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Feeding the right hay mix...
How to calculate the proper amount and kind of feed...


Over the last two weeks we have been discussing the qualities of two extremes of hay.  On one end of the spectrum is the late cutting alfalfa which is a low roughage hay that has high protein and digestibility. Itís use must be balanced with pasture or a higher roughage hay.  Any grain fed with it must have the protein balanced to prevent intestinal problems.

On the other end of the scale is the hay cut from mature grass. The roughage is very high and the digestibility is very low. The nutrients available from this hay are very low. This hay provides only a roughage so when fed as the only source, the horse will loose weight even if it is fed free choice.

Other choices of hay will be between these two. If the hay has legume (clover or alfalfa) mixed with grass, it can be fed as the only source of roughage. While it provides an excellent source of fiber and nutrients, a leisurely horse will gain weight on it. If this hay is fed free choice and is the only source of roughage, the amount of grain may need to be reduced. This, of course, depends on the body condition of the horse.

If the hay is a second cutting grass hay, such as orchard grass, the quality may be as high as the previously mentioned legume-grass mix.  This hay is a light blue green (depending on your idea of green or blue!) and consists of almost all leaves.  These are grass leaves so will be long and narrow.  They will look like an enlarged. version of the grass from the lawn.  The stems that are present are small and easily broken.

Other grass hays we are seeing more of each year are those baled from the summer grasses. These are the Bermudas and can be the bluestems. This is a good looking hay in that it is primarily leaves. Due to the hay being primarily leaves, the fiber content is low. As unlikely as it may sound, we do see stomachaches in horses fed this as the only roughage. I suspect this is due to the low roughage and protein content. The low fiber allows the hay to stay in the intestine for a longer time. The low protein does not irritate the lining of the intestine so there is no rush to move the hay along. As a result, the hay accumulates until there is so much it cannot move. This forms an impaction which blocks the bowel.

The hay from the summer grasses can be an excellent feed. To prevent the above problems, we suggest feeding it with either a good quality legume hay or a good quality grass hay.  Since you are supplementing the summer grass hay with one of these others, only a small amount must be fed. A small amount will provide enough roughage or protein to stimulate the bowel to keep moving.  It is also important to stimulate water intake to provide moisture to the bowel for lubrication.

There is only one way to measure the protein, fiber, and digestibility of hay. To test forages, a sample must be taken from a few randomly selected bales.  These samples are mixed and taken to the U. of MO Extension Office. They will test the sample and report back to you. The cost is minimal.  For more information you may call them at 256-2391.  An analysis will help you calculate your ration to see how much, if any, additional grain is needed.  With your results we will be happy to help you with the balancing of the feeds.  The rule of thumb for the amount of roughage the horse must have each day is 2% of its body weight.  For the 1,000 pound horse, this should equal 20 pounds.  As we know, the horse will eat more than this amount, so we must monitor the body condition and adjust the intake appropriately.

As we discussed before, it is our preference that hay or grass be the primary feed.  If the horse does not maintain itís body condition on the 20 pounds, it is usually more economical to increase the amount and quality of hay than to buy grain. However, in the heavily worked horse or the growing youngsters, some grain should be fed. The other horses will expect some grain too and, I suspect on most farms, will receive it: so that the horse and owner can feel good about it.

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