasionally bluegrass (depending on the region you live in).
Warm-season grasses include bermudagrass, brome grass, and teff.
The most popular type of hay among horse owners is the orchard grass. It is usually paired with timothy grass and is considered to be the most palatable for horses.
Alfalfa is the most popular type of legume hay.
Alfalfa is a more calorie-dense type of forage than your traditional grass hay. However, it can also have quite a few more calories in it than your normal grass hay and can make your horse hotter. Make sure you check in with your vet or trainer to make sure your horse is okay to have alfalfa.
If you’re choosing to feed alfalfa make sure that you are also feeding normal grass hay alongside it. This will help your horse to digest the nutrients of the alfalfa without acting like they’ve had a whole pot of coffee to themselves.
Clover is also a great type of legume of hay. However, most farmers don’t recommend growing this one because clover holds more moisture than most types of legume forage. If the hay isn’t dried out properly then it will cause the whole bail to mold. And you cannot judge it to be dry just by looking at the outside. You may end up finding a moldy spot in the middle of the bale.
Using the term “mixed” for a type of hay is really a broad spectrum.
Saying that you have a mixed bale of hay can generally mean that you have 2 types of grass hay mixed together, a couple types of mixed legume hay, or a combination of legume and grass.
The most common mixture of hay types is alfalfa and orchard grass. However, you could also mix an orchard grass and clover which will really make your horse want to devour all of their food.
The most common mixture of grass hay that you’ll find is a blend of orchard and timothy grass.
These 2 together create a very palatable flake of hay that your horse is sure to love.
Another popular type of mixed bale is alfalfa and grass hay. These are really great for horses that have trouble gaining weight as the legume hay (alfalfa) is higher in calories while the grass hay mellows out the sugar content of the alfalfa.
Have you ever noticed that your horse will go through their food and pick out the tasty pieces first? Then they usually leave the other bits to dry out or just don’t eat them. Try giving them a mixed hay type.
When grass and legume hay are grown together it’s more difficult for horses to be picky. Most people recommend feeding a flake of legume and a flake of grass so that your horse will get the benefits of both and won’t just pick out the tasty parts.
Further reading: Straw vs. Hay: Everything You Need to Know About Hay and Straw
How much does your horse need per season?
Every horse has different needs with the amount of forage that they consume in a day.
Is your horse on pasture?
Are they in a stall?
Or maybe a combination of the 2?
Either way they will need some sort of substitute in the wintertime and maybe fed strictly hay during the rest of the year.
Have you had a minute to stop and think about how many bales of hay your horse goes through a month?
The average horse (weighing in at 1,000 pounds) that relies on hay as their only food source, will eat right around 15 bales of hay per month.
If your horse is only eating hay make sure you factor in their exercise routine and that they may end up needing to eat more than your typical horse.
Need some hay to tide you over till the first cutting? Or want some high-quality advice on all things hay? Drive on over to your local Wilco Farm Store.