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Questions to ask your hay supplier

When you keep your horse on a paddock paradise track system, their main source of forage should be adlib hay. Whilst many believe that allowing our horses to graze the grass readily available in the UK is more ‘natural’ to their species, supplying adlib hay allows us to fulfil their need for low nutrient density forage which can be distributed in a way that encourages movement between hay stations.

Additionally, if you offer adlib hay, you’re also offering unrestricted forage (typically in nets) to fulfil their need for a continual supply of fibre which is crucial to not only their gut health but also their mental health too.

If you’re in a similar position to us and aren’t able to grow your own hay, it can feel like a minefield trying to navigate what hay is suitable to feed. If you’re unsure on what to look for, here are some questions you should be asking your supplier to ensure you receive the most suitable hay for your horses.

1. What type of hay is it?

It’s crucial to the health of your horse that you know what type of hay you are feeding. In the UK, we have an abundance of rye grass and therefore, rye hay. However, feeding rye hay to your horse will most likely end in disaster due to very high levels of sugar and potassium. Rye grass and hay is predominantly grown for cattle to produce high milk yields because its fast growing and farmers can typically get 2-3 cuts from it per year.

Preferably, you need to be feeding meadow or timothy hay. We personally feed a good quality mixed meadow hay to incorporate a variety of different grasses.

2. When was it cut?

Your hay ideally needs to be cut between the end of June and the end of July, before it becomes too stalky and unappetising and before the nutritional value has been diminished. Equally, it’s very important that it isn’t cut whilst too green and therefore, higher in sugar and potassium than is suitable.

3. Is it fertilised?

Organic is definitely the preferred route to go but if you can’t source any hay that isn’t fertilised, ask what fertiliser is used and do your research on it before purchasing. It’s important to keep in mind that some horses will react badly to fertilisers, particularly if they are metabolic and already in a compromised state of health.

4. Is it good quality hay?

Don’t be afraid to ask for a sample of the hay or for a bale to be cut open before you purchase any. You need to look out for any mould or signs that it has been baled damp.

5. Testing

If you want to test your hay, make sure to test for potassium levels as well as sugar and starch. However, please keep in mind testing isn’t always an accurate representation of each bale cut from the same field, with many environmental factors contributing to a difference in the nutritional profile of each bale.

We are unable to regularly test due to the number of bales we go through a week, but if you go through hay slowly, this may be helpful.

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