Hay is not only an irreplaceable source of fiber, but also plays a significant role in the digestive process because it fills the horse’s gastrointestinal tract.
It is very important for its proper, healthy work and every horse owner (especially a horse with a tendency to colic or ulcers) should take care that the hay is available 24 hours a day. Ideally in hay nets that significantly slow down eating which is beneficial for horses’ stomachs, but also for the owner’s pockets.
In feeding horses, we follow the rules that the anatomy and physiology of the horse’s digestive system imposes on us. The main nutrient in the horse’s diet is fiber and hence it has to be a large portion of the daily ration – about 2 percent of the horse’s body weight. The fiber maintains the correct intestinal activity, provides the necessary substances, is a reservoir of energy and electrolytes, released when needed.
I bet every horse owner once in a while asks himself about proper nutrition. High quality hay can completely satisfy the nutritional needs of a non-working or very light working horse. It is nothing better like green forage from meadows mown before or during the flowering period, dried in a meadow in a natural way. The quality of hay depends on the conditions in which it was collected, the most appropriate for horses is hay from dry meadows, and it is inadvisable from wetlands and periodically flooded meadows.
The best date for mowing grass for hay is the flowering phase. During this time, the plants are the richest in all nutrients and the yield reaches its maximum height. Unfortunately, weather conditions are not always conducive to collecting hay of the highest quality, i.e. one that has a green color and a very pleasant scent, spreading over the stable. Hay, which once gets wet, becomes yellowish and loses some nutrients, but it can be fed properly and well without any worries.
For horses the most valuable is hay from the first cut, because it is usually more mature and more willingly eaten. Second and third cut, however is less desirable.
After harvest, the hay must be “put away” for 6-8 weeks during which it releases water and loses some harmful substances.
Good quality hay looks inviting, smells aroma, fresh, the blades are elastic and springy. It contains a lot of protein, mineral salts and vitamins, micro and macro elements. The content of lucerne and clover guarantees a high proportion of protein and calcium, which are especially important in horses during growth, gaining weight, used in sports or breeding, and for foals. For obese horses or those who have no problems maintaining good condition, it is recommended hay with a slightly poorer composition. Specialists and veterinarians recommend that especially obese horses be fed hay with a hay net with small or medium eyelets, which extends the time of eating and regulates digestive processes.
The hay we absolutely should not give to horses is grayish or brown, has an unpleasant smell of mustiness or mold. May contain hazardous garbage, stones, stalks and sand. This hay has no nutritional value and can cause serious illnesses such as colic or asthma.