Use this reference sheet to decide on the right balance of roughage for your horse and other tips including the proper storage of hay and how to recognise when its no longer fit for equine consumption.
Oaten hay and chaff is the most common hay offered to Australian horses as it is widely available and easily digestible by horses. Oaten hay should be mostly stalky with small florets but with no grain inside. If grain is present in the hay it can cause the horse to become overly excitable and difficult to work with – “high on oats”. Wheaten or Meadow hay are both good low energy alternatives for Oaten hay.
Lucerne hay is protein rich and should be fed sparingly. Too much protein can have adverse effects upon a horse, in particular – their hooves which will become brittle and develop cracks. Lucerne should be offered only every other day and only for one meal. (e.g. feed oats/lucerne for breakfast one day and oats/wheaten the next.)
Wheaten hay is the safest type of hay for bulk feeding. It has a high level of fibre, low energy and a low level of crude protein. Wheaten hay should be mostly stalks, however unlike Oaten hay, the grain found in wheaten will not affect the horses behaviour. When introduced too suddenly, wheaten hay can cause some stomach problems for sensitive horses including scours (diarrhoea) and colic. introduce small amounts, gradually increasing to full rations over a period of at least 2 weeks.
Pasture, Sorghum and Pea hay/straw are grown for cattle and are a lower quality source of roughage than Wheaten, Oaten or Lucerne. They should be considered a last resort when there is limited availability of hay and considered in that order: #1 Pasture, #2 Sorghum and #3 Pea hay/straw. These types of hay are usually a much lower quality – often containing dust and other foreign objects (rocks, sticks) as less care is taken in the cutting/baling process, so use Wheaten, Oaten or Lucerne where available.
|Feed||Crude protein (%)||Metabolisable energy (MJ/kg DM)|
All hay should be completely mould, dust and vermin free. Most baled hay should last up to 6 months when stored correctly in a cool, dry, sheltered place with air circulation.
- If hay does get wet, break open the bale immediately and allow air to dry it out. After the bale has dried, if there is a musty smell, mould or discolouration the bale is no longer fit for your horse to eat.
- If the hay is slightly dusty or has been stored for a long time, soaking the hay in water for 30 minutes before feeding will remove dust. Soaking hay this way also helps to remove excess sugar from the stalks.
- If your horse is becoming too excitable, try changing up their hay rations. After making a change give it a few days and if there is no improvement, change hay combinations again until you find the right balance for your horse.