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Benefits of High-Temperature Steaming of Horse Hay

Thursday, May 6th, 2021

High-Temperature SteamingWetting hay reduces allergens that contribute to asthma and decreases nonstructural carbohydrate content. Despite its benefits, soaking for even short periods of time can result in substantial loss of nutrients. As a result, high-temperature steaming of horse hay may be more beneficial.

“When horse owners decide to soak hay, they should do so with the knowledge that important nutrients will be leached from the forage, including phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sodium, and copper,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research. “To replace the nutrients lost from the water bath, nutritionists recommend that a high-quality vitamin and mineral supplement be fed with soaked hay.”

Further, soaking results in the production of significant wastewater. “High-temperature steaming, on the other hand, produces little wastewater, fails to leach nutrients, lowers nonstructural carbohydrates by as much as half, and decreases aeroallergens known to cause asthma,” Crandell informed.

Scientists at the Royal Agricultural University in the United Kingdom set out to characterize the bacterial profile of different hays subjected to soaking and high-temperature steaming.*

They sourced four different hays—two meadow hays and two Italian ryegrass hays—from a commercial grower. They then exposed them to the following treatments:

  1. soaked in 12 gallons (45 liters) of tap water at 61° F (16° C) for 12 hours;
  2. placed in a commercial hay steamer for 60 minutes using 2 gallons (7 liters) of tap water in the boiler; and
  3. left in a natural dry state. Samples were taken from all hays after treatment. Bacterial DNA was extracted and sequenced from all samples.

The researchers reported both soaking and high-temperature steaming reduced the number of viable bacteria known to contribute to respiratory disease. They also found that high-temperature steaming resulted in an increased number of beneficial bacteria associated with carbohydrate metabolism. In contrast, the abundance of gram-negative bacteria, which may have negative effects on health, increased when hay was soaked.

“In sum, these results support high-temperature steaming rather than soaking in many ways. If you have a horse that requires wet hay due to respiratory health problems or other issues and the only available alternative to feeding dry hay is soaking, then that method will suffice,” advised Crandell. ”Just remember to balance out the nutrients that may be lost with a balancer pellet or vitamin and mineral supplement.”

Call the hay experts at J & J Hay Farms to discuss your needs and to help select the best hay for your budget and situation.

Article sourced from Kentucky Equine Research.

Benefits of Soaking Hay for Horses

Thursday, April 29th, 2021

Benefits soaking hayThere are benefits to soaking hay and doing so can help to manage your horse’s health.

Even the cleanest, best-quality hay is likely to contain a moderate amount of fine material. When a horse plunges its head into a pile of hay or pulls mouthfuls out of a hay net, it inhales countless small particles of dust, mold spores, and fibrous plant material. Collectively known as the respirable dust concentration, or RDC, these fine particles can cause severe airway irritation in sensitive horses. Heaves, broken wind, and recurrent airway obstruction are terms for the condition that can manifest as mild coughing or severe bronchial spasms. These preclude any sort of training or exercise.

Management steps have been used to minimize RDC impact. The steps include wetting or soaking hay, selecting alternative bedding materials, and removing horses from stalls during periods of peak activity. The goals of this study were to establish the result of soaking hay on RDC in the horse’s breathing zone; to find out the usefulness of short immersion as opposed to longer soaking periods; and to investigate how management of one stall influences the RDC in a neighboring stall.

How was the study conducted?

The hay-soaking trial involved three hay treatments:

  1. dry hay
  2. hay immersed in a bucket of water and then fed immediately
  3. hay immersed for 16 hours prior to feeding.

These treatments were designated dry, immersed, and soaked, respectively. For each treatment, 5 kg of hay contained in a hay net was placed in the same location in the stall. Wood shavings were used for bedding. The stall was prepared an hour before the horse (a 15-year-old cob mare familiar with the site and the sampling equipment) was brought in. The hay net was placed in the stall ten minutes later, and RDC monitoring was begun after a further ten minutes. For each treatment, mean and maximum RDC readings were recorded in the horse’s breathing zone during a two-hour sampling period. Six repetitions were performed for each protocol.

The common air space tests were conducted in a stable with two side-by-side stalls. The stalls were separated by gates, sharing a common entrance and common air space above the divider. Each stall was approximately 4.5 m long and 4 m wide. Two treatments were used: (1) haylage, wood shavings, and an open window, or (2) hay, straw bedding, and a closed window. The same mare was brought into the stall by 6:00 p.m. and was undisturbed until she was turned out at 8:30 a.m. Manure and dirty/soaked bedding were removed immediately after the horse left the stall. Fresh bedding, if needed, was added daily, and hay or haylage was provided in a hay net suspended in the corner of the stall. The second stall contained no feed or bedding, and these materials were not stored in the vicinity of the building.

Air sampling was conducted in both stalls. Eight days of sampling were done for each treatment. Mean and maximum RDC readings between the stalls were compared to determine the effect of treatment type and activity in one stall on air quality in an adjoining stall.

What results were found?

In the study of dry or immersed or soaked hay, there was a significant difference in RDC readings in the horse’s breathing zone for the three treatments. Feeding of immersed hay resulted in a 60% reduction in mean RDC compared with dry hay, and feeding of soaked hay resulted in a 71% reduction in mean RDC compared with dry hay.

Readings of maximum RDC showed that feeding immersed hay resulted in a 53% reduction compared with dry hay, while feeding soaked hay resulted in a 34% reduction compared with dry hay.

In the common air space study, it was found that changing the management system in the first stall from hay, straw bedding, and a closed window to haylage, wood shavings, and an open window resulted in a significant reduction in background mean RDC in both stalls. Making this management change reduced the median RDC value in the stall containing the horse by 73%, and in the second stall by 68%.

Readings were higher during periods of greater stable activity. Of 32 maximum RDC readings, 26 were recorded while the stall was being mucked out or at another period of activity. There was a 19-fold increase in RDC in the first stall while it was being mucked out. There was also a 9-fold increase in RDC in the adjoining empty stall when the first stall was being cleaned.

Because of procedural differences, a direct comparison could not be made between RCD readings from the two studies. However, the authors point out that, for horses bedded on shavings, mean RDC levels were lower when soaked or immersed hay was fed than when haylage was fed.

What does this information tell us about stable management to reduce respirable dust concentrations?

Several conclusions can be drawn from this research.

First, wetting hay before it is offered to horses can significantly reduce the concentration of dust in the horse’s breathing zone.

This study agrees with other research indicating there is not a great benefit to long periods of immersion as compared to brief immersion. The authors also point out that prolonged soaking of hay removes some soluble nutrients, so immersing or briefly soaking hay seems to be the most sensible course of action. Hay should be fed as soon as possible after wetting, as allowing hay to dry could allow RDC to increase.

Second, this study confirmed that optimizing the management system in one stall resulted in a significant reduction in RDC in an adjoining stall.

It can be inferred that storing hay or bedding material in or near a stable may impact air quality for stalled horses. Because peak RDC levels tended to coincide with times of high stable activity (mucking out, moving horses in or out of the stall), the practice of removing sensitive horses from the stable during these times should be considered.

Call the hay experts at J & J Hay Farms to discuss your needs and to help select the best hay for your budget and situation.

Article sourced from Kentucky Equine Research.

*The study, “Respirable dust concentrations in equine stables. Part 2: The benefits of soaking hay and optimizing the environment in a neighboring stable,” was conducted by JM Clements and RS Pirie, of the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom.

Weight Gain on a Skinny Horse

Thursday, April 22nd, 2021


weight gainAll the horses in the barn get the same amount of feed every day; it makes feeding time much simpler. The warmbloods look super. Their weight is good, and their coats are gleaming. However, the one Thoroughbred in the barn who arrived a little thin six months ago has not put on any weight. In fact, he has lost body condition. He is getting grain just like the other horses, so what could be wrong? A veterinarian has thoroughly examined the horse and nothing appears to be wrong. Could it be as simple as insufficient caloric intake? What kind of changes can be made to his feeding program to encourage weight gain?

Sometimes, getting a thin horse to gain weight is simply a matter of increasing the caloric density of the diet. Other times, the diet may need to be higher in calories because of a medical, psychological or environmental problem.

What makes a horse a hard keeper?

The metabolic rate determines whether a horse is an easy or hard keeper. The variation between horses can be extreme.

Metabolism is the speed at which the body burns fuels for energy in order to maintain normal body functions. A slow metabolism can function on little input of fuel energy. Conversely, a fast metabolism needs a higher caloric intake in order to function properly. In general, members of certain breeds have faster metabolisms and need more food to maintain body condition than members of other breeds. For example, Thoroughbreds usually eat more per pound of body weight than draft horses. There is also variety within a breed. For instance, some Thoroughbreds are easy keepers while others require intense management to maintain body weight. Temperament often goes hand in hand with metabolic rate. A nervous horse may require more calories than a calm tempered one to maintain the same body condition. A tense horse may spend more time stall walking or weaving while the calm horse conserves energy stores.

A thin horse requires energy in the diet to ensure proper functioning of body processes and to build fat stores. Energy is a general term, yet many horsemen associate the word energy with mental energy. In this article, energy refers to the potential of a feed to fuel body functions and exercise. Weight gain in the horse can be attributed to protein or fat deposition. When a horse does not have enough calories or protein in the diet, the body will break down its own muscle tissue and deplete much of the adipose tissue or fat.

This results in emaciation with poor muscle definition and protruding bones. When the diet has excessive calories, the body will build muscle and adipose stores. The simplified solution to poor weight is to increase the caloric content of the diet while ensuring adequate protein content. The three nutrients which can supply energy to increase the caloric content of the diet in the horse are fiber, starch and fat. Each nutrient is utilized for energy in a slightly different way in the body which, depending on the horse, can be advantageous or not.


Of the three major energy sources for the horse, fiber is the most important, most underestimated and the safest. Fiber is the major component of grass and hay. Some horses can maintain their weight on fiber sources alone. For the hard keeper, however, fiber alone will not maintain weight, but there are fiber feeding strategies that can increase the ability of the horse to derive energy from fiber.

The fiber portion of a plant consists primarily of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Residing in the intestinal tract of the horse (cecum and colon) are billions of microbes which break down the fiber into a physiologically usable form, volatile fatty acids. These volatile fatty acids pass into the bloodstream of the horse where they can be transported to sites which need energy or tucked away as energy stores in the form of adipose tissue or muscle glycogen. Most of the cellulose and hemicellulose is easily digested by intestinal microbes (digestible fiber); the lignin is not digestible (indigestible fiber). Therefore, as lignin content of a feed increases, digestibility decreases.

As digestibility plummets, less energy is available to the horse. Lignin is the carbohydrate which gives the most structural support to a plant; rigid-stalked vegetation will contain more lignin than limp-stalked plants. For instance, there is little lignin in the soft leaves of the alfalfa plant (lucerne), but a much higher content of lignin is present in the rigid stem. If there is more leaf and less stem, or if the stems have not matured to become stiff and inflexible, the digestible fiber portion of the hay will be higher. A young plant harvested prior to maturity will have a lower lignin content than a plant allowed maturing before cutting.

Fresh green spring grass is much higher in digestible fiber than parched summer grass. A horse can draw more energy from a high quality, early harvested hay (whether grass or legume) than a mature hay. Pasture is also a source of fiber. The digestibility of pasture is usually higher than hay because the curing process of haymaking results in digestible fiber losses.

When comparing the energy content of alfalfa (lucerne) and grass hays, alfalfa hay can provide a horse with more energy than grass hay of similar quality. On the other hand, low quality alfalfa hay which is composed of more stem than leaf is not a rich source of energy. More energy could be provided with grass hay that has very little stem and an abundance of visible green grass blades. Maximizing forage quality should be the first adjustment when trying to achieve weight gain.

When quality fiber in the form of pasture or hay is not available, or if the horse does not readily eat hay, there are alternative fiber sources that may add fiber energy to the diet. The most common are beet pulp, soy hulls, wheat bran and alfalfa pellets or cubes. Beet pulp is about 80% digestible fibers (as compared to 50% for the average hay).

Soy hulls are a by-product of soybean production. Soy hulls are the skin of the bean (not the husk or pod) that is knocked off before oil is extracted from the bean. Commonly used in commercial horse feeds, soy hulls are slightly lower in digestibility than beet pulp. If a commercially designed horse feed has soy hulls listed as one of the primary ingredients, it will be a good source of highly digestible fiber.

Wheat bran is commonly thought of as a fiber source, but it actually has about the same amount of fiber as oats. It is a rich energy source because it is abundant in digestible fiber and starch. Wheat bran contains a large quantity of phosphorus, which can potentially disrupt the calcium and phosphorus ratio in the diet. On the flip side, wheat bran complements a diet high in alfalfa hay because of the calcium in the alfalfa.

When good quality forage is unavailable or if hay intake is minimal or difficult for a horse, the diet of the horse can be supplemented with alfalfa pellets or cubes. Both products are made with alfalfa that has been harvested when digestible fiber is at its peak. Thus, alfalfa pellets and cubes provide energy to the horse. Alfalfa hay is often combined with timothy hay or whole corn plants to create cubes lower in protein and calcium content than pure alfalfa cubes. Caution is necessary when feeding pellets as some hay should still be fed if possible because of the important laxative effect of long fiber in the diet.

Supplements are available that may help with fiber digestion if the horse has a problem with the balance of the microbes in the cecum or colon. Yeast has been researched and found to improve fiber digestibility. Some commercial feeds come with yeast already added or yeast products are sold which can be top-dressed to the ration.

Probiotics are also thought to help improve fiber digestibility. Because the microbial population in the hindgut can shift out of balance, researchers believe the addition of more bacteria in the form of a probiotic restores bacterial stability, thereby improving digestion of forage. Also, commercial products are available that combine yeast and a probiotic for maximal regeneration and efficiency of the microbial population.


When a horse cannot maintain weight on hay or grass alone, the addition of starch in the form of grains has been the most traditional method of increasing the energy density of the diet. Obtaining energy from starch is actually more efficient because it is a simple enzymatic process. The end result has to feed fewer pounds of grain than hay to supply the equivalent amount of energy to the horse. Grains are an excellent source of starch for the horse, but they can be hazardous to the digestive tract. The starch molecules found in grains are complex polysaccharides that, when attacked by the enzyme amylase in the small intestine, can be broken down to very simple sugars, which are easily absorbed into the bloodstream.

From there, the sugars in the blood are distributed to where they may be needed by the body for energy or they may be stored as muscle glycogen or adipose tissue for future use. The limiting factor to starch digestion in the horse is the production of amylase in the intestinal tract. Amylase production has been found to be quite variable among horses.

Without sufficient amylase in the intestinal tract, much of the starch in the diet passes through to the large intestine where it is fermented. This is undesirable for two reasons. First, the amount of energy produced from starch by fermentation is less than the amount produced by enzymatic means. Second, excessive fermentation of starch drops the pH of the hindgut, which will decrease the efficiency of the bacteria that digest fiber and produce energy.

To further complicate the situation, not all starch molecules are created equal. Studies have shown that the oat starch molecule is small and easily digested by amylase. On the other hand, the starch molecules of corn and barley are large and not easily digested. If the corn or barley is treated with heat, it changes the nature of the starch molecule and makes it more easily digested by amylase.

Therefore, it is better to feed steam rolled or cooked barley and steam flaked or super flaked corn than their untreated counterparts. The process of pelleting involves heat which results in improved enzymatic digestion of corn; extruding improves it even more. When deciding on a commercial mix for the horse, look for one that uses grains that have been processed to allow for optimal digestion in the small intestine of the horse.

While grain is a concentrated source of energy for the horse, there are some inherent dangers with feeding excessive amounts. When desperately trying to get a difficult horse to gain weight, it is often tempting to keep increasing the amount of grain being fed. Unfortunately, there is a point of no return when a horse gets too much grain in its digestive tract and the delicate balance of the microbial population is upset. At this point, many horses also lose their appetite for forage and the situation worsens. No matter how much grain you feed, the horse will probably lose more weight. The minimal amount of forage a horse requires is 1% of its body weight. Therefore, a 1000 pound (450 kilogram) horse needs a minimum of 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of hay per day in order to maintain a reasonable balance of the microbial population. The rest of the diet should be designed around the minimal forage requirement.

The danger of feeding too much starch occurs because certain horses have a sensitivity to starch overload, perhaps precipitated by low amylase production or large meals of unprocessed grains. The cascade of problems begins with too much grain passing from the small intestine to the cecum and colon. The starch in the grain is fermented by bacteria. The by-product of starch fermentation is lactic acid, a substance which alters the pH of the hindgut to be more acidic. The acidic environment kills the bacteria. As the bacteria die they produce endotoxins and laminitis trigger factors which can cause colic. The laminitis trigger factors that pass into the blood can also induce laminitis. Horses that suffer starch sensitivity should not be given high grain diets. Kentucky Equine Research has developed EquiShure, a hindgut buffer to prevent acid build-up in the large intestine and maintain normal digestive function for horses on high-grain diets or those requiring weight gain.

As with forage digestion, supplements designed to aid in starch digestion or utilization have been developed. Although there has not been definitive research performed on the benefit of adding enzymes to the diet, the theory is well founded. If amylase is the limiting factor in small intestinal grain digestion, adding amylase to the feed may reduce the amount of grain channeling into the cecum and colon. Although there are a few feeds and supplements containing enzymes on the market, their efficacy is still questionable. Enzymes are proteins which are sensitive to acidic environments.

Such environments denature the enzymes thereby making them inactive. All feed passes through the acidic stomach before reaching the small intestine, so how much enzyme will actually reach the intestine intact and not be denatured? More research is necessary to establish the efficacy of feeding supplemental enzymes. Supplemental chromium may improve the metabolism of starch. The action of chromium does not have as much to do with aiding digestion as it does with the way the body handles the rise in blood glucose resulting from starch digestion and the consequential rise in insulin. Chromium yeast has been effective in reducing the incidence of chronic founder in some ponies and the incidence of chronic tying up in some horses with intolerance to high grain diets.


Almost all performance horses have some type of fat added to their diet, whether it is a slug of corn oil, a scoop of rice bran, a handful of linseed or a commercial high fat feed. Traditionally, fat was added to give the coat a healthy shine. However, recent research has brought to light an even better reason for feeding fat – it is an excellent energy source. Added dietary fat has proven to be an invaluable tool for packing weight on a hard keeper. As well as being a highly concentrated energy source, fat has several other advantages. Energy from fat does not make a horse flighty like energy from grain, and horses on high fat diets exhibit more endurance. There are differences between various fat sources which make one more useful than another in different circumstances.

There are major differences between vegetable fats (oils) and animal fats. The primary disadvantage of feeding animal fats is palatability; oils are much more appealing to the horse, although many commercial animal fats have flavorings added to improve the taste. Corn oil typically has remained the star in palatability studies, but most oils are palatable when corn oil is not offered as a choice in these studies. The second obstacle is digestibility. Animal fat is only about 75% digestible while oil is closer to 95%. With small intakes of animal fat the digestibility difference is insignificant, but when higher levels are fed, that portion of indigestible fat can start to play havoc with the balance of microbes in the hindgut. Loose, runny feces are a sign that improper fat digestion is occurring. A third obstacle involves the long term maintenance of horses on animal fat. Horses may tire of the flavor and go off of an animal fat product before refusing a vegetable oil.

Other common sources of fat include rice bran, linseed, sunflower seeds, full fat soybeans and coconut meal (copra meal). Rice bran is an excellent product for improving body condition and topline of thin horses because it is a combination of rice oil and highly digestible fiber. However rice bran will rapidly go rancid unless it is stabilised by extrusion, and unstabilised products should not be fed. Look for research proven stabilised rice bran which is a popular horse feed supplement in many countries. Linseed, sunflower seeds and other seeds can also provide fat in the diet, but a notable problem does arise when feeding vast amounts of seeds. As quantities of seeds fed increases, consumption will frequently slow, sometimes to the point of total refusal. Roasted soybeans are also great in small quantities. However, they will increase the protein percentage of the diet too much if fed in larger amounts.

A high-fat diet is an invaluable tool for achieving weight gain in a skinny horse as long as the gastrointestinal tract of the horse will tolerate the fat. Normally horses have no problem digesting fat as long as it is introduced gradually into the diet. The greatest advantage of using fat as an energy source is that it helps to avoid excessive intakes of grain. Dietary fat works best when fed in conjunction with grain and/or highly digestible fiber sources like beet pulp (not neglecting good quality hay or pasture). Many new feeds are appearing on the markets that incorporate high fat levels (> 6%) with high fiber ingredients like beet pulp or soy hulls.


Some horses are metabolically inclined to be hard keepers. Others have medical, psychological or environmental reasons for having difficulty in maintaining weight. Increasing the caloric intake of a horse is not problematic if careful attention is paid to the feedstuffs offered to the horse. Manipulation of the amount and variety of energy sources will often achieve the ideal body condition on the hard keeper.

Call the hay experts at J & J Hay Farms to discuss your needs and to help select the best hay for your budget and situation.

Article sourced from Kentucky Equine Research.

Horses Show Preference for Straw Bedding

Thursday, April 15th, 2021

Straw BeddingIn a German study, horses showed a preference for straw bedding. Warmblood horses were bedded on wood shavings, loose straw, or straw pellets. Behaviors such as eating hay, lying down, and nosing through bedding were recorded for each horse during its time in the stall, which totaled about 15 hours each day.


The results showed that all horses spent more time lying down when they were bedded on loose straw. They also spent more time sifting through the straw or otherwise investigating it than with other types of bedding.

The researchers noted that stalled horses face hours of boredom, and a bedding material that invites investigation and lying down might reduce the number of ritualized behaviors such as cribbing and weaving that may develop when horses are stabled for long periods.


Straw bedding has several drawbacks, however. One is the dust and mold spores that may be present. When horses lie down in straw bedding, they tend to inhale more airborne particles because their noses are closer to the straw than when they are standing. Horses that are sensitive to these particles may develop breathing problems that can be avoided by using a material that is free of dust and mold. A second drawback is that some horses are tempted to eat straw, an undesirable habit from both a health and a nutrition viewpoint.

Bedding choices tend to reflect availability, price, and ease of handling, with the horse’s health and comfort paramount in importance.

Call the hay experts at J & J Hay Farms to discuss your needs and to help select the best hay for your budget and situation.

Article sourced from Kentucky Equine Research.

Alfalfa Hay: When Is It the Right Choice for Horses?

Thursday, April 8th, 2021

Alfalfa HayWhen the word “alfalfa” is bandied about among horsemen, most immediately think of high-quality forage, a vividly green, sweet-smelling, leafy legume. Like all forages, though, not all alfalfa hay (lucerne) is grown, cured, or harvested identically, which makes the hay’s ultimate quality variable.

Differences in growing conditions and harvesting methods impact nutritional quality. Alfalfa hay can be off-colored, dusty, moldy, or weed-ridden, just as any grass hay might be. Therefore, it important to carefully evaluate any alfalfa hay intended for horses. If you are uncomfortable with this task, drag along an experienced hay buyer when it comes time to fill the hay-mow.

Most people can distinguish high-quality hay because its color is often bright and the smell is sweet and pure. An experienced cohort will help you choose between alfalfa that is likely rich in energy and nutrients, and alfalfa that is inferior in one way or another.

Word of caution: do not let color be the only determining factor. Alfalfa hay does not need to be fluorescent green to be appropriate for horses. Good-quality hay comes in all shades of green. Forage testing by an accredited laboratory can reveal the nutrient composition of the forage and is the best measure of adequacy for horses.

Which horses benefit most from the inclusion of alfalfa hay in their diets?

Young horses. Good-quality hay is appropriate for weanlings, yearlings, and other young horses. Keep in mind that alfalfa usually has more energy per equal weight of a grass or mixed (grass/legume) hay. Therefore, less alfalfa hay may be fed to meet energy requirements. Alfalfa hay will not meet all of the young horse’s nutrient requirements, however.

A concentrate specifically formulated for weanlings should be fed alongside the alfalfa hay. If the concentrate and alfalfa combination provides too much energy, a balancer pellet or vitamin and mineral supplement will supply essential nutrients.

Performance horses. Certain performance horses, especially those involved in demanding work, cannot maintain their weight on grass forage, and need the calorie boost provided by alfalfa. Some horsemen shy away from alfalfa for exercising horses because of its high protein content, but experts state there is no reason to do so. Excess protein is excreted without harm to the horse.

Lactating mares. Producing milk is an energy-draining job, and broodmares sometimes require the richest forage available to produce high-quality milk while simultaneously maintaining reasonable body condition. When coupled with a calorie-dense concentrate formulated for mares, alfalfa hay provides a well-rounded diet for lean, high-producing broodmares.

Hard keepers. Some horses do not gain weight easily, even after a wellness check by a veterinarian rules out problems with teeth, gastric ulcers, or hindgut acidosis. Because only so much concentrate can be fed to such an individual, the logical next step is to feed forage with the greatest energy density, and this is often high-quality alfalfa hay.

Palatability. Few horses refuse alfalfa, especially when it is premium quality. Horses lose their desire to eat for several reasons. At times it becomes critical to offer the inappetent horse a palatable forage. Aside from fresh, green grass, alfalfa is the likeliest choice.

Premium alfalfa is chock-full of leaves, which are the most nutrient-dense portion of the hay plant. By vigorously shaking a flake of alfalfa, leaves may drop. Collecting the leaves and offering them to the horse may stimulate appetite.

Availability. In some regions of the world, alfalfa hay is all that is available and is therefore the most economical choice. Practicality and cost of feeding are always considerations when devising a feeding plan for horses.

Alfalfa hay would not be the best forage for certain groups of horses.

Young horses predisposed to growth problems. Feeding a surplus of energy to young horses, especially weanlings, can often lead to growth problems, including contracted tendons. Feeding the hay would not be appropriate for young horses that show a propensity for growth problems.

A good-quality grass hay, in addition to a ration balancer or vitamin and mineral supplement, would likely be the best choice in such a scenario.

Easy keepers. Horses that can maintain their weight easily should not be fed alfalfa hay. Energy requirements would be better met by supplying a lower quality grass hay (though not dusty, moldy, or otherwise unsafe). With fewer calories per mouthful, easy keepers will be able to eat more, which will satisfy the urge to chew as well as keep the gastrointestinal tract in motion.

Performance horses in good flesh. Most performance horses can maintain their weight on good-quality grass forage, and this seems to be particularly true of horses with warmblood, draft, or pony ancestry. Offering alfalfa hay to these horses, especially in regions where there is an appreciable price difference in grass and alfalfa, would be unnecessary.

Do you have any questions about Alfalfa Hay? J and J Hay Farms can help! Contact us today.

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.

Feeding Round Bales to Horses

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

Round Bales Put round bales of hay in a pasture with horses, and within a few days, much of the hay will have been dragged out of the bale and trampled into an ever-expanding circle. The remaining part of the bale will be showing moldy spots where it contacts the ground. As a result, some hay will have been eaten, but much will have been wasted.

After evaluating this scenario, some horse owners have improved the situation by placing the round bale on an elevated gravel pad or wooden pallet, cutting down on mud; others placed the bale in a metal frame to keep horses from pawing out huge chunks of hay; and others gave up on round bales and fed hay in slow-feeder nets so that horses could nibble on it all day without wasting as much.

Several of these approaches can be combined by placing the round bale on a circular wooden pallet and covering the entire bale with a large slow-feeder net. A metal frame surrounds the bale and pallet to prevent pawing and entanglement. Horses can pick at the hay for hours, simulating the natural rate of forage ingestion. With little waste and no mold, a round bale lasts longer, saving money. More of the hay ends up inside the horses, with less trampled into the ground. Initial cost to set up such a system should be repaid as owners will need to purchase fewer round bales.

Do you have any questions about round bales? J and J Hay Farms can help! Contact us today.

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.


Choosing a Slow Hay Feeder for Horses

Thursday, March 25th, 2021

Slow Hay FeederSlow hay feeders are a wonderful development for equines because they allow only a few bits of hay to be withdrawn at a time. This mimics the natural feeding pattern, keeps the horse busy for a long period, and avoids stretches of several hours when the horse has nothing to put in its stomach.

Owners love the nets because they simplify lengthy trailer rides and prevent hours of hungry boredom for stalled horses. Horses should be happy because they can nibble at their hay for hours instead of gobbling it all and then standing around with nothing to eat until the next feeding. The equine digestive tract should be at peace because it receives a slow but continuous supply of fiber.

At first glance, all slow hay feeders seem to be somewhat similar. They all hold a large volume of hay (anywhere from half a bale to several bales, typically) and restrict how much hay a horse can pull out in one bite, usually by having many small openings rather than free access through large holes. There are two basic types—nets or solid material—though there are a few hybrids that combine the designs.

Do an internet search for “slow hay feeders for horses” and you will be faced with an almost infinite array of designs. Many are available commercially, others are homemade, and some make you cringe as you notice the seemingly obvious ways a horse could get trapped, cut, pinched, or otherwise injured when using them.

Before purchasing a slow feeder, do a little research. Check tack and equipment stores, and talk to friends who have slow feeders and ask them what they like and don’t like about the ones they use. Look at catalogs and online photos to compare models.

Keep these factors in mind as you look at various designs:

  • Size is obviously important. How many horses will use the feeder at once? To provide sufficient access, you will probably need more than one feeder, even if you have only a few horses.
  • Where will the feeder be used? Stall, trailer, and pasture models may need to have different qualities and dimensions.
  • How heavy is the feeder? Solid feeders should be made from heavy plastic or a similar material that won’t deform in summer heat or crack in winter temperatures. It will need to be tough enough to withstand kicks and bumps from horses. On the other hand, you will need to move it, turn it over, and clean it from time to time.
  • Typical solid feeders consist of a barrel, tub, or box with some sort of movable grid that allows horses to take small bites of hay. Check for sharp edges on the grid’s sides and openings. What happens to the grid as the horses eat part of the hay; or if the horses knock the feeder onto its side or completely over; what will happen if a horse puts a foot into the feeder? How easy will it be to fill, empty, and clean the feeder? If the feeder is outside, is there a way for rain to drain through and away from the hay? Is the feeder so deep that horses might not like to put their heads all the way to the bottom?

Typical net feeders are like traditional hay nets, but with sturdier construction and smaller openings. Check for ways to fill, empty, hang, and carry the net. Is it so big that you can’t move it when it’s full? Is there any chance for a horse, especially one wearing shoes, to get a hoof hung up in the net or its hanging apparatus? Could he get any part of his halter hooked in the net? Even if you can’t imagine this happening, assume that it might occur. Could the hay net still be untied from its suspension if this happened? Be sure the feeder is safe before allowing horses to use it.

Do you have any questions about slow hay feeders? J and J Hay Farms can help! Contact us today.

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.

Horse Forages: Hay Texture as an Indicator of Quality

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

hay textureWho doesn’t love throwing their horses soft, fluffy hay?

Experienced horse owners use their eyes, noses, and hands to help determine hay quality. Visually, the hay should be a pleasant color, ranging from deep green to light yellowish-green, and should be free of weeds, thorns, and other unwanted vegetation. Further, properly cured hay will smell fresh with no hint of mustiness or mold, which would indicate suspicious timing of harvest. The texture of hay also tells a tale, and together with visual and olfactory assessment, will help reveal its worth as a feedstuff.

Loosely speaking, hay texture can be split into four categories: very soft, standard, harsh, and extremely harsh.

Very soft:

The most desirable texture and usually indicative of well-cured early-maturity grass hay. “Very soft hay is characterized by fine, lithe stems that are nearly indistinguishable by feel from leaves,” said Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor with Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Hay of this texture might be particularly useful for horses with tender mouths, including those that have had extensive dental work, such as extractions, or those with a sore tongues or gums.


Most hay probably falls into this category. “Leaves are generally soft, and stems are slightly stiff as lignification has begun. Stems remain easy to bend, though. Horses with normal molars will have absolutely no problem processing this forage,” said Whitehouse. Early-maturity, high-quality alfalfa often falls into this category, as do many good-quality grass hays.


This hay is characterized by its obvious stemminess, to the point that it is almost unpleasant to touch. The stems will be more rigid, as lignification has advanced, and fewer leaves might be present. Although all hay is “dry,” hay with a harsh texture will feel even more so, almost brittle. Sensitive horses might pick at this forage, eating slowly and cautiously. More waste will be noticed by managers, especially in group-feeding situations.

Extremely harsh:

This hay would represent the bottom of the barrel in terms of texture quality. “Inflexible stems typify this forage. Lignified structures have little nutritional value,” said Whitehouse. Ends of stems may be so pointed and sharp that mouth injuries occur. Intake might decline dramatically, and horses offered this forage for long periods will likely lose weight. Wastage will be at its peak with extremely harsh forage.

Although texture is important in hay selection, a host of factors determine what hay is best for any given horse, according to Whitehouse, and include stage of life, metabolism, and level of activity. Because hay provides the bulk of many well-balanced diets, its quality can have a significant impact on energy consumption as well as overall well-being.

Do you have a question about what type of hay will fit best into your horse’s feeding management? J and J Hay Farms can help! Contact us today.

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.

Be Aware of Surprising Dangers in Horse Pastures, Hay, and Bedding

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

Dangers in Horse Pastures, Hay, and BeddingBe aware of surprising dangers in horse pastures, hay, and bedding! Imagine: you’ve just bought a new farm. You’ve turned your horses out into their pasture while you wait on the delivery of alfalfa hay. Wood shavings for stall bedding will be delivered later in the day. You’re all set…as long as you are aware of possible dangers as horses graze, eat hay, and encounter certain types of wood shavings in their stalls.

In some areas of the country, pastures may contain harmful varieties of sudangrass or sudan-sorghum hybrids. The problem is most severe when horses are allowed to graze pastures that have been stressed.


Drought, freezing temperatures, and injury to the plant such as by trampling seem to increase the danger of these pastures when grazed by horses. A glycoside in the plant is converted to prussic acid in the gut. Besides cystitis, prussic acid poisoning may cause incoordination, muscle tremors, nervousness, respiratory distress, and even death from respiratory failure. Property owners can ask the local agricultural extension agent to check their fields for the presence of sudangrass and to suggest the best way to eliminate it from horse pastures.

Blister Beetle Poisoning:

Blister beetle poisoning is a danger when horses eat hay that is contaminated with these insects. They can be found in many areas of the country, but may be most common in hay produced in the southwest United States, where blister beetles are found in large concentrations. The toxin responsible for the expression of toxicity is cantharidin, which is present in the beetle and relatively stable over extended periods of storage.

It takes only a few blister beetles, when ingested by the horse, to be fatal. Beetles are baled with hay and then eaten inadvertently, resulting in severe illness or death. The problem of blister beetles has become more pronounced since the replacement of the sickle bar mower with mower conditioners that crush the beetles rather than allowing them to crawl from the windrow as was the case for the older method of cutting hay.

Cantharidin, the toxin in blister beetles, is an extreme irritant to the digestive tract, causing necrosis of the gut mucosa, the gastric mucosa, and the lining of the esophagus as well as irritation to the urinary tract. Affected horses may show severe colic and discomfort, an elevated respiratory and heart rate, diarrhea, and dehydration. Death usually occurs within 48 to 72 hours after ingestion of the beetles.

Treatment is designed to reduce insult to the gut and includes fluid therapy and analgesics. The best way to avoid the problem is to feed hay grown in areas where blister beetles are not found. Usually first-cutting hay contains few if any blister beetles because it is produced before the beetles mature.

Wood Shavings:

Wood shavings are commonly used as bedding for horses. Advantages are easier stall cleaning and possibly lower cost than purchasing straw. Shavings from many softwoods and hardwoods are appropriate for use as bedding material for horses. Black walnut shavings shouldn’t be used for bedding because use of shavings from this tree may result in severe laminitis.

As little as 5% contamination with black walnut shavings in a larger batch may be enough to expose horses to enough of the laminitis-causing toxin. Ask your supplier to be certain that no black walnut shavings are included in your order if you plan to bed stalls with wood shavings.

Interested in learning more about surprising dangers in horse pastures, hay, and bedding and managing the safety of your pasture? Visit or call J & J Hay Farms for more information!

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.

Botulism in Horses: Manage Pastures, Hay to Reduce Risk

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

Knowing how to avoid botulism in horses will help you manage your pasture much more easily while reducing risks to your horses. One of the deadliest toxins that horses may encounter is made by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Some strains of these bacteria live in the soil, while others are found in bird droppings and animal carcasses. Inactive spores can live indefinitely until conditions are favorable for them to become active. These conditions include some moisture and an anaerobic situation (minimal oxygen).  

Botulinum toxin disturbs nerve function by disrupting signals that control muscle contraction. Mildly affected horses may show signs such as drooping lips, lowered head carriage, and difficulty swallowing. As more nerves are disrupted, horses can develop body-wide muscle tremors, inability to stand, and labored breathing. Botulism can progress very rapidly, killing horses within the course of a day or two.

Horse owners can take several management steps to lower the risk of botulism for their equines:

  • A vaccine is available to protect horses against type B botulism toxin, though it is not effective against other strains. Type B is responsible for most equine cases of botulism, especially in regions east of the Mississippi River. This vaccine can be given to any horse, but is most often administered to foals and pregnant mares. A veterinarian can guide owners in deciding if the vaccination is advisable for their mature horses.
  • C. botulinum bacteria produce their dangerous toxin only under anaerobic conditions such as those found inside damp hay bales, especially large round bales. Keeping hay off the ground, feeding only dry hay, discarding any damp or moldy hay, and avoiding the use of round bales are ways to decrease the risk for horses.
  • Bacterial spores can also activate in damp grass clippings from mowed lawns. Don’t feed clippings to horses, and don’t discard them where horses can reach them. Piles of rotting vegetation washed into pastures by flooded creeks or rivers are also dangerous and should be removed before horses are allowed to graze.
  • Haylage and silage are sometimes fed to horses, though they are more often used as cattle feeds. These products are produced in anaerobic conditions; botulism is known to grow in similar conditions. Special caution should be considered when selecting these products for horses.
  • Botulism can develop in deep wounds contaminated by bacteria-laden soil. Check horses daily for injuries, clean all cuts and scrapes, and have a veterinarian examine and treat any significant or deeply penetrating wounds.

If botulism is detected in an early stage, horses can often be treated successfully. Administered soon after signs are noticed, an antitoxin can prevent damage to nerves that are not yet affected. Horses that are able to stand have a good chance of full recovery, though this may require intensive care for several weeks.

Botulism isn’t contagious between horses, but if one horse in a herd is affected, the others should be considered at risk if they have grazed the same pasture or been fed the same hay or forage product. These horses should be removed from the pasture and not given suspect hay. Prophylactic treatment is usually indicated even if no signs are seen.

Interested in learning more about managing your pastures and reducing risk of botulism in horses? Visit or call J & J Hay Farms for more information!

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.