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How do you feed your hay?

This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what is in our latest issue, please click here.

Horse with hay - Labelled for resuse

There are a number of different ways to feed hay.


By Equestrian Life

A dietary staple for many domesticated horses, most owners deal with hay on a daily basis. While many people peel off a couple of biscuits and feed it dry, there are also a number of other ways to feed hay.

Here, we take a look at the different ways hay can be fed and the advantages associated with each option.

Feeding dry hay is the simplest way to go about it. For many horses, this is a perfectly acceptable way to feed.

Feeding hay on the ground allows horses to carry their head and neck in a natural position while eating, however care needs to be taken when feeding horses on bare earth - particularly on sandy soil. Dry hay can also be fed in a haynet or slow feeder to extend the time feed is available, which is often a good idea for horses that tend to eat quickly.

Feeding dampened hay is a good option for horses that are sensitive to dust. Quickly dipping the hay in a container of water helps to dampen down dust without removing carbohydrates or changing the nutrient profile of the hay.

If the dust from hay tends to irritate your horse’s eyes or respiratory passages, then this is certainly a good idea. It is important to remember that when feeding damp hay on a warm day, it shouldn’t be left damp for more than a few hours as it could begin to go mouldy - if your horse doesn’t clean it up, remove it from the feeder.

Feeding soaked hay can help to remove water-soluble carbohydrates, which is good for horses that need to consume low-starch diets - i.e. those who are obese, or suffer from metabolic syndrome, polysaccharide storage myopathy or laminitis. Soaking also helps to remove some of the potassium from the hay, making it a good way to feed for horses that suffer from hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP).

If you are thinking about soaking hay, it’s a good idea to first find out whether your horse actually needs a low-carb or low-potassium diet. It’s also useful to have the hay analysed before and after soaking so you know exacting what you are feeding. Please note that there is no guarantee soaking hay will change the nutrient profile enough for horses with special dietary needs.

When soaking hay, place it in cold water for about 60 minutes or hot water for around 30 minutes. As with dampened hay, remember not to leave it out in the paddock for more than a few hours in warm weather - if the horse doesn’t eat it, remove it.

Feeding steamed hay requires a special apparatus and is therefore not a viable option for many horse owners.

When hay is placed in the machine, steam is forced through the bale - killing microorganisms and mould spores, whilst also reducing the carbohydrate count (although not as much as soaking does). Steamed hay is often more appealing to horses in comparison to soaked hay, meaning horses tend to leave less behind. Although expensive to set up (you need to buy the steamer) it’s a good option for horses that are sensitive to mould spores and bacteria.

Information sourced from Kentucky Equine Research.







Issue 38




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