You can infer quite a bit about the nutritional qualities of hay from its type and appearance, but the best way to know for sure is to have it tested.
“A hay analysis is affordable—about $20 per sample—and will tell owners the amount of equine digestible energy, crude protein, fiber components, moisture, nonstructural carbohydrates, calcium and phosphorous,” says Krishona Martinson, PhD, an equine extension specialist at the University of Minnesota. “For an additional fee, more minerals and vitamins can be included in the analysis, as well as mold counts. We have more information on understanding a hay analysis on our website: https://extension.umn.edu/horse/horse-nutrition.”
Laboratory testing augments your hands, eyes and nose when it comes to evaluating hay you are considering purchasing and feeding. “Along with a hay analysis, horse owners can physically evaluate hay, looking at forage type, maturity, touch, smell, color, and presence of mold and toxic weeds,” says Martinson, who adds that an informed hay buyer should also ask some specific questions about the product.
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“When purchasing hay, inquire about potential rainfall after cutting, where the hay was harvested (e.g. along a ditch or in a hayfield), and the location (local or out-of-state). On our website we talk about why these are importation considerations. Ideally, horse owners use physical evaluation and a hay analysis to evaluate hay they are feeding and/or buying,” she says.
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