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Reasons to Test Horse Hay and Grass

Reasons to Test Hay, Haylage and Grass for Your Horse

Should you test hay, haylage and grass for your horse? Is this approach one that will create a healthy horse? How do you know how nutrient-dense and balanced the forage you will feed your horse is?

Learn more and understand the reasons to test horse hay and haylage for winter horse feeding and the healthiest horse.

Why should you test horse hay, haylage and grass

We were aware of the importance of analysis of hay, haylage and grass for your horse over ten years ago. Analysis of forage, even then, was available and not expensive but it wasn’t widely used by horse owners to calculate the best horse diet.

Scientific forage analysis is a valid method to ensure that you are offering your horse a truly balanced diet. Without analysis of the greatest proportion of the diet, which is hay, haylage or grass there is no bagged feed on the market that can claim to be balanced, apart from itself.

According to equine nutritionists and laminitis researchers* involved with the optimum health of horses, analysis of the grass, hay and haylage the horse eats, allows horse owners to feed horses a diet that optimises health. A ‘forage focused’ diet with minerals and vitamins balanced to tested forage allows the body to maintain excellent health and avoid disease. This approach promotes resilience and natural body healing processes.

Analysis of horse haylage and hay will also allow you to look at the very important elements of protein and calories. Is there enough protein? Are the calories your horse is eating in the hay or haylage too high or too low to maintain a good body weight?

We now feel that forage analysis is one of the most powerful tools in a horse owner feeding tool kit. It ensures, without the guesswork, that horses have the energy, the protein and the mineral and vitamin fuel to power their health for jumping, dressage, hacking or whatever we as their owners desire them to do.

Five reasons to test hay, haylage and grass for your horse

These are the five main reasons to test hay or any forage your horse or pony eats.

  1. If you test hay or haylage this will tell you if your horse will receive adequate levels of DE/energy (calories). The best DE for an adult horse in light to moderate work is around 8 Mj/kg. This allows you to feed ad-lib hay, providing enough fibre to promote optimum hind gut fermentation at the same time as maintaining weight at a perfect level. Knowing the DE of your hay will also allow you to ‘know’ how much to feed a horse to control weight loss and or weight gain. It’s important when restricting hay consumption to understand that fibre is crucial to avoid stomach and gut issues. If you have an analysis you can truly have peace of mind that you are feeding the right amount of fibre and not too many calories for that fatty good doer that worries you each and everyday.
  2. Forage analysis to test horse hay, haylage and grass measures individual macro and micro nutrients (minerals) and helps determine if there are any dietary deficiencies that need to be addressed. It is important to look at the balance between the minerals in the daily diet. It is the balance that determines whether one mineral will block the intake of another. This means looking at the ratios between certain minerals to check these ratios are not imbalanced. Imbalanced minerals will cause insufficiency in the diet and affect the maintenance of health. Trace minerals such as copper and zinc are known to be deficient in forages harvested from various regions throughout the UK and Europe and they are also blocked by high levels of iron and manganese that we see again and again in the forages we test both here in the UK and throughout Europe.
  3. Testing protein levels in hay or haylage can also tell you if you have high enough levels of protein and indicate the quality of that protein in terms of amino acid profile and nitrate content. To find out more about protein quality and amino acids visit this page. To find out about high nitrates in hay visit this article. Quality protein at the correct level is important to maintain the performance of athletic horses, support healthy muscular development, support a resilient gut membrane, skin health and hoof health. Protein is also vital for controlling calorie intake. Many horses which are on poor pasture, wearing muzzles or eating restricted hay end up being protein deficient. This protein deficiency results in them feeling constantly hungry. You can read more about the way a good doer on restricted forage can be affected here. Young horses are particularly vulnerable to protein levels and quality in forage so determining the quality of the cured forage you are feeding is crucial for healthy, optimum growth. In the UK and Europe protein quality is often well below the 8% level for adult horses in light work. Young horses, breeding mares and performance horses need much higher levels of protein at at least 10% in the total daily diet.
  4. The fibre content and type contained in the hay or haylage your horse eats can be tested. This assesses the digestibility and palatability of the forage being consumed by a horse. Forage with a high lignin content will require higher feeding quantities to compensate for a high percentage of indigestible fibre. Many horses are short of fibre due to grazing and hay restrictions. Having information about the nutritional content of the hay or haylage you feed will enable you to successfully manage the gut health of your horse.
  5. The sugar and starch content of hay and haylage can be critical for certain horses who are prone to laminitis. Horses with insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome, or those that are overweight will need a cured forage with a sugar and starch content below 10%. Testing hay and haylage is crucial for horses prone to laminitis as the only way to tell if the sugar and starch level is below 10% is to test. You cannot tell just by looking. It is important however to test sugar and starch in the correct way. A nutritional test which tests total sugars may result in you ruling out a hay which is actually suitable. Testing the right sugars gives the right information. Find out more by visiting the ECIR page.
forage analysis reports

How to use Forageplus to test hay, haylage and grass

Forageplus can test horse hay, haylage and grass for all horse owners. Our service for the best horse feed balancing is quick, reliable and simple.

Horse owners throughout the UK and Europe can just choose the analysis required and make payment. We send a kit and full instructions to you once we have received your order. collect your sample and send this back to us

Which forage test will you need?

You can choose from full mineral and nutritional analysis (NIR or wet chemistry).  You can use Forageplus to test hay, haylage, straw or grass.  Analysis of both nutritional and mineral elements of horse grass, hay and haylage normally takes around two weeks. Once we receive the results we will email you.

Note that testing grass for sugar and starch, DE and protein quality is unreliable unless the sample is frozen immediately and shipped on ice. This is why we tend to recommend that only a mineral analysis of grass is carried out.

Nutritional Analysis for Horses

Choose the Nutritional Analysis of hay only or team it up with a Full Mineral Analysis for a more comprehensive assessment of your hay or haylage.

We offer two types of nutritional analysis, NIR which uses a statistical model and Wet Chemistry which uses traditional laboratory techniques. Both are valid to use but the NIR is a quicker and cheaper option.

Choose this analysis to test hay or haylage nutritional elements for these reasons:

  • Find out the feed energy value (DE – calories) so you know how much hay or haylage to feed for weight management
  • Check the ESC sugar and starch level is under 10% so that you know it is safe to feed to horses and ponies prone to laminitis
  • Determine the protein level and quality is enough to support the age and health status of your horse or horses
  • Check nitrate levels are at safe levels in the hay (for this either choose the wet chemistry plus nitrates or team a nutritional test up with testing mineral levels).

Read more about high nitrates in hay and haylage here.

Mineral Analysis for Horses

If you wish to know the mineral levels of your forage choose the Full Mineral Analysis. Our mineral analysis covers all the major minerals including chloride and all the trace minerals, including selenium and iodine. Our analysis also includes dry matter content which must be reported if the report for horse grass, hay and haylage is going to be able to be used accurately for calculating amounts of each nutrient in the horse diet.

When would I choose both mineral and nutritional analysis?

When you test hay or haylage we strongly recommend your buy both a Nutritional and Full mineral analysis. To keep costs down choose an NIR Nutritional and Full Mineral combination.

All horse hay should have little dust and needs to have been harvested during a nice dry spell without being rained upon. You can test it after it has rested and settled in the barn for 6 weeks. You must test horse hay because you can not tell how good the horse hay is just by looking at it, for that you must carry out an analysis.

Some horse owners prefer haylage due to lower dust and higher moisture levels. There are a lot of myths about haylage. People believe it is higher in calories, higher in protein and more digestible. None of this can be guaranteed. Most of these myths are untrue because the haylage feed value is always dependent upon the time of day and month it was cut, whether it was sunny or cloudy, whether the grass was fertilised and what type of grass species is predominant in the bale. The only way to know for certain what level of protein, calories and nutritional value the haylage contains is to test.

What information is in a Forageplus hay, haylage or grass test report?

Our reports are very comprehensive, with detailed information and graphs to explain to you what your analysis means for your horse. We are also always ready to help you interpret the reports and are happy for you to ask us questions so that we can use our expertise to advise you on how to feed your horse for the best health. If you fill out our horse questionnaire when you order when you test hay, haylage or grass then we can match your forage to the best balancer and other supplement options and give you these options in your report.

Reports are sent within 10-14 working days of the date the lab receives the sample. We send the reports by email and upload them to your account area if you have created an account on our website. If they are uploaded to your account download area you will never lose the report.

What if I can’t test hay, haylage or grass?

If you can’t test hay, haylage or grass then don’t worry. Many people can not do this. Just take advantage of our comprehensive range of equine balancers which have been formulated to be nutritionally focused on the common deficiencies in horse grass, hay and haylage. We have formulated these balancers from the hundreds of analyses we have done for clients over the years and careful consideration of Nutrient Requirement Council minimums and ratios for all nutrients.

More about our extensive range of ‘forage focused’™ equine balancers for all horses

What if I have to test horse hay or haylage from various fields or sources?

Where you have a number of different sources then you can go to the sources and test hay or the haylage bales.

If you can, ask or find where the forage is stored and go to the stack and collect the sample from there.  You may need to use a corer where the bales are big bales.

Where the forage is wrapped as haylage you will need to buy some haylage tape, which can be bought at a farm supply, and reseal the bales after you take the sample.

In some circumstances, it is useful to collect a sample over a number of days or weeks as your yard uses bales. You can hand grab or core each bale as it is used and then store the samples together in a large polythene bag. Coring is the best and most reliable way to sample large and small bales. Once you have collected samples from 6 – 10 bales you can then mix all the samples together thoroughly and take one sample from this to test.

Selecting a range of bales to obtain a representative sample is important. Understand that it is the forage your horse eats over time which is important not what he/she eats in a week or a month. By obtaining a representative sample of what your horse eats over time you will be looking at what mineral excesses and deficiencies your horse is exposed to in the grass, hay, haylage that is eaten. To understand more see our advice on how to take a sample here.

Another option is to walk the fields where your hay comes from gathering a representative sample of either the grass just before baling or of the hay left lying on the field after baling.

Remember when you test horse 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 thousands 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.

How do I test grass if my horse grazes a number of different fields?

Many people have a number of different fields or paddocks that their horse may graze upon.  Some people will have summer fields where their horse grazes.  There are often different fields where your horse will graze for the winter.  How do you analyse grass if your horses graze a number of different fields?

You should think about how long your horse spends on each field or pasture. Depending on how long your horse spends on each area will determine if you need to carry out more than one mineral analysis.  If your horse spends more than 3 months in one field then consider carrying out a test for each individual field.

If your horse regularly rotates the fields more often than 3 months then you can probably collect samples from each area or field and mix them together to form one sample which will show a representative level of the minerals in the grass your horse eats over time.

Fields even close to each other can vary enormously in the levels of minerals in the grass. This is often to do with plant species variety, pH levels, type of soil, how the land has been used historically and whether the land is prone to flooding or very compacted. So if your horse spends long periods of time in one field before moving to another then carry out separate samples.

Find out how to take a representative sample here.

Remember when you analyse grass a horse grazes the samples have to be representative. If you can’t collect a representative sample because your grass is too short 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.

How long does the grass need to be to test for horse mineral analysis?

Analysis to test horse grass can be very useful to help determine what supplements your horse needs to match to the grass eaten in the field. However, if you want to test horse grass then the pasture needs to be long enough for you to collect a sample.

When you test horse grass it needs to be a certain length, more than 2cm is best.  This is because it will take you a long time to collect a sample and it may be heavily contaminated with soil if it is very short.

If the pasture where your horse grazes is less than 2cm long then you will need to rest it before you test to allow it to grow more length. This may only take a week in spring and early summer but could need as long as 4 to 6 weeks at other times of the year when the grass is more slow-growing.

You should only sample the areas of grass your horse is eating.  The areas where long ‘feggy’ grass is growing, which the horse does not touch, should not be sampled. This is because the analysis should be a representative sample of what the horse is eating.  if the longer areas are not touched then this would give false results on the mineral analysis report.

For more advice on how to test horse grass see our advice on how to take a sample here.

If the grass your horse grazes never gets long enough to sample then consider using one of our horse feed balancers which have been formulated against the statistical analysis of the hundreds of grass and hay samples we test for our clients. Each of our horse balancers are nutritionally focused supplements rather than broad-spectrum, cover the usual deficiencies in UK forage and are matched to NRC minimums and ratios.

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