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Hay… It’s What’s for Dinner!

Forage is the most important part of a horse’s diet. Of course, fresh grass is the ideal forage for a horse due to some nutrients being lost in the baling process. However, grass is not usually available year around in this part of the country therefore we must supplement with hay. Long stem hay (hay that is 2 inches or more in length) is the most common form of hay fed in this area and can be baled in large round bales and large or small square bales. Long stem hay requires longer chewing periods which increases saliva production and helps buffer the stomach, decreasing the chance of gastric ulcers. When a horse is stalled, the slow hay feeders are also a great way to slow the horse down and make the hay last most of the day. When the horse has hay to graze on throughout the day it is less likely to develop bad stall manners such as weaving or pawing. One disadvantage of long stem hay is that it is not as palatable as short stem hay. Older horses or horses with dental issues sometimes struggle to chew the long stem hay. The hay tends to “ball up” and drop out of the horse’s mouth. Of course, when this happens the horse is not receiving the nutrients and calories it needs to maintain a healthy weight.

Short stem hay such as pellets or hay cubes are often a good solution for the horse that can not chew long stem hay. The small stem hay also tends to be a higher calorie hay making it a good choice for the hard keepers or older horses that can not gain weight. Hay cubes are very hard and too large to swallow hole. It is very important to soak the hay cubes first before feeding to prevent the horse from choking on them. After about 30 minutes of soaking the cubes with fall apart and create a soft mixture that is highly palatable and still nutrient dense. The pellets can usually be fed without soaking first, unless the horse has poor dentition or a history of choking. If hay pellets or hay cubes are fed as the only source of forage to a horse, it is a good idea to also hang a slow feeder of a long stem grass hay to keep the horse “grazing” throughout the day. One pro of short stem hays are they come bagged making them easier and more convenient to pack when traveling.

There are pros and cons to both long and short stem hays. Whether you feed long stem hay or short stem hay as the main source of forage, the most important thing to remember is that horses are made to be continual grazers. The gastric acid in the horse’s stomach is very acidic and needs a frequent buffer to maintain a normal ph. Also remember to always soak hay cubes for 30 minutes before feeding, if you choose to feed a short stem hay.

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  • Penny King, Oblong IL

    I can’t say enough about Dr. Stone & his staff. They go above & beyond & take the extra mile to take care of your horses needs. They really care about what your horse really needs.

    They have been up all night with emergency colic surgery with a positive outcome. They saved a foal that was born three weeks early. I can’t even begin to tell everything we have been thru together. But I can tell you one thing, they don’t come any better than Dr. Stone & his staff. They are like family to our horses & us.”