Find out about the best analysis forage testing for horse hay, haylage and grass. Understand soil analysis for improvement of horse paddocks and pasture and when to choose water analysis to check suitability for equine drinking.
Analysis testing for horses
We are experts in the field of using scientific analysis to balance horse feed programmes to the individual horse.
It can be confusing for horse owners new to analysis services to decide which are the best tests to help them choose the feed for their horse. This article explains what analysis to use, when each analysis is useful and why analysis of grass, hay, haylage, soil and water is important.
We offer complete, fast and efficient analysis testing for horses of all types of horse forage, equine soil and equine drinking water. Our reports are horse focused and easy to understand. We offer an expert and comprehensive support service and equine analysis testing for all horse owners.
We use a UKAS accredited laboratory for our full mineral analysis. This laboratory uses wet chemistry to screen samples and participates fully in a range of proficiency schemes.
Do I need a soil, water or forage test?
The first place to start is understanding which analysis test for horses you need.
Choose a water analysis if you need to test the suitability of a borehole, stream, spring, river or pond as drinking water for your horse.
Choose a soil analysis if you can apply applications to your horse pasture to improve the health of the grass grown and eaten by your horse.
Choose a forage analysis if you want to correctly balance fuelling your horse for resilient health, soundness and longevity.
What is the difference between soil and forage analysis?
A soil analysis test will tell you what your soil needs to be healthy and grow healthy grass for your horse to eat. You should carry out a soil analysis if you want to know what to apply to your land to improve the health of your grass.
A soil test cannot tell you what to feed your horse, what vitamins and minerals your horse needs or the levels of other nutrients like sugar, starch or protein. Soil analysis looks at the health of your soil.
The Forageplus soil analysis tests the balance of minerals in the soil and is particularly suited to improving pasture specifically for horses. The test we recommend is not carried out by conventional agronomists but is extremely successful in looking at individual pastures and optimising the soil for the healthy growth of grass suitable for horses.
Soil testing for horse paddocks and fields
Clients who wish to improve their pasture and paddocks may wish to carry out an equine paddock soil analysis to determine mineral status and pH. Equine paddock soil tests will tell you what your soil needs to be healthy.
Our soil analysis is based on Albrecht principles. These tests will allow you to determine the ratio of nutrients in the soil microbiome and what you need to add to the soil to correct mineral imbalances which will affect grass growth, health and mineral uptake. It is well worth the expense and time to rehabilitate your soils, especially if your pH is too acidic or alkaline. If the soils are too acidic the plants will not be able to take up many of the nutrients that are in the soil. Treating soils however is a long term project, treatments can take a long time before you will notice any benefits. Liming, for example, can take as long as a couple of years before the soil pH increases and nutrient uptake improves.
When do I choose a forage analysis test for my horse?
A forage test will tell you what your horse needs to maintain and support good health. You should carry out forage analysis of grass, hay or haylage if you want to know what to feed your horse to achieve optimum health starting with the forage your horse eats.
A test of hay, haylage or grass can tell you what to feed your horse. These tests can tell you exactly what vitamins and minerals your horse needs or whether the levels of other nutrients like sugar, starch or protein are suitable for your horse. Forage testing will allow you to optimise your horse’s diet and specifically supplement only the nutrients your horse needs to complement the grass, hay or haylage eaten.
Where you cannot use forage analysis, use our Forage Focused™ Horse Feed Balancers to give your horse the next best option. These balancers have been formulated with close reference to the hundreds of forage analysis we carry out each year. They focus on a ratio, low iron approach to supplementing horses.
Dr E. Kellon, VMD, a leader in the field of applications of nutraceuticals for horses in America says:
“Healthy young to middle-aged horses will tolerate a wide range of mineral imbalances with no obvious outward signs. However to maintain optimum health, vibrant coat colour, robust tendons, ligaments and joints, a strong immune system, healthy muscles, healthy nerves, a well functioning metabolic system, good fertility and bone, excellent nutrition is a vital component. To enhance genetics and combat outside influences, to ensure an advanced healthy state, checking the level of minerals in forage is worth investigating since it is well within our control.”– Dr E. Kellon, VMD
Which forage analysis test do I need?
Forageplus provides different reports when testing hay, grass and haylage eaten by horses:
- Hay and haylage nutritional analysis using NIR
- Hay and haylage nutritional analysis using NIR and additional nitrate test using wet chemistry
- Hay and haylage nutritional analysis using wet chemistry
- Hay and haylage nutritional analysis using wet chemistry and additional nitrate test using wet chemistry
- Hay and haylage full mineral analysis using wet chemistry
- Grass full mineral analysis using wet chemistry
What is the difference between NIR and wet chemistry methods of analysis?
NIR is a cheaper and faster way to carry out analysis than the traditional wet chemistry method of using chemicals and heat to break down the forage nutrients.
With NIR, a spectrophotometer is used to analyse the light spectrum reflected off a sample when it is exposed to infrared light. Each nutrient has a unique reflection characteristic based on its molecular structure (carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen bonds). The reflectance of test samples is compared with that of a similar set of samples (calibration set) that have been analysed by wet chemistry. NIR as an analytical technique is faster than wet chemistry methods and requires less labour. The test we use uses sophisticated calibration development, instrument standardisation and constant quality control to endure reliable and accurate results.
With wet chemistry, nutrients are isolated using chemicals and heat to break down the forage. For example, NDF (neutral detergent fibre) is the percentage of fibre in a forage sample that is not solubilized after boiling the sample in a neutral detergent solution. Samples are precisely weighed before and after a chemical or heat process with the difference calculated as the amount of the nutrient. Unfortunately, wet chemistry analysis is time-consuming, costly and requires skilled technicians so is more expensive.
Some people prefer however to opt for the wet chemistry method of analysis to be certain of accuracy. However, NIR is very accurate and is quicker and cheaper.
Why is the right analysis test important for laminitis prone horses?
We are interested in the levels of nutrients your horse is eating from the forage he/she eats. Our analysis testing for horses will tell you what your horse needs to be healthy.
We test both haylage and hay. We send samples for nutritional analysis to the United States of America because at this time no lab in the UK is carrying out appropriate analysis of sugar and starch for determining forage suitability for horses, particularly those with a metabolic state (good doer) which might mean that they are laminitis prone.
Our unique horse testing reports aim to help you interpret the ratios and levels of nutrients in your forage. The information is presented in text, numbers and graphs to help you see and understand the excess and deficiencies quickly.
Our horse nutritional analysis is the only hay and haylage test obtainable in the UK and Europe which includes both starch and ESC sugar. These figures have proved vital in maintaining the health of laminitis prone horses.
We can interpret the results of all grass, hay, or haylage tests for horses and suggest a bespoke feeding plan unique to your individual horse’s requirements. You will always need a full mineral analysis for this service but not always a nutritional analysis. The addition of a nutritional analysis however allows us to determine the quality and level of protein and calories in your horse’s diet. These nutritional elements are important for all horses but especially good doers prone to weight gain and laminitis.
Do I need a nutritional or mineral analysis or both?
There are occasions when you can choose just a nutritional analysis test or just a mineral analysis. Sometimes the best option will be to use both analyses.
When do I need a nutritional test?
We carry out nutritional analysis on any stable forage such as hay and haylage. We can also analyse straw for nutritional value.
A nutritional analysis will give information on the breakdown of the sugars, starch, proteins, digestible energy and fibre content. This is useful in the following situations:
- Your horse is eating hay or haylage (find out why we tend not to test grass for nutritional levels here)
- Understanding if sugar and starch levels are appropriate for the management of horses and ponies prone to laminitis
- You need to know whether the hay or haylage needs to be soaked got lower sugar content
- Your horse needs to lose weight
- Your horse needs to gain weight
- Your horse needs to maintain healthy muscle
- Your horse is undergoing heavy work such as eventing, hunting, racing or endurance rides over 30 miles
- You have breeding or growing horses
- Your horse has skin or hoof issues
- Your horse is a good doer on restricted forage
- Checking fibre levels are within suitable parameters
A horse nutritional analysis is useful if you need to know the feed value (calories), sugar/starch and protein levels of your forage. You would not need a nutritional analysis if your horse is maintaining weight, is not sensitive to starch and sugar levels in the diet, maintains good muscle mass and is in work up to a moderate level.
If you suspect your protein levels to below a nutritional analysis can be extremely useful to determine the quality of the protein in your forage and reveal the levels contained in your hay or haylage. Often hay and haylage is poor in protein and knowing how much protein you need to supplement in the diet is very important for many horses, especially those which are growing, breeding or working hard.
Where a horse needs to lose weight a horse nutritional analysis is crucial to determine just how much hay you need to feed for weight loss and also if protein levels will be covered at this feed rate for maintenance of health.
Where a horse is breeding or growing a nutritional analysis is crucial to determine if enough protein is provided in the hay. Often even with a bucket feed because protein levels for breeding and young horses need to be around 11% protein is under supplemented and then affects the maintenance of health.
How do I test forage for horses prone to laminitis and sensitive to sugar?
If your horse is sensitive to sugar and starch levels carrying out a nutritional analysis can be a crucial factor in helping manage horses prone to laminitis and weight gain.
A Forageplus™ nutritional report will tell you what the combined levels of Ethanol Soluble carbohydrates (ESC) and starch in hay/haylage are. We are only interested in the components of NSC that are digestible in the small intestine and can cause an insulin spike. These elements are also analysed and measured rather than calculated in our analysis method and so more accurate.
NFC is calculated (as opposed to an analysed or measured value) as an estimate of all carbohydrates not in neutral detergent fibre (NDF). NFC = 100 – crude protein% – NDF% – ash% – crude fat%.
Before the routine availability of WSC, ESC and starch analyses, it was commonly reported as an estimate of feed carbohydrates. However, as a calculated value, it will carry all of the errors of the other measurements.
Use ESC and starch when available to evaluate carbohydrate levels in the diet. The analysis report should show a combined figure of under 10% to be safe to be fed to horses and ponies prone to laminitis without soaking. For the most sensitive of horses, we sometimes suggest a figure lower than 7% might be necessary.
Can analysis tell me if I need to soak hay and haylage?
Testing dry hay or haylage and getting a nutritional report will also enable you to know whether you need to rinse and soak the hay or haylage to lower the sugar level for your horse. Many types of hay or haylage are too high in carbohydrates for horses sensitive to sugar and so must be washed to lower the sugar levels.
However, rinsing and soaking hay is not always desirable because the process of washing the hay will wash soluble nutrients like sodium and B vitamins out of the forage. If you can determine, with analysis, whether rinsing and soaking are necessary then you can avoid soaking forage unnecessarily. This will also make it easier to feed your horse, especially in very hot or very cold weather. Not soaking hay or haylage is also very time saving and the forage will be more nutritious.
How to test soaked horse hay or haylage for sugar levels
It is your choice whether you test your hay dry or soaked or test a sample of both. Many people start with a dry sample to obtain the ESC and starch level. If the report comes back with a very high level of sugar then for peace of mind or for horses and ponies who need special care then a further test of a soaked sample can check that the forage has indeed had the sugars lowered enough after rinsing for it to be safe to feed to a horse or pony prone to laminitis.
An analysis of soaked forage will tell you whether you have been able to rinse enough sugar out of the hay/haylage to reduce levels of sugar. Dr Eleanor Kellon VMD and the ECIR Yahoo Group have found that the health of horses susceptible to sugar/starch levels are best maintained when combined ESC and starch levels are below 10%.
It is extremely important when testing hay for horses and ponies sensitive to sugar that both ESC and starch is tested. Just testing sugar or total water-soluble carbohydrates or non-structural carbohydrates will not give you the correct information to accurately measures the carbohydrate levels in forage which affect horses and ponies sensitive to sugar and prone to laminitis.
Can I get a nutritional analysis of grass for horses?
At Forageplus we don’t want you to waste your money or time so although we can carry out a nutritional analysis of grass for you there are several reasons why we think this testing is unreliable for horse owners.
Most horse owners testing the nutritional value of grass want to know about sugar levels. They want to know if the grass their horse is eating is high in sugar or low in sugar. Horse owners want to know if the grass their horse is eating is safe for those who are laminitis prone.
Many horses are sensitive to sugar levels in grass particularly in spring and early summer. However, the sugar content of grass fluctuates throughout the day with levels being lowest at night and highest during the afternoon. Sugar levels in grass are affected by how much the sun is shining or how much cloud cover there is. Sugar levels in grass are also affected by the temperature both at night and during the day. Sugar levels are also affected by how long it takes the sample to reach the laboratory for testing. All the time the sample is travelling to the lab the grass will be changing its sugar content due to photosynthesis.
How do you check sugar levels in horse grass?
The only reliable way to check sugar levels is either to freeze the sample in liquid nitrogen the moment it is sampled and ship it to the lab on ice or flash dry in a microwave oven. Even then, because the sugar levels change constantly throughout the day, it does not mean the sugar level is safe for your horse or that the reported figure was accurate for more than a moment.
So although Forageplus can test the sugar and nutritional levels of the grass your horse eats, if you are looking to determine how much sugar is in the grass your horse is eating, a nutritional test is unlikely to be accurate. The only safe way to help horses and ponies which are sensitive to sugar and starch levels in the grass is to limit or remove those prone to laminitis during high-risk periods.
These high-risk periods are late morning through to early evening. Some horses and ponies are best being removed from grass from March to late July when the grass is likely to be the most dangerous. Others also need removing during September and October. Some horses can not tolerate any grass at any time of the year and although it is difficult sometimes horse owners will have to find a way of managing these horses without feeding them grass to keep them free from laminitis.
How do you check protein in horse grass?
Other people might want to know the protein or DE (calorie) level of the grass. These two elements change less in the grass with grass in early to mid-spring being highest in both protein and calories. However again because the grass is changing within weeks we do not consider it worth our customers to provide a service to test grass for nutritional value.
The service we provide for nutritional testing works best when you sample stable forage such as hay or haylage and is an extremely important aspect of managing the diet of all horses and ponies prone to laminitis. However, if you do want to test horse grass using a nutritional analysis it’s not that we can’t we just don’t think it’s cost-effective. However, contact us so we can help if that is a choice you wish to make.
When do I need a horse mineral analysis of grass, hay or haylage?
We carry out mineral analysis on grass, hay and haylage. We can also test the mineral profile of straw. A nutritional analysis will give information on the breakdown of the sugars, starch, proteins, digestible energy and fibre content. This is useful in the following situations:
All horse owners should know the mineral status of their grass, hay or haylage as the only truly healthy way to feed your horse for optimum health is to target only those minerals which are known to be deficient. You cannot tell the nutritional and mineral value of any forage by looking at it, smelling it or guessing, the only way to truly tell is to test it.
When is the best time to use a full mineral analysis?
A common question is if I test minerals won’t they change over the year so that if they are different in summer and winter? Many people want to know if they will have to test minerals many times each year.
With hay and haylage, the answer is easy, just test whenever you have a stack of hay which will last at least 3/4 months. Because this forage is cured the mineral levels will not change.
When testing grass, again, there is no best time as most major and trace minerals for horses and especially the ratios do not change enough over the seasons to be significant. It is an overall picture of the ratios and levels that you want to gain so that you can match minerals to the grass your horse eats.
What will change greatly are the length of the grass and the nutritional elements of the grass your horse eats – digestible energy (calories), sugar and starch and the protein level. This is why we do not routinely advise testing grass for nutritional value.
As the seasons change, the digestible energy (calories) will go up and down and that is where the art of feeding comes in. If there is less energy value (calories) in the grass then you will need to feed more concentrates or other preserved forage sources so that your horse can maintain a good body condition score.
On the other hand, with the flush of grass in spring you will need to feed less but the mineral mix which balances the grass your horse eats can stay the same. The advantage of this type of approach means that your horse receives the nutrients needed to be matched to grass at the same time as being able to get more or fewer calories through the feed fed in a bucket.
Being able to take a sample often hinders when a full mineral analysis can be taken. It is more difficult in winter when the grass stops going and grazing may leave the sward very short. Take a sample when the grass is at least 2 cm in length.
Rainfall can affect levels of minerals like iron and manganese and a cold spring can affect the levels of phosphorous in summer grass. Potassium can be a bit higher and magnesium lower in new shoots of grass. However, these differences are not enough to need to carry out testing more than once or twice every couple of years. An analysis to test minerals in horse pasture will indicate the amounts of minerals that need to be supplemented to make up deficiencies and correct imbalances and this can be used year-round.
The only time you would have to retest your pasture regularly would be when you were improving it with the addition of manure, fertilisers, minerals or lime. A test should always be carried out once the new growth has grown after the applications have been spread.
What will a full mineral analysis tell me?
Although all forage is deficient in certain minerals, it is determining which minerals are in excess is very important. Traditional horse feed and supplements have adopted a broad-spectrum approach where a scattergun tactic supplements all minerals that a horse might need. However, this broad-spectrum approach fails to recognise that many minerals such as calcium, iron and manganese are over supplemented in the horse’s diet and serve to block the uptake of other minerals which are commonly deficient. By testing forage for mineral values you can look at both the frank deficiencies as matched to NRC daily requirements and you can also look at the relative deficiencies that are caused by incorrect ratios of minerals between each other.
A Forageplus full mineral analysis gives a full mineral profile of the forage. All macro and micro minerals are included. Mineral reports provided by other companies can exclude selenium, iodine or chloride. The report provided is created by a UKAS accredited lab using wet chemistry methods.
Our analysis includes all the minerals known to be essential in the equine diet, plus levels of antagonist minerals aluminium, lead and molybdenum.
The following elements are included in this analysis:
Calcium Copper Cobalt
Magnesium Zinc Sulphur
Phosphorous Selenium Molybdenum
Sodium Manganese Aluminium
Potassium Iron Lead
Remember when you test horse grass, hay or haylage samples they have to be representative. If you can’t do this then consider using one of our ‘forage focused™’ horse feed balancers which have been formulated against the statistical analysis of the hundreds of forage samples we tested for our clients. Our balancers are nutritionally focused supplements rather than broad-spectrum, cover the usual deficiencies in UK forage and are matched to NRC minimums and ratios.
When should I use both nutritional and mineral analysis?
When deciding what analysis to undertake you should look at the proportion of the horse diet. If your horse is turned out 24/7 and grass is the main proportion then a grass full mineral analysis will be enough, however, if your horse also is fed hay/haylage and this makes up 50:50 of the diet or more, then you should also consider testing both grass and hay/haylage and using both mineral and nutritional analysis for the hay and haylage. The same can be said of straw, both a nutritional and mineral analysis should be chosen.
If you own a laminitis prone horse then you may be searching for hay that will be suitable to feed because it is low enough in sugar and starch. In this case, you might carry out a nutritional test first to determine the suitability and then follow up at a later date with a mineral analysis after checking the nutritional sugar and starch levels.
Choosing your analysis can be complicated and a bit confusing. We are only a website chat, email or phone call away so please contact us if you need help.
Forageplus provides a range of analysis services for horse hay, haylage, grass, soil and water. We can tell you if your forage is suitable for a laminitic, if there is a need for soaking, if there is sufficient protein or if there are any antagonist minerals or mineral deficiencies. Read more below.