Reasons to test hay, haylage and grass for your horse

Winter is here and now hay or haylage starts to become the most important part of your horses diet.

Perhaps you are feeding a meadow hay, that looks and smells fresh, is clean without mould, has little dust (if it is hay) and has been harvested during a nice dry spell without being rained upon.  Others will have to make do with a single species hay such as timothy or rye but how do you know how nutrient dense and balanced the forage you will feed your horse is and should you test hay, haylage and grass for your horse?

Analysis of the forage the horse eats allows horse owners to feed horses a diet which optimises health, allows the body to maintain excellent health and avoid disease…..Click To Tweet

Testing grass, hay, haylage for horses

We were aware of the importance of analysis of hay, haylage and grass for your horse as far back as 2006.  Analysis of forage, even then, was widely available and not expensive.

Scientifically 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 to itself.

According to equine nutritionists and laminitis researchers* involved with the optimum health of horses, throughout the world, analysis of the forage the horse eats, allows horse owners to feed horses a diet which optimises health. A forage focused diet with minerals balanced to tested forage allows the body to maintain excellent health and avoid disease, promoting resilience and natural body healing processes.

5 reasons to test your hay, haylage and grass for your horseClick To Tweet

These are our 5 top tip reasons to test hay, haylage and grass for your horse:

  • Testing hay and haylage 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.
  • Forage analysis of horse hay, haylage and grass measures individual macro and micro nutrients 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 a report. 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 too imbalanced.  Trace minerals such as copper and zinc are known to be deficient in forages harvested from various regions throughout the UK and Europe.
  • 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, skin health and hoof health.  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 to moderate work.  Young horses, breeding mares and performance horses need high levels of protein.
  • The fibre content and  type contained in the hay or haylage your horse eats can be tested.  This assess 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.
  • 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.

Note that testing grass for sugar and starch, DE and protein quality is unreliable unless the sample is frozen immediately and shipped on ice.

To find out about analysis of the forage your horse eats and sampling techniques please visit our analysis pages.

To understand whether you need a soil or a forage analysis please visit our FAQ page.

*Smithey, J., and K. Gustafson. 2013. Nutrition complexities and mineral profiles of hay. In: Proceedings of the 2013 NO Laminitis! Conference.

Forageplus will be attending and sponsoring the next  No Laminitis Conference  in Tucson, October 2017 as part of our on going desire to keep up to date with the latest thinking on horse health, resilience and longevity.

Mineral and Nutritional Analysis of horse grass, hay, haylage