Take Caution when Shopping for Hay
Published Nov. 11, 2011 @ midnight
In this time of drought and short hay supplies, cattle and horse owners should be careful when shopping for hay. There have been some interesting stories about hay dealers making unusual claims about hay quality and quantity, including nutrient values, protein amounts in hay or weight of hay bales without testing or weighing the bales.
Important considerations should be considered prior to purchasing hay. What are my goals with this set of livestock and what stage of gestation are the currently in or will be in later in the feeding period. Another thing to think about is the amount of moisture content in hay, which will also affect its weight and nutrient breakdown and the possibility of molding.
Find out all the information you can prior to purchasing a load of hay. Ask questions; the dealer should be able to answer most or all of them. Check out the entire lot of hay you are purchasing before unloading if possible or buy from a reputable dealer. Ask for references from the dealer. Many type of hay are suited for cattle feed but not as many are recommended for feeding horses.
In South Texas, coastal Bermuda is very popular but in central, west and north Texas alfalfa, timothy, orchard grass and alfalfa/grass mixes are more popular. Around here in West Texas Sudan grass and sorghum Sudan hybrids are the most common. Due to potential health problems, Kleirgrass, Johnson grass, Sudan grass and sorghum hybrids are not recommended for horses. This can be potentially cause muscle weakness, or urinary problems. Most importantly feed hay that is clean, free of dust and mold to horses; they are more susceptible to problems utilizing this type of hay than cattle. It can inflame their respiratory tracts and impair their breathing ability.
Another consideration in feeding horses is to make sure that alfalfa fed is insect free, particularly blister beetles. If a horse eats a blister beetle, a chemical in the beetle can cause colic, fever or possibly eventually death.
Color is often used to determine hay quality, yet it can be deceiving and overestimated as an indicator of quality.
The biggest factor that affects nutrient content of a type of hay is the stage of maturity at harvest. Hay cut early in the forage growth stage often has a soft texture, it very leafy, and has a higher nutrient density and is more palatable. In contrast forages harvested late in maturity will have coarse, think stems and less leaf material.
The best way to evaluate nutrient value of hay samples is to have a chemical analysis performed at a lab.