Archive for the ‘News&Update’ Category

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.

Results:

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.

Drawbacks:

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.

Standard:

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.

Harsh:

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.

Sudangrass:

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.

Evaluating Hay Feeders for Horses

Thursday, February 25th, 2021

Evaluating Hay Feeders for HorsesEvaluating hay feeders for horses can help you reduce waste. As one of the most common forages fed to horses, hay can be offered on the ground. It is also fed in a net, or in some type of feeder. Hay is often scattered and trampled by horses, reducing the percentage that is consumed when it is fed from the ground. Nets and feeders are designed to keep hay available, dry, and contained so it can be eaten rather than wasted.

Various feeder types and designs have been developed for use with horses. A recent study, conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota and supported by a grant from AQHA, was designed to compare hay waste among several square‐bale feeders used for outdoor feeding of adult horses. Feeder designs included a hay rack, a slat feeder, and a basket feeder. A control situation (hay fed on the ground) was also evaluated.

The Study:

Two feeders of each type were placed in separate outdoor paddocks. Twelve adult horses were divided into four groups of three horses. The groups were rotated through the four paddocks for seven-day periods. Two daily feeding of grass hay were provided, each containing half of an amount equal to 2.5% of the herd’s total body weight. Before each feeding, all uneaten hay left in the feeder and lying on the ground was collected and weighed, and the percentage of wasted hay was calculated.

Using a purchase value of $250 (USD) per ton of hay, the researchers determined the time required to equal the cost of each type of feeder with non-wasted hay. Efficiency of feeders was also compared to the no‐feeder control.

All feeders resulted in less hay waste compared with the no‐feeder control. Average hay waste levels were 1, 3, 5, and 13% for the slat, basket, rack, and no‐feeder control, respectively. The slat feeder was the most cost-effective option, paying for itself in nine months. The rack and basket feeders paid for themselves in 12 and 11 months, respectively. No injuries were observed from any of the small square‐bale feeders during the trial.

Results from this trial may help horse owners select hay feeders and may also assist in estimating how much hay should be purchased.

Interested in learning more about evaluating hay feeders for horses? Visit or call J & J Hay Farms for more information!

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.

Horse Care in Early Spring

Thursday, February 18th, 2021

Horse Care in Early SpringAs winter months pass and everyone is looking forward to the first hints of spring weather, horses still need regular cold-season care to stay well-fed and healthy in early spring. Don’t neglect these areas of horse management:

Blanketing:

Blanketed horses should be checked at least once a day and preferably more often to be sure blankets are secure and properly fitted. Many horses lose some weight during a hard winter, and blankets may need to be adjusted for this change. It’s a good idea to have several extra blankets in reserve in case one is torn or gets so wet and muddy that it needs to be taken off the horse for repairs.

Water:

Don’t count on horses eating enough snow to stay hydrated. In fact, few horses eat snow. They need constant access to fresh water that is not too cold. Some horses love to play in their water trough, even in really cold weather, and muddy hooves in the tank will mean frequent cleaning and refilling. If the area around the water source gets muddy, frozen, or slick, you may need to spread a thick layer of bedding or fine gravel in this spot to keep horses from slipping or bruising their hooves on frozen ruts.

Hay:

Though many people believe horses need extra grain in the winter, a steady supply of forage is actually what keeps horses warm through fermentation in the hindgut. If horses seem cold, increase the supply of moderate-quality hay. Watch to see that timid horses can access hay without being pushed away by more dominant animals.

Turnout:

Even on cold, windy days, most horses will benefit from some turnout time, especially if they have the opportunity to find shelter when they need it. Turnout and free exercise will help minimize the respiratory problems, stiffness, and boredom that may plague stalled horses.

Skin:

The warm, dark area under horse blankets is a prime spot for the growth of fungal or bacterial skin infections. Unblanketed horses are also at risk for skin infections because of wet, matted coats. Horses should receive at least a light grooming daily, and any skin infections should be treated immediately.

Hooves:

Don’t neglect regular trimming and resetting of shoes during the winter, even if horses are not working. Letting hooves get overly long invites chipping, cracking, and a major change in hoof angles with the first spring trim.

Vaccinations:

Check with your veterinarian as to the vaccinations your horse will need. Regardless of if he is staying on the farm, heading for spring shows, or getting prepped for a sale. Get these vaccinations on the schedule. By doing so, immunity will be strong by the time the horse is ready to travel in the spring.

Interested in learning more about horse care in early spring? Visit or call J & J Hay Farms for more information!

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.

Vitamins for Horses

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

Vitamins for HorsesVitamins are defined as organic substances that are necessary for the proper nutrition of plants and animals. Ingested in minute quantities, vitamins act as coenzymes and precursors of coenzymes in the regulation of many metabolic processes. Some vitamins must be provided by food, while others are produced within the body. Not all animals are able to produce the same vitamins, which is one reason feeds designed for one species are not necessarily suitable for another type of animal.

Horses need vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K for optimal health. The quantities needed are small, but the effects are important. For some vitamins, too much in the horse’s diet is just as bad as too little. Most of the well-known commercial horse feeds supply vitamins in the proper quantities, taking the guesswork out of feeding horses.

Vitamin A and its precursor, beta-carotene, are supplied by ingested material. It is one of the fat-soluble vitamins, meaning that it is easily stored in the body. Horses get vitamin A from eating fresh grass and good-quality hay. Any that is not used immediately is stored in the horse’s liver, and this supply is drawn upon during the winter months when pastures are dormant. Vitamin A is used to support eye function, reproduction, and the health of bones, skin, and muscles. A diet deficient in vitamin A can cause reproductive problems, increased risk of infection, defects in bone and muscle growth, a dull hair coat, and eye problems like tearing and night blindness. Too much vitamin A produces some of the same signs as well as weight loss and neurologic problems.

What we refer to as vitamin B is actually a complex of several substances including niacin, thiamine, biotin, cobalamine, folacin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. Because vitamin B is one of the water-soluble vitamins, extra supplies do not build up in the horse’s body. This means that new supplies must be added regularly, but toxicity isn’t a problem because excess B compounds are excreted instead of being stored. B vitamins are made in the horse’s body either from organic compounds in other foods, or by the microbes that live in the horse’s gut. Horses on a normal diet usually have adequate supplies of all the B complex substances, and toxicity has not been reported.

Another water-soluble nutrient is vitamin C, or ascorbic acid. Humans drink citrus juices to obtain vitamin C, but the horse’s liver is able to synthesize this nutrient from glucose. Vitamin C is necessary for proper formation of bones, teeth, and collagen, and is also a powerful antioxidant that protects cell membranes from the damaging action of free radicals. Older horses and those that have been sick or under stress may benefit from a bit more dietary vitamin C. There’s little danger of oversupplementing because this vitamin is poorly absorbed from the digestive tract, and excess amounts are excreted in the urine.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin produced in the skin when horses are exposed to sunlight. It’s also found in hay, but decreases as the hay is stored. It is important for proper skeletal development in young horses and helps to regulate calcium and phosphorus levels in mature animals. Too little vitamin D leads to bone deformities, while oversupplementation can cause stiffness of joints and muscles, deposition of calcium in the horse’s internal organs, and even death.

Like vitamins A and D, vitamin E is present in grass and fresh hay, but levels decline as the hay ages. Alfalfa hay is a better source than grass hay. This fat-soluble vitamin has important antioxidant qualities and also supports healthy function of the horse’s nervous, immune, and reproductive systems. Horses that don’t get enough vitamin E may show muscle trembling, weakness, and atrophy. Equine motor neuron disease, or EMND, is caused by a vitamin E deficiency and is characterized by increased recumbency and loss of muscle tone. Horses appear to be tolerant of high levels of this vitamin.

Needed for proper blood clotting, vitamin K is manufactured in the horse’s hindgut and is also ingested in hay. Under normal conditions, it’s rare for a horse to develop a deficiency, but intestinal infections that disrupt the bacterial population of the gut can compromise production of vitamin K. Grazing sweet clover can also lead to a low level of vitamin K, producing signs like internal bleeding, pale mucous membranes, and an irregular heartbeat.

As grazers, horses naturally meet their vitamin requirement by ingesting grass or hay. Owners should allow as much turnout on good quality pasture as possible and provide hay that has not been stored for more than a few months. Most fortified commercial grain products are formulated to contain the correct levels of the vitamins horses need to consume. Horses that don’t need the calories in grain-rich feeds can look for a balancer pellet that provides vitamins and minerals in a low-calorie formulation. It’s important to avoid oversupplementation of vitamins, so owners should ask an equine nutritionist to evaluate their horses’ diets before adding supplements. The nutritionist can advise whether extra vitamins are needed for some classes of horses, such as those in extreme exercise programs.

Interested in learning more? Visit or call J & J Hay Farms for more information!

Article brought to you by Kentucky Equine Research.