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Round bales can be an economical way to feed hay to horses, but they do run a higher risk of waste and mold. Photo by Bobbie Jo Weber

Choose the Best Quality Forage For Your Horse Whether off the fi eld or out of storage, hay should smell fresh, be bright


green in color and free of weeds with no sign of dust or mold. Freshly baled hay will be warm and dry feeling when you stick your hand into it, without feeling damp or hot. Seed heads should be closed and the leaves intact, indicating the hay has been cut and baled when the hay was at its most nutritious. Broken leaves and stems indicate the hay was baled too dry. Hay that is yellow or brown has been rained on or sun bleached. In either case, the nutritional quality will be lower. T e best hay doesn’t always come at the cheapest price,

however. Alfalfa may be inexpensive in your area, but if your horse is an easy keeper, it may not the best choice for your horse. Second and third cut ings may be richer than fi rst cuts. For your easy keeper, you’ll probably be bet er off with fi rst cut, legume-free hay that’s a combination of brome, orchard grass, fescue or timothy. Feeding clovers and alfalfa to your easy keeper may be more expensive in the long run if your horse develops obesity-related health problems such as laminitis, insulin resistance or other metabolic diseases.

Choose What Can You Handle: Small Squares or Large Rounds T e type of bales you chose depends on the machinery, space available

and quantity of hay you are storing. Small squares are the easiest to handle if you don’t have a tractor but also require more handling to stack them, one at a time. T ey can be piled into awkward loſt s and low sheds where large rounds won’t fi t. If any bales do become spoiled through storage, it is easier to separate the good from the bad hay. Because they can be conveniently broken into single-fl ake portions, it will be easier to control feedings with less waste. Large rounds are an easy way to keep hay in front of horses 24/7. But there

is more waste, both from storage if they’re kept outside and uncovered, and from horses pulling the bales apart and trampling the fallen hay. If you lose the outer four to fi ve inches of your 4x4-foot round bales, you could be losing up to 50% of the total bale. It is rare, but spoiled hay on the ground can lead to illnesses such as botulism poisoning. Large squares aren’t usually used for horses since they are diffi cult to store

and handle without machinery. Whether square or rounds, bales should be tightly packed. Loosely packed bales, although they will dry more easily, are more diffi cult to handle.


Pay Attention to Dryness and Temperature Ensuring that your hay is stored dry is important for two

reasons. Hay that is baled and stored damp will quickly mold. Moldy hay can cause health problems such as recurrent airway obstruction. Rarely, some molds produce toxins that can cause absorption, immune system and organ damage. Damp hay can also ferment and heat up. T e temperatures can increase to the point that spontaneous combustion can occur, and it’s not unusual for barn fi res to occur because they’ve been packed with damp hay. Before you stack the hay in your barn, be sure it is dry. Hay

should be baled at 14% moisture or less. In fact, 12% is the ideal moisture content for bales off of the fi eld. Higher and you’ll lose protein and vitamin content along with the likelihood of it molding and heating. Hay that is 20% moisture or higher is a fi re hazard. How can you tell if your hay is the right moisture content? T e hay producer you buy from will likely have a bale moisture probe for measuring moisture. If you bale your own hay, it is wise to invest in a proper probe rather than relying on judgment.

When you’re packing hay in the barn, you may fi nd bales that are unusually heavy. T is may happen because there is a low or shady spot in the fi eld that didn’t dry as quickly as the rest. Put them aside until you are sure they are not heavy with moisture. Aſt er baling, your hay will heat slightly—to around 120 F.


T is is normal. But if the internal temperature begins to ap- proach 160 F it’s time to call the fi re department. Your mow may smell musty or like burnt sugar. You can make your own temperature probe by taping a candy thermometer securely on to a 10-foot stick. Insert this deep into the pile and leave it for about 15 minutes. Test several times a day for two weeks. If you suspect your hay is already heating up dangerously, don’t walk

on the top of the pile as it may already be burning underneath and collapse beneath you. Call the fi re department. What happens if you’ve just bought hay from a grower, and

weeks later you fi nd it’s moldy? Clair T unes, PhD, of Summit Equine Nutrition recommends having a conversation with your grower before you put the hay in your barn. “Ask about a return policy. If you can get him or her out to your facility to see that you’ve stored it right, you might be able to work something out with them,” suggests T unes.

continued next page WWW.TRAILBLAZERMAGAZINE.US • June 2012 | 53

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