Horse Hay what is the best hay for horses

Horse Hay

Last updated on July 8th, 2023 at 04:55 pm

What to Look For in Horse Hay

Are you wondering about your horse hay?

I have been around horses all my life. I have owned a few, taken care of other people, and ran a boarding facility with both Western and English disciplines well represented. I have basically seen it all. I also have a degree in Biology, and understand the nuances of the biological world, and scientific research. I have done extensive research in hay, horse feed and supplements. I have also consulted with vets and nutritionists like Stephanie Cramphorn who is a certified equine nutritionist with multiple degrees and certifications.

Everything for the health and wellness of the horse starts with what goes into its mouth. Nutrition is a huge deal and on this page, we are working on the ultimate guide to horse hay. There will be supplemental articles about each type of hay that you can read because the type of grass and the timing of its production all matter when it comes to the health of your horse.

One of the things that you will need when it comes to purchasing hay for your horses is a hay tester. This is the one that we use at the ranch.

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What is the Best Hay for horses?

There are a lot of different types of hay you can feed your horse, and it generally falls into two categories. There are legumes and grasses. The most popular out of all your choices is going to be alfalfa hay, also sometimes known as lucerne hay. It is a legume hay fed to most horses in the United States and Canada. 

Timothy hay and orchard grass hay are also popular choices, but alfalfa is arguably the best. One of the biggest reasons alfalfa hay is so popular is because it has much higher levels of protein than other options. Alfalfa hay ranges in protein levels from between 15% and 21% depending on exactly when the alfalfa was first cut. When talking about grass hay, you typically only get around 10% protein. 

Keep in mind that adult horses need around 10% or 12% of protein in their diet, and the higher the better, especially for young growing horses, for performance horses, for working horses, and for lactating mares. 

You also get a higher energy content when using alfalfa hay. It typically provides more calories per pound than any grass hay. This means that if you’re feeding your horse alfalfa, they’re probably going to need to consume less hay to maintain their proper body weight. Alfalfa hay is also low in fiber, while grass hay is much higher in fibre. Because of this, a horse can eat more alfalfa hay without putting on extra pounds. 

Next, we have calcium levels. Alfalfa hay has higher levels of calcium than other types of grass hay. This makes it healthier by far. Plus, alfalfa hay is readily available and very affordable. It’s the only forage sold all over North America. And horses actually love the taste. They almost always prefer to eat alfalfa over grass hay. This makes it easier for hard keepers since they can’t resist the sweet smell and leafy appearance of alfalfa.

Which Cutting of Hay is Best for Horses?

The best cutting of hay to give to your horse is going to be the second cutting. This is the most common cutting of hay given to horses, and it’s for a good reason. Second cutting hay is greener, it’s more substantial, and it has more leaves and a sweeter smell. The second cutting of hay contains the best protein and fat, making it excellent for horses who require lots of exercise. 

The only downside to the second cutting is that it does not contain as much fibre as the first cutting. But that said, the second cutting is still the best solution for almost any adult horse. Even with rain delays, the second cutting of hay is typically not affected. But it should still be harvested before advanced maturity so that it retains all of its nutrients and palatability. 

Is Timothy Hay Good for Horses?

Timothy Hay is definitely good for horses. Timothy hay is the most digestible out of all the different types of hay, and it’s one of the most popular feeds for horses. Timothy hay matures late, it’s very high in fibre, but it has a relatively low amount of protein. Regardless, Timothy hay can help your horse have a shiny coat, good digestion, regularity in their bowel movements, and a weight that is healthy and ideal. Timothy hay is also excellent for horses that are obese, protein sensitive, or prone to colic. 

Timothy hay is best used for horses that are confined to a stable. This is because it offers much more chewing time than other options. Timothy hay most closely resembles the normal day grazing activities of your horse. Most horses graze for around 10 or 15 hours a day, and so chewing a lot on Timothy hay can help to satisfy the natural urge that your horse has to chew and graze. This is great when they are confined for long amounts of time in a stable. 

Alfalfa hay definitely meets the energy requirements for most horses in terms of high levels of nutrients, but there are certain horses and certain stages in life when Timothy hay can be better. For example, racehorses that require a lot of fiber can get what they need from Timothy hay, as it can be fermented inside the horse’s gut and then used as energy throughout the rest of the day. Timothy hay also makes sure your horse has good digestion and it helps to prevent conditions like colic and gastric ulcers. 

Is Alfalfa Hay Good for Horses?

There is a very good reason why alfalfa hay is the most popular and most highly recommended hay to feed any horse. It is definitely good for your animals to eat. Alfalfa hay has an incredibly high energy content, it provides all the necessary nutrients that your horse needs to thrive, and it is higher in levels of calcium than just about any other type of hay. 

Alfalfa hay is also extremely high in protein levels, with a maximum of around 21% of protein depending on which cut you’re feeding your horse. If you’re looking for one of the healthiest horse feeds around, alfalfa is definitely at the top of the list. Of course it’s good for your horse! It’s fed to basically all the horses in North America. It wouldn’t be so popular if it weren’t healthy. 

What Type of Hay can Horses eat?

Horses can eat many different types of hay. The most popular is legume hay. There are a few different types, but legume hay generally has higher levels of protein and calcium, it usually provides more energy, and it offers a higher level of digestible nutrients. Legumes also have lots of vitamin A, which is great for horses. 

The second type of popular hay is of course grass hay. While grass hay is typically lower in energy and protein, it is also higher in fiber. This makes it a better choice depending on the needs of your horse. Because there are not so many nutrients in grass hay, horses need to eat more of it to fill up their bellies. This means grass hay is typically a good tool for horses bored in their stalls. 

Brome Hay For Horses

Brome is another type of grass and is used for horses. Smooth Brome Grass, is highly palatable for horses and has a high leaf-to-stem ratio. Its nutritional value is close to that of timothy, but might be a little easier on the stomach. Brome usually has more consistency when it comes to nutritional value, less mould and more mature grass. It can be a great alternative to other hay types. It also can provide a nice roughage for horses that are in stalls for long periods of time.

Brome Hay For Horses

Orchard Grass For Horses

Orchard Grass is a standard in the horse hay world. Orchard Grass is higher in protein (10-12%), higher in calorie content and contains the same balanced levels of calcium and phosphorus as Timothy grass.  Orchard Grass also grows better in dryer conditions so when you are purchasing hay if the season has been dry consider this because the nutrient levels will be different. Orchard Grass hay can be great hay for horses if you are looking for great hay. Source

Orchard Grass Hay for Horses