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Articles & Hay Education

Check out our article in the

Hay & Forage Magazine!


Curing and Storing Hay

The key to properly cured hay lies predominantly in moisture content. For best results, hay should not be baled until there is less than 20% moisture. Hay baled too wet might mold, heat, and pose a fire risk. Conversely, hay baled too dry might lose its nutritional value through broken or fallen leaves. Rain is the bane of a hay harvester’s existence, and it can cause extensive nutrient losses, especially to vitamins A and E, protein, and certain carbohydrates.

Though the color of hay is not the end-all, be-all method for determining hay quality (that would be forage analysis by a laboratory), color is a useful indicator of nutritive value.

Green. Without question, the most desirable color of hay is bright green. Greenness indicates the hay was not subjected to any adverse conditions during curing or storage, thereby suggesting the forage is nutritious and free of molds. Green hay is often rife with carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and vitamin E.

Yellow. If hay is yellow, there is a likelihood that it was overmature when cut or was exposed to rain during the curing process. If the hay was rained on, it is not only susceptible to leaching of nutrients but also mold proliferation, which can cause gastrointestinal and respiratory problems such as colic, coughing, or heaves. In other instances, yellowing might be due to sun-bleaching, which occurs when stored hay is exposed to direct sunlight. Sun-bleaching decreases carotene content and palatability of the discolored hay. Sun damage usually affects only the outside of bales, so much of the hay in these bales is probably salvageable.

Brown. Nutritious hay is rarely, if ever, brown. If a tobacco-like odor accompanies extremely off-colored hay, this is likely due to overheating during storage caused by excessive moisture and fungal growth. Palatability of low-quality brown hay is usually poor. Due to the predisposition to mold and unpalatability, this hay should not be fed to horses.

Not all horses require bright green, nutrient-dense hay. In fact, equine nutritionists are adamant that forage selection be based on individual needs. An overweight pony does not need to stand knee-deep in fluorescent alfalfa (lucerne) for two-thirds of the day, and a thinnish lactating mare needs more than last year’s yellowing meadow grass to keep her in milk.

Other factors also affect hay quality including plant type (grasses versus legumes), stage of maturity, leaf-to-stem ratio, and presence of mold, weeds, and other foreign material.


The Importance of Cutting Hay

at the Proper Stage

Cutting hay at the proper stage is a difficult task. If hay is too dry, the value of protein and vitamins in that hay is decreased. Likewise, if 

hay is not dry enough, it can turn moldy or spoil. Neither type will produce high quality hay bales.

While it would be ideal if you could know definitively how wet or dry hay should be before it is cut, unfortunately, it depends on a variety of factors. These factors include: the type of hay or grass; the maturity of the hay; the shape and size of bales; weather conditions; and how soon the cut hay will be baled.

Most experts agree that hay containing a moisture content of between eight and 15 percent is ready to be cut for baling. The most important factor in determining whether or not hay is ready to be cut is stem moisture. If stem moisture is high, hay producers should stop baling at about 18 percent. That number should be lower when hay will be used for larger bales.

In the past, hay producers had to rely on visual or hand inspections to determine the moisture content of hay. Today, producers are able to pinpoint the exact time to bale through the use of electronic moisture testers or dry foraging in a microwave. This allows hay producers to enjoy a higher yield than in the past.

Once hay goes bad it cannot be fixed. By using an electronic moisture testing device or microwave you can be sure that hay is ready for baling, avoiding waste. Using these methods also save time because producers can more quickly determine moisture content. It also saves time because can be more confident that the hay they are purchasing is high quality and so spend less time inspecting hay and questioning the producer.

The importance of cutting hay at the correct time cannot be underestimated. Today’s hay prices are high and everyone is looking for affordable and quality hay. Hay producers that provide this type of hay will never be lacking for customers. On the flip side, hay producers that sell moldy or overly dry hay will find themselves losing money as customers look elsewhere to purchase their hay.


"There's no one recipe for growing timothy"

A season with weather, tariffs, and constantly changing markets, the need to become more efficient and diversified is key. In the West, specifically Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, timothy production is one means of doing this and is a major forage product that gets exported to countries like Japan and Saudi Arabia.

Forage producers strive to grow the highest quality product while also making a profit on the crop they are growing. A timothy hay enterprise is no different. Growers must balance input costs with potential returns while dealing with wide swings in market prices and demand.

I sat down recently with the director of research from a local fertilizer supplier, and we began to discuss the complex nature of a timothy crop when striving to get the best quality. Two of the reoccurring themes during the discussion were about proper plant nutrition and timing.

Don’t skimp on nitrogen

The proper amount of nitrogen , phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) is paramount to growing a high-yielding crop. One tool that growers can use to help the plant remain productive and healthy is a nitrogen stabilizer. As with all grasses, nitrogen is an essential nutrient for timothy if optimum yields and quality are to be achieved. Nitrogen stabilizers extend the availability of nitrogen to the plant during peak growing stages.

All plants need nutrition during their entire growing process, but timothy hits its peak nutrient need when transitioning from vegetative growth to boot and heading stages. During this period, the plant demands a large majority of its needed nutrients. If these nutrients are not available in the soil, the plant pulls stored nutrients from its corm, which is a bulblike structure at the base of the stem and is the plant’s primary nutrient storage structure. When the plant has to rely on its corm for nutrition too early, it’s thought that this is a contributing factor to brown leaf (dead leaf) at the bottom of the plant.

The biggest detriment to forage quality for a timothy crop is brown leaf. Buyers generally grade timothy primarily on color as well as head and stem size, so brown leaves present a major marketing problem. As of now, there is no one specific cause of brown leaf that is known. The current thinking is that it could be the result of a fungus, lack of sunlight caused by overcrowding, unmet nutrient needs, herbicide damage, or a combination of all of these factors. There are some studies currently being conducted to document whether or not common timothy herbicides are causing injury to the plant and contributing to brown leaf.

Unlike alfalfa, timothy will exhibit plant health issues relatively quickly, sometimes even overnight. When scouting a timothy field, you can easily spot problem areas where fertilizer may have been under or over applied, there was an herbicide skip while spraying, or there was a fertilizer application miss.

A yield-quality trade-off

As with most forage crops, timothy also offers the age-old yield or quality trade-off dilemma. In the forage industry, we are paid on the basis of both tonnage and quality. Theoretically, you could go for high tonnage and decent quality and get paid the same as you would if you went for top quality with good tonnage. Often, the end market and your ability to cover input costs dictates the most profitable approach.

For our operation and many others, we strive to grow the best quality product that we can while being efficient with our nutrient program to get a healthy balance of quality and tonnage. There is a huge pride factor when customers keep coming back because the quality of your timothy crop is consistent from year-to-year.

There is no one right answer to get the best quality and tonnage out of a timothy crop. Every grower has to develop a production protocol that works best for their farm. Timothy, like many grasses, performs differently depending on the environment. There is no one-size-fits-all program. You can even run the exact same production program on two fields located right next to each other and achieve completely different end results. In the end, each timothy grower must experiment and find those production practices that result in the best product for their market.



Haymaking combines science and art. Old-timers knew just the right feel of hay before it was ready to be put into the barn. It’s hard to quantify that judgment with mechanical instruments. The goal of haymaking is to capture the nutrients in grass in a storable form to make them available as a forage feed in the winter months. Read more at

Wanting information on alfalfa hay?

Check out this site for loads of educational information regarding alfalfa hay.


All Hay Is Not Equal:

Choose Your Livestock’s Carefully.

Hay is the mainstay diet for our livestock. Learn the intricacies of hay types, nutritional content and quality before purchasing your next load..... article at

Feed Your Hogs Hay? In Some Cases, It Makes Perfect Sense.

Hay can be a great supplement to your pastured pig program. Here are tips on what kind of hay to feed and how to get your pigs to start eating it.

Some years ago, I met a fellow pig farmer who raised pastured, heritage-breed Guinea hogs. I’ve never considered Guinea hogs an option on our farm—their small size, lard-pig classification and slow growth rate aren’t traits conducive to our market operation—but I was curious about the pasturing element of his endeavor. “Pasturing” is a 

loose term that can mean many things, including raising pigs outside on feed and making pigs raise themselves on grass and foraged edibles. Our farm is somewhere in the middle—we offer feed but work to keep the animals on fresh grass as much as possible.

“No feed,” the farmer said. “Just grass.”

“What about winter?” I asked. I know that raising a pig on pure pasture takes two years, so I understood this man’s Guineas would see a couple of cold seasons.

“I give them hay,” he said.

It made sense, of course—cows get it in the winter, so the same would hold true for grass-fed pork. But because I don’t have two years to raise pigs before taking a herd to market, I filed the information away in the “curious facts” section of my brain.

But recently my family farm got a few heritage piglets, and, as heritage pigs are wont to do, they’re growing mighty slow while our bacon reserves dwindle to dangerously low numbers. So we asked a fellow farmer what we could do to help them put on weight faster. His advice?

“Give them hay,” he said.

Supplemental hay. I’d never considered that.

How To Feed Pigs Hay

First is the question of whether pigs can be offered hay at all. Remember the old idiom calling into question the validity of the very idea:

Hay is for horses.

Better for cows.

Pigs don’t eat it

‘Cause they don’t know how.

Well, sort of. Pigs love grass, hay is dried grass, ergo pigs should love hay. But in reality, pigs don’t intrinsically appreciate it the way they do a pasture of green grass. It’s probably for the same reason you might not salivate over canned green beans the same way you would a fresh-from-the-garden Kentucky Wonder: They’re just not as good.

Pigs are apt to turn their snouts up (or, more likely, root around in and play with) hay when first offered it by the well-meaning farmer because, as they rhyme goes, they don’t know how to eat it. Don’t give up, though—pigs are smart, and you can train them.

One common solution is to simply remove all other options, letting the animals’ hunger drive them. I don’t love this idea for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I still need to offer feed. Another option is to assist the pigs in recognizing that hay is viable foodstuff—mixing in feed or scraps, for example, or pouring molasses on top.

It’s also important to consider pigs’ size. Piglets lack jaw strength and the appropriately size digestive tract to make good use of hay, so it’s best to incorporate it at the grower, rather than weaner, stage.

What Is Hay?

It’s also important to consider what hay you’re offering your swine. For starters, ensure you’re offering hay and not straw—as obvious as this might seem, some still stand to learn the difference between the two. Hay is nutrient-dense dried grass, legumes and brassicas; straw is low-cost, empty fiber tubes great for animal bedding but useless as a feed. Don’t feed your pigs straw.

Second, recognize that different types exist, and swine digest it differently than ruminants (sheep, cows, and so on). For a pig, hay is a low-calorie meal, and they benefit best from leafy hay with some protein in the mix—legumes such as clover and alfalfa are great for growing pigs, so seek out hay with plenty of extras for your herd.

And, finally, while I’m looking to supplement controlled rations for quicker growth, you might want different things from a such a program, including a scale back or even elimination of feed from your pigs’ diet, which will call for a bit more attention to dietary needs. Just make sure your animals’ lysine needs are met, either through feed or dairy, and boost whatever you offer in the winter to meet the heightened calorie requirements cold weather brings.


Fescue Grass

We do NOT handle fescue of any sort. The only

types of hay that we handle are orchard grown, alfalfa, timothy, and brome mixes. Fescue is known to dry up lactating animals, and can cause miscarriages and still born babies. Fescue can be an excellent pasture grass for cows or animals that you are not breeding, as it lasts a long time and does not burn out.

To read up more about fescue grass, check out

this article...

Eliminate mud concerns in your winter feeding area with hay pads and limited access to hay. To find out more visit

Have you ever had to switch your horses hay? Here is a wonderful article on how to do it safely and properly!

What do alpacas eat? How often do alpacas eat? What are some of their favorite treats?

These are just some of the basic questions people ask about alpacas... visit to learn more about these beautiful, unique animals!

Curing and Storing Hay​

Methods can influence its appropriateness for horses.

by Kentucky Equine Research

The key to properly cured hay lies predominantly in moisture content. For best results, hay should not be baled until there is less than 20% moisture. Hay baled too wet might mold, heat, and pose a fire risk. Conversely, hay baled too dry might lose its nutritional value through broken or fallen leaves. Rain is the bane of a hay harvester’s existence, and it can cause extensive nutrient losses, especially to vitamins A and E, protein, and certain carbohydrates.

Though the color of hay is not the end-all, be-all method for determining hay quality (that would be forage analysis by a laboratory), color is a useful indicator of nutritive value.

Green. Without question, the most desirable color of hay is bright green. Greenness indicates the hay was not subjected to any adverse conditions during curing or storage, thereby suggesting the forage is nutritious and free of molds. Green hay is often rife with carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and vitamin E.

Yellow. If hay is yellow, there is a likelihood that it was overmature when cut or was exposed to rain during the curing process. If the hay was rained on, it is not only susceptible to leaching of nutrients but also mold proliferation, which can cause gastrointestinal and respiratory problems such as colic, coughing, or heaves. In other instances, yellowing might be due to sun-bleaching, which occurs when stored hay is exposed to direct sunlight. Sun-bleaching decreases carotene content and palatability of the discolored hay. Sun damage usually affects only the outside of bales, so much of the hay in these bales is probably salvageable.

Brown. Nutritious hay is rarely, if ever, brown. If a tobacco-like odor accompanies extremely off-colored hay, this is likely due to overheating during storage caused by excessive moisture and fungal growth. Palatability of low-quality brown hay is usually poor. Due to the predisposition to mold and unpalatability, this hay should not be fed to horses.

Not all horses require bright green, nutrient-dense hay. In fact, equine nutritionists are adamant that forage selection be based on individual needs. An overweight pony does not need to stand knee-deep in fluorescent alfalfa (lucerne) for two-thirds of the day, and a thinnish lactating mare needs more than last year’s yellowing meadow grass to keep her in milk.

Other factors also affect hay quality including plant type (grasses versus legumes), stage of maturity, leaf-to-stem ratio, and presence of mold, weeds, and other foreign material.

Interested in speaking to a nutritionist about your horse’s forage needs? The nutrition advisors at Kentucky Equine Research (KER) can help.


Avoid Barn Fires, Let Hay Dry All The Way

Farmers across the country have either finished putting up their first cutting of hay, or they are in the process of doing just that. While it can be easy to get in a rush, avoid barn fires by ensuring your hay is dry enough before you bale it.

“When [hay] is baled at moistures over 20% mesophilic bacteria release heat causing temperatures to rise between 130°F and 140°F. If bacteria die and bales cool, you are in the clear, but if thermophilic bacteria take over temperatures can raise to over 175°F,” according to Jason Hartschuh a guest contributor to Ohio State University Extension’s Ag Safety Program.

Most wet bales catch fire within six weeks of baling, Hartschuh says. Here are some things to consider when determining if your hay is at risk of fire. Did the field dry evenly? Were moisture levels kept at or below 20%? If moisture was higher than that, was a hay preservative used?

If you are concerned that your hay is a fire risk, monitor it twice a day for the first six weeks or until low temperatures stabilize, he says. Temperatures should be taken from the center of the stack or “down about 8 feet in large stacks.”

Not only can wet hay catch fire, but it can mold. Hartschuh says bale temperatures of 120° to 130° F often results in mold growth and makes the protein less available to animals.

“While those temperatures are not high enough to cause hay fires, the concern is if the mold growth continues and pushes temperatures upward into the danger zone,” he says.

According to research from OSU, if the temperature in the hay continues to rise, reaching temperatures of 160° to 170° F, then there is cause for alarm.

“At those elevated temperatures, other chemical reactions begin to occur that elevate the temperature much higher, resulting in spontaneous combustion of the hay in a relatively short period of time,” Hartschuh says. “If the hay temperature is 175° F or higher, call the fire department immediately, because fire is imminent or present in the stack.”

Critical Temperatures and Actions to Take

The team from OSU extension recommends monitoring the following temperatures and taking appropriate action.

125° - No Action Needed

150° - Hay is entering the danger zone. Check twice daily. Disassemble stacked hay bales to promote air circulation to cool the hay outside.

160° - Hay has reached the danger zone. Check hay temperature every couple of hours. Disassemble stacked hay to promote air circulation to cool hay have fire department present while unstacking from here on.

175° - Hot pockets are likely. Alert fire service to possible hay fire incident. Close barns tightly to eliminate oxygen.

190° - With the assistance of the fire service, remove hot hay. Be aware the bales may burst into flames.

200°+ - With the assistance of the fire service, remove hot hay. Most likely, a fire will occur. Keep tractors wet and fire hose lines charged in the barn and along the route of where bales are to be stacked.


Horse Owners - Are you Ready for Spring?

After the long winter months, equine facilities need a spring check-up to inspect barn maintenance, tack, facilities, pastures, and fencing.

Each spring, one should go through the ritual of preparing pastures, horses and equipment for the prospect of riding and enjoyment during warmer weather. The first job to tackle is checking the perimeter fenceline of the pastures. In fall, horses may be confined to a smaller paddock (or what horsemen call a sacrifice area) to prevent 

destruction of pasture forages during periods of unstable footing caused by thawing and freezing. This keeps pastures from being destroyed by horses chopping up the sod while trying to find that last tasty green morsel that might survive the non-growing season.


If electric fencing is utilized, one often "un-hooks" the electric fencing in the fall to reduce maintenance and increase abilities within the sacrifice areas. During hunting season, the deer are constantly running through and breaking the fence wire and winter storms bring down trees and branches that cause the fence to not work properly. Therefore, in the spring, before one can "re-hook" up the electricity to the fencing, it will require walking the line and checking the fence posts for stability, removing any branches or fallen trees, and repairing any breaks in the wire. About one week later, repeat the process so that deer and other wildlife have time to re-learn about the fence perimeters. Other types of fencing also require maintenance and should be checked accordingly.


Often, horses are not returned to grazing in pastures until May 1 (depending upon your growing season). This enables the pasture grasses a chance to get a firm growth start and also a time for horses to acclimate to a diet of rich grass feed. All winter long in the sacrifice area, the horses have been eating dried forage, hay and grain supplements. The horse's digestive system needs to be slowly introduced to this new rich grass feed. During the month of April, limit the time the horses have eating grass until they can safely graze for longer periods of time. One can begin by allowing the horses ten or fifteen minutes of hand grazing for a few days. The controlled grazing is increased by five to fifteen minute increments for the next two weeks. By the second week of April, one can turn the horses out for free grazing for about one hour at a time. Each day, increase that time by increments of fifteen minutes or so. Then by the beginning of May, horses' digestive systems will be acclimated to at least four or five hour periods of grazing time. The limited grazing in April also allows the forages to establish without constant stress. Allowing the forage this "jump-start" will contribute to providing a more established and productive pasture in the following summer months.

Horse Health

Spring is also the time for many to have the annual veterinary visit for inoculations and yearly examination. This may includes the Coggins testing that is often required for participation in horse show and other horse events. It is recommended to vaccinate/inoculate horses for Tetanus, Equine Encephalomyelitis (Eastern & Western), West Nile Virus, and Rabies. There are other "risk-based" inoculations available, such as Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis, Potomac Horse Fever and Strangles, and every horse owner needs to consult with their veterinarian and decide what inoculations are best and needed for their horse and in their region. For more information on spring vaccinations, read Spring Vaccines for Your Horse.

With warmer days during spring and summer, it is more likely that a daily search of the horse will find ticks attached and feeding on the host horse. Ticks are prevalent in most areas and tend to be more abundant in fall and spring months when they are searching for a host. Ticks can be found year round, but often are more common in warmer weather. Checking and/or brushing the coat of the horse will assist in quicker shedding and will assist in finding other types of parasitic or skin conditions.

Farrier visits should be year round every six to eight weeks. Often horses that are heavily ridden are shod. When they are not ridden as much in the winter, owners tend to remove the shoes and let the horses go barefoot. With the prospect of resuming riding in the spring, shoes will need to be placed back on the horse. Schedule a visit from your farrier to enable him ample time to fit your horse's needs into his schedule. Remember that everyone else in the spring will also want to retain the farrier for the same purpose!

Farrier visits should be year round every six to eight weeks. Often horses that are heavily ridden are shod. When they are not ridden as much in the winter, owners tend to remove the shoes and let the horses go barefoot. With the prospect of resuming riding in the spring, shoes will need to be placed back on the horse. Schedule a visit from your farrier to enable him ample time to fit your horse's needs into his schedule. Remember that everyone else in the spring will also want to retain the farrier for the same purpose!

Other Tasks

Some final jobs include spring barn cleaning and checking of equipment. Sweep out hay waste that has collected during the winter; remove cobwebs, dead insects, dirt and dust. Check barn walls for repairs. Spring is a good time to clean and condition the saddle and bridles checking for weak leather, buckles and snaps and cleansing of saddle pads, horse blankets and any other equipment that could use a good scrubbing.

Written by Helene McKernan, Retired Penn State Extension Educator


Spring Vaccines for Your Horse

Basics of vaccines and which ones to give your horse in the spring.

As the days get longer, many horse owners and horse enthusiasts are eager to begin training for the show season or to get out on the trails. But before you load up your horse and haul them to a fun event, you should ask yourself, “Is my horse up to date on their vaccines?”

Why Vaccinate Your Horse?

Have you ever stopped to consider why we vaccinate our horses - or ourselves, or our dogs and cats? Vaccines are meant to create and maintain immunity against specific diseases. In other words, vaccines are meant to reduce an animal’s risk of getting sick, and if they do get sick after vaccination, then the severity of the disease should be lessened and they may be less contagious. The vaccine is usually a modified, weaker version of the disease you are trying to prevent. When the vaccine is given to your horse, their body creates antibodies to fight this “mock disease”, and these antibodies will stay in the body for a period of time after the vaccination. Now your horse is armed with a defense system ready to go if they do encounter the actual disease!

Vaccines are created for specific diseases for a few different reasons. A disease might have a high fatality rate, such as tetanus. Or a disease might be highly contagious and easily spread from horse to horse, such as influenza or strangles. Finally, a disease may have the possibility to spread across different species (these are called zoonotic diseases), such as West Nile Virus or rabies.

Which Vaccines Are Available for My Horse?

Equine vaccines are categorized by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) as either core vaccines or risk-based vaccines. Core vaccines are vaccines that every single horse should receive, every year. Risk-based vaccines are vaccines that you may or may not administer to your horse, depending on a variety of factors (location, travel expectations, odds of exposure, etc). 

So Which Vaccines Does My Horse Need This Spring?

The short but frustrating answer to this is: it depends! Keep in mind that for previously-vaccinated, adult horses, the vaccines listed above need to be given on either an annual or semi-annual basis in order to be most effective. For example, if your horse received their rabies vaccine in the fall, then they do not need to receive the rabies vaccine the following spring, since the rabies vaccine is given on an annual basis.

The vaccines that SHOULD be given in the spring are the ones that prevent against diseases spread by insects such as mosquitoes. As the weather warms up, insects reemerge, and the risk of being infected by diseases that they carry will increase. West Nile Virus and EEE/WEE are both transmitted by mosquitoes, so these vaccines should be given prior to the start of “mosquito season”.

If you are planning on showing your horse or taking them off the farm to public places, then you should consider some of the risk-based vaccines. Strangles, equine influenza, and equine herpesvirus (EHV) are respiratory diseases that are easily spread from horse to horse and are diseases that are routinely seen where there is a high density of horses, like showgrounds. These diseases are also seen at barns where horses routinely come and go, so even if your horse is not leaving the grounds, other horses could contract diseases and bring them back home, where they could potentially infect their stablemates.

Important Considerations and Conclusions

You should always consult with your veterinarian to develop a vaccine plan for your horse. Again, ALL horses should receive the core vaccines (rabies, EEE/WEE, tetanus, and West Nile Virus). The risk-based vaccines will depend on if your horse travels, your geographic location, breeding status, and other considerations. Talk with your vet to determine your horse’s risk level for each disease; do not simply give your horse every vaccine available, since this could be costly and unnecessary.

Vaccines guidelines do vary slightly between adult horses, broodmares, and foals, as well as for horses that have never been vaccinated. Be sure to follow the AAEP guidelines for your horse’s vaccination schedule. Remember that it can take several weeks after giving a vaccine for your horse to be protected, so plan accordingly based on the weather and your travel plans.


Photo Source:

Tying the Knot

by Adam Verner

I know a lot of farmers are glad to see #Harvest19 come to an end. It sure has been a trying year for most. Our planting and harvest windows seem to shorten every year, and we need to be prepared when we hit the fields in 2020. So, this winter is a great time to get your machinery in the shop for some thorough maintenance.

One of the most dreaded and feared pieces to work on is not the combine rotor concaves; it’s not even the kernel processer in your chopper. There are probably more cuss words and tools thrown at this item than any other essential mechanism on your farm. You guessed it . . . it’s your square baler knotters!

Knotters have not changed very much over the decades. The same Raaspe knotters have been around for years, and yet most people still find them very intimidating. For most of the world, there are two basic knotters: the Raaspe single knotter and the Raaspe double knotter. The single knotter is more commonly found on small square balers, both two- and three-tie units. The double knotter is found on today’s large square balers, as well as the bale baron square bale bundlers.

Though you can still find a few new units with single knotters, they are not on the newer high-density models seen here in the United States. Claas, however, did redesign the knotter used on its Quadrant large square balers and use their own designed single knotter across its line of large square balers.

The easiest way I know how to explain the difference between the two types of Raaspe knotters is really quite simple. The single knotter holds the twine in the twine disc or twine holder while baling. The double knotter does not have any twine in the knotter while building the bale. Rather, it ties one knot to finish off the bale it just completed, followed by a second knot to start the next bale in the chamber. Also, another dead giveaway is the sheer size of the knotter itself.

Small square balers use a knot strength twine ranging from 130 to 190 pound-force (lbf). The double knotters can handle a wider range from 350 up to 700 lbf knot strength on the high-density balers. Thus, the size to hold this rope that we now use as twine needs to be quite a bit larger.

Keep knives sharp

Let’s go over a few things you can check on your knotter while in the shop and look at a few common reasons for missed ties that you may see in the field. Probably one of the most common problems is simply with the twine knife. This part makes a lot of cuts through tough twine, and I recommend that you replace these yearly as the knives are cheap and easier to replace while in the shop rather than in a dust bowl during 90-degree heat.

One of the next most common items to cause a bird’s nest in your knotter is the billhook. This bird’s nest can look like a bluebird dream home if not detected in time. The billhook spins and is what ties the knot in the twine. It gets its name for the way it looks like a duck bill and it has a hook on it. The hook commonly does not open and doesn’t allow the twine to slide off the bill. The roller on the end of the hook can get damaged or break, causing the hook not to release.

The knotter has springs that adjust the tension on the bill hook, forcing the knot to tighten faster or slower. If the spring tension is too strong, the knot will hang up on the bill hook. If too loose, there will not be a knot at all. This setting is critical, and you can look at the knot tail to help gauge if the setting is correct. The tail should be around 3/4 inch in length with a clean, even cut.

Spring to action

The twine retainer or twine disc is another vital piece to this process. It actually holds the twine while a small square baler is building the bale, or in the case of the large square baler, it holds the twine in between the first and second knots. The twine retainers determine how long the tails are on the knots. If you notice on your large square baler that one end of the twine has a knot, but the other end does not, then the twine disc did not hold it properly. The tension can be adjusted by a bolt which moves the twine holder spring or springs, and in this case, the tension was too low.

Both of these springs do not require big adjustments; something like 1/8 of a turn is plenty. Both the spring tensions on the billhook and twine retainer are critical parts to tying the knot, but first we must make sure the twine makes it to the right place in the knotter. Here, I’m talking about the needles that bring the twine up through the bale chamber when it’s time to tie off a bale.

Each baler manufacturer will have a different measurement to center the needle and for how far the needle penetrates through the knotters. You should refer to your operator’s manual for these measurements and both should be checked on an annual basis. These are simple to adjust by tightening or loosening the bolts holding the needles to the yoke.

This was a quick overview into a very intimidating part on your most essential haymaking tool, but if you can make these adjustments each year, they can save a lot of sweat and tears the next summer. A blower and a little grease never hurt any knotter either. Be sure to check with the local knotter expert at your dealership, and they can help you identify what is the root cause of the missed ties. Most of the time there is an obvious reason rather than one hiding in the bird’s nest.


Buying Winter Hay for Horses

Plan ahead when purchasing hay to save money and get the right amount.

Hay is an extremely important part of your horse’s winter diet. It is an important source of calories and the internal heat of fiber fermentation helps to keep your horse warm.

In the fall, many of us are starting to think about stocking up on hay for the winter. There are many factors that will influence your purchase.

  • Hay market. After a wet spring and a dry fall for 2019, high quality hay is in tight supply. These difficult hay making conditions are contributing to continued high prices for quality hay. However, by tracking “good” quality hay prices at hay auctions over 3 full years (2016-2018; USDA PA Weekly Hay Report; discontinued in May 2019), it appears that yearly hay prices at auction have been lowest from June to September, before increasing in October. Private sale prices may not vary as much month to month as auction prices, but they will follow the same general trends.
  • Storage. How much space do you have to store your hay? While it would be nice to stock up on all the hay you will need for the winter, you need to consider how much will fit in your available storage space.

  • Bale type. Most horse owners buy small square bales for ease of handling. However, you can save money if you have the capability to handle and store larger bales. According to the USDA PA Weekly Hay Reports, buying “good” quality grass hay in large square bales would save an average of $50 per ton. Another way of looking at it is that in the PA hay auctions, buying small square bales was 28% more expensive.

  • Nutritional needs. Not all horses need premium quality hay with very high protein and energy levels. While we certainly want our hay to be high quality in terms of minimal weeds, dust, and other contaminants, mature hay with lower nutritional value can be safe and healthy for obese horses or easy keepers. For these horses, it is better to feed more of a lower calorie hay than to restrict intake of a premium quality hay. Hay/forage should be the foundation of a horse’s ration, and they should have access to forage as often as possible for gut health and normal feeding behavior. Remember, there is only way to know for sure what the nutritional quality of the hay is: analyzing a sample of each load.

  • Fiber for warmth. It is advisable to purchase a bit extra for extremely cold periods. Fiber is fermented in the horse’s cecum, which produces heat and helps to keep the horse warm. Horses with heavy winter coats that are acclimated to the climate need extra forage for warmth when the temperature drops below 18°F. Clipped horses will need extra hay at warmer temperatures. An extra flake from a small square bale per horse should be plenty.

Hay Waste

Before calculating the amount of hay you will need to purchase, you should also consider how much of your hay gets wasted either from storage or by your horses. Storage waste can range from 2-40%, depending on how you store the bales. Round bales stored outside produce the most waste, as the bottom and outermost 4” layer will be exposed to moisture. Storing hay inside or covering it well can reduce the amount wasted.

Then you must consider the amount wasted by your horses as they eat. Feeding hay on the ground is a huge source of waste, as horses trample and defecate on it. Studies at the University of Minnesotahave found that using feeders significantly reduces hay waste. When feeding small square bales, the study found the following amounts of hay waste:

  • No feeder: 13%
  • Hay rack: 5%a​
  • Basket feeder: 3%
  • Slat feeder: 1%

While purchasing feeders is an added cost, based on the price of hay and how much can be wasted without a feeder, these feeders pay for themselves in 9 to 12 months.

Researchers at Minnesota also looked at round bale feeders, testing 9 feeders and a no-feeder control. The feeders tested allowed either complete access to the hay or restricted access (slow feeders). They found the following amounts of hay waste:

  • No feeder: 57%
  • Circular free choice feeders: 13-33%
  • Restricted access feeders: 5-11%

Without a feeder, the herd actually consumed less hay and lost weight because so much of the hay was trampled and spoiled. The payback period for these feeders was far less than the small square bale feeders because of the huge reduction in waste compared to using no feeder.

Calculating Hay Needs

To estimate how much hay to buy, you can run a few simple calculations. We will assume that horses eat approximately 2-2.5% of their body weight in hay per day as their full ration. If your horses have higher energy needs and also receive grain meals, you can subtract the weight of grain from the 2% figure based on your horse’s weight. We will also assume that the hay season lasts from November to March, and that horses have high-quality pasture for forage during the rest of the year.

1 horse at 1100 pounds x 2% BW = 22 lbs hay per day (if you feed grain, subtract its weight from this number)

22 lbs x 150 days = 3300 lbs hay per horse

Don’t forget to account for wastage! Here, we will assume 5% storage waste because our bales are stored inside and 13% waste from feeding small square bales on the ground.

3300 lbs x 1.05 (storage waste) x 1.13 (ground waste) = 3915 lbs hay per horse

If you buy your hay by the ton, this would be 3915/2000 = almost 2 tons of hay per horse.

If you buy your hay by the bale, you will need to find out the approximate weight of each bale. Assuming a 40 lb bale, 3915/40 = 98 bales per horse.


Forage is the most important part of your horse’s diet, and during Pennsylvania winters, hay is the most economical way to provide forage. By planning ahead and running some simple calculations, horse owners can save money and ensure that they have purchased the right amount of hay to last through the winter.


Authors: Laura Kenny, Andrew Frankenfield

Grass hay photo by: Danielle Smarsh, PSU

Your blanketing questions answered

Wondering about fit, materials, construction or other horse blanket features? Here are some commonsense answers to all your blanketing questions.

It's strange how the everyday practice of blanketing horses causes so much uncertainty in conscientious owners. Stranger still is the degree of passion blanketing arouses among horse caretakers. Some people scoff at the idea of clothing any animal, much less a horse; others are equivocal, pulling out the sheets and rugs occasionally for special circumstances; and still others fastidiously bundle up their horses from late fall to midspring as they would dress their children headed out into a snowstorm. Is one faction right and the others wrong? Is blanketing a boon or a bane to the horses themselves? What are the facts and truths about this wintertime ritual?

To the question, "Must I blanket my horse?" the short answer is "no." The horse generates his own blanket--a haircoat that is long enough and thick enough to withstand the coldest days of winter. It's an adjustable covering that flattens against or elevates above the skin as the horse grows warmer or cooler.

"Hair is a great insulator, and it fluffs up to warm the horse," says Michael Foss, DVM. "Heat rising from the body warms the air, but that air doesn't go anywhere because it's trapped between the hairs."

As for the question, "Should I blanket my horse?" the answer could also be "no," but special circumstances make "maybe" or "definitely" the correct responses for certain classes of horses. Blanketing is necessary for competition horses and foxhunters who are routinely clipped during colder weather to maintain a sleek appearance, reduce sweating, shorten cooling-out time and speed drying after rigorous workouts. Aged horses whose appetites and digestion may not supply enough fuel to keep flesh on their bones and their internal "furnaces" stoked require shelter or blanketing during bad weather.

Relocated horses transported from a warm locale to a much colder climate often need additional covering for their first colder winter. Horses relocated before the autumn equinox have time to grow a woollier coat to match the colder weather, but even then they may not be sufficiently insulted for the new climate.

"I've seen horses come from California to Montana, and the first winter those poor guys just don't seem to have the coat," observes Duncan Peters, DVM. "There's probably a little temperature involvement and something to do with the horses' ability to recognize how much coat they need to grow."

Added to these "must haves" are all the horses who are blanketed mostly for the owners' peace of mind and/or convenience (it's a lot easier to lift off a layer of mud caked onto a blanket than to curry it out of a winter coat). There's no harm done in blanketing for reasons other than the horse's health, but in all cases, the addition of clothing increases your management responsibilities. If you choose to clothe your horse, the crucial decisions aren't the color and style of the "outfits" but your daily judgments about how much protection your horse needs and the best way to protect him from the irritations and hazards that accompany blanketing.

The Q&A's that follow address 10 common uncertainties facing horsekeepers about when, why and how to blanket.

Q: What weather conditions are hardest on horses? When is blanketing most beneficial?

A: Cold wind causes horses the greatest discomfort and more rapidly saps their energy because it whips away body heat faster than any other condition. Cold rain is a close second, chilling the skin through conduction and flattening of the hairs' insulating loft. "In Washington we get a lot of rain, and it can be below freezing for two to three months, though seldom below zero," says Foss. "But I think that 35 degrees and rain is much harder to deal with than lower temperatures."

Still air, frigid temperatures and snowfall are not particularly chilling to horses already adapted to colder regions. Snow accumulates atop their long winter coats without penetrating to the skin or drawing away body heat. In fact, that layer of snow serves as a sort of insulated blanket over the haircoat.

In extreme or severe weather conditions, shelter--stabling, sheds, windbreaks or other forms of natural cover--are better protection from the elements than a single garment. If you blanket your horse to protect him against wind and cold rain, use a waterproof garment to keep the rain from soaking the fabric and penetrating the haircoat.

Q: Do blankets really prevent the growth of the winter coat?

A: Horses grow two coats each year, beginning just after the summer and winter solstices, and blanketing does not prevent this natural cycle. Exterior temperatures are not the triggers for these seasonal changes and, in fact, your horse's winter coat has begun growing while you're still donning shorts and T-shirts. By the time you think about blanketing your horse, his winter coat is well under way.

A trigger deep in the horse's brain responds to both increasing and decreasing daylight and relays messages to the rest of the body to prepare for the coming season. In mid- to late August, after two months of diminishing daylight hours, the horse's winter coat clears the skin's surface. About that same time, the summer coat begins to fall out, with peak shedding occurring around the fall equinox. You aren't as aware of this annual event as you are of spring shedding because shorter hairs are flying about. Unlike the uniformity of the summer coat, the winter coat is made up of assorted hair lengths, including short, fine hairs and long "guard" hairs. Local climate influences the winter coat's characteristics, so that horses living in the Sunbelt grow shorter winter coats than northern horses.

The winter coat grows until close to the end of the calendar year. The next summer's coat starts sprouting in the hair follicles in January, and by late March the loosening winter coat begins falling out as the shorter replacement hairs move into place.

Blanketing won't prevent the growth of the winter coat, but it does cause the hair to grow in shorter because the environment beneath the blanket is warmer. When consistently covered, the horse's body thinks it's in a South Carolina mini-climate even if the reality is wintry Wisconsin. Blanketing also flattens the hairs, creating an appearance of greater smoothness and sleekness in the naturally more disorderly winter coat. If maintaining a short, sleek coat is your objective, include the horse's neck in your coverage; when left unprotected, the neck hairs continue to grow luxuriantly to fend off the cold.

Q: If I want to keep my horse's winter coat shorter, at what temperature or in what month do I need to begin blanketing him? When can I stop blanketing him in the spring?

A: There's no specific blanketing chronology that guarantees a shorter, slicker winter coat. Blanketing "season" is determined by personal preference along with the local meteorological conditions, such as day length and nighttime temperatures. Sometime in the lingering days of summer and early autumn, your horse's coat begins to look a bit more ruffed up and woolly. This is the time to begin tricking the horse's thermostat into believing he's a south Texan. Daytime conditions are often still sunny and mild at this time, and blanketing horses round-the-clock risks daily overheating. The wise choice is to begin nighttime blanketing with a light cover when overnight temperatures hit 50 degrees or less.

"When I was in Montana, we had 60-degree variations where temperatures went from 85 to 25 degrees in a 24-hour period," says Peters. "Anytime it gets down to the low 40s, especially if you have a major daily temperature fluctuation, it's a good time to start blanketing. In Montana, that can be late September, early October or even August. In California, you may not blanket until November."

The same guideline serves in reverse when it's time to put the blankets away in the spring. Most owners begin weaning their horses of their layers during the daytime and ultimately celebrate the end of blanketing once nighttime temperatures remain above 50 degrees. In northern or mountainous regions, that may not occur until midsummer.

Q: What should I look for in a well-fitted blanket? Are certain styles better suited to particular body types?

A: Evaluating a blanket's fit is a combination of measuring, testing and "eyeballing."

  • Blankets are sized by length, measuring from the center of the horse's chest back to his tail. Standard sizes range from 64 inches for small ponies to 90 inches for large draft horses. Careful measuring of the horse you're clothing is the key to selecting a blanket that gives him full, comfortable coverage.
  • Withers fit is critical to the horse's comfort and the blanket's stability. A well-fitted blanket rests comfortably over the withers and shoulders and produces no pressure or rubbing as the horse moves or reaches down to graze or feed."You don't want that front opening to lie in the slope of the withers," says Peters. "Anywhere above or below the slope is fine.""Cutback" designs with their U-shaped openings at the start of the topline may be better suited to horses with high withers; high-necked blankets that place the opening midway up the neck rather than at its base are also comfortable for most horses. Flat or low withers pose fitting problems because blankets are more prone to slip around and even roll to one side. Straps encircling the horse's hind legs may prevent the blanket from slipping beneath the horse, but they don't keep the blanket centered. Low-withered horses may have to be fitted with a roller/surcingle to keep their blankets in place.
  • Loosely fitting garments are subject to shifting and rubbing and can entangle the horse's legs. Jenny Bates, manager of George Morris and Chris Kappler's Hunterdon show barn, observes that this type of misfit often occurs on horses whose shoulders protrude. "People tend to buy too large a blanket, and it slips back, putting more pressure on points of the shoulder," she says. "In that case I like the blanket to fit higher up around the base of the neck."
  • A well-fitted blanket covers the horse's barrel entirely, hanging to below his elbows and stifles. Big-bodied animals, such as warmbloods, may require oversize blankets for full coverage.

    Proper adjustment of the fasteners is critical to blanket safety. Adjust the surcingle so that you can slide your flat hand between it and your horse's belly. "If it's hanging down four to six inches," says Peters, "a horse can easily stick a foot in there when he lies down." The hind-leg straps require a little play to allow the horse freedom of movement, but if they are hanging down to the hocks, they, too, can catch on things. To prevent the leg straps from rubbing the gaskins and to make the blanket more secure, either loop the leg straps through one another before fastening them on the same side or crisscross them by clipping them to the opposite sides of the blanket.

Q: My horse's blanket seems to fit well, yet after a few months of wearing it, he has unsightly rub marks on his shoulders. Is there a way to prevent these bald patches or at least to encourage the hair to grow back quickly?

A: Shoulder rubs are not necessarily a sign of an ill-fitting blanket. Just light pressure and friction affect the haircoat, which acts as a buffer to protect the skin from this sort of wear. For some horses, sufficient rubbing may occur in a day's time to change the look of the hair, and irreversible damage for that season's coat can occur almost before you notice. Typically, in the early stages, patches of hair look roughed up or dull, and once the hair shafts are injured, there's nothing that will mend them.

"Conformation makes some horses susceptible to rubs," says Peters. "They are broader through the shoulders." Fitting the horse with another style of blanket may relieve the rubs, but less expensive options can smooth over the few rough spots of an otherwise well-fitting blanket. Covering the horse's neck and shoulders with a stretchy "undergarment"--almost like an equine sports bra--absorbs the friction created by the blanket.

Another solution is to line the blanket with a buffer layer. "I've seen baby diapers pinned to the insides of blankets when people don't want to buy another blanket with a different design," says Peters. Fleece may also be sewn into the front of the blanket as a permanent modification. The simplest approach is a daily spritz of silicone grooming spray on the inside of the blanket to decrease the friction against the hair.

If a horse gets chafed by his blanket, the marks remain until he sheds. Says Peters, "Some people use vitamin E, aloe vera or other creams and ointments [to encourage hair growth], but I'm not sure that any of them helps." Some "cat hairs" may pop up in the bald areas, but the coverage will remain sparse until the summer coat starts to surface in February or March.

Q: Are the benefits of high-tech materials used in blanket manufacture worth the extra expense compared to blankets made from traditional fabrics?

A: The ideal blanket is lightweight; it "breathes" by allowing the passage of air; it's waterproof; it's insulated to hold heat close to the horse; it resists tears and stains and repels dirt. The more of these qualities a blanket has, the better, but these features come at a cost--hundreds of dollars for designs incorporating the same high-tech fabrics and fabrication techniques used in high-end outdoor wear for people.

Horse owners who choose the new over the traditional justify the higher purchase prices because of the reduced costs for blanket repairs and replacement garments. "We used to always use New Zealand rugs [for turning out], but they've become hard to find," says Bates, who has worked at the Hunterdon barn since 1994. "I was forced to buy the newer products this year, and so far, they are holding up. They are also easier to clean."

Q: How can I tell if my horse is too hot or too cold under his blanket(s)?

A: Sweating is the most obvious sign that a horse is overheated, and a blanketed horse sweats first beneath the material, then along the neck and behind the ears. Overheating typically occurs in horses turned out during warming daytime weather in the same heavy blankets needed for still-cold nights. When temperatures rise from early morning teens to midday 50s, horses in heavy turnout rugs are likely to sweat. Blanketed horses who go on a romp or fear-driven run may also work up a sweat, which then turns clammy and cool under their blankets as they resume standing around in the cold air. On days of significant temperature swings from chilly to warm, err on the side of less turnout clothing. Horses can raise their temperature to the comfort zone by moving around or basking in a sheltered, sunny spot, but when blanketed they have no cooling alternative other than sweating.

Cold horses reveal their discomfort by shivering, which is a reflexive action of the muscles generating more body heat. Clipped horses who are insufficiently blanketed for the current weather conditions can become thoroughly chilled, particularly when they are unable to move around at will. Heavily covered horses can become chilled if their own sweatiness or rain-soaked blankets press their hair flat and hold the moisture against their skin. Shivering for an hour isn't a health risk, but over several hours, the horse is sapped of energy, his core body temperature begins to drop, and he becomes increasingly vulnerable to infectious or opportunistic diseases. Blankets alone are not adequate protection for outdoor horses through periods of bleak weather and are no substitute for physical shelter against wind and rain, such as sheds and windbreaks.

Q: How soon can I blanket after riding? Is it safe to cover a horse while he is still sweaty from exercise or wet from precipitation?

A: It's best to blanket your horse only after he has cooled down and his hair is dried. Unless the blanket is permeable, it will trap the moisture closer to his skin, slowing the drying period and lengthening the time it takes for a hot horse to return to normal body temperature. To speed up the drying process you can rub him down with a dry towel. Another tactic is to cover the cooling horse as you walk him with a wool or acrylic cooler, the equine version of a sweatshirt that draws moisture away from the horse's hair and into the fabric, where it then evaporates. You can make do with a blanket of unbreathable material by stuffing a layer of soft straw or hay under the blanket to allow air to pass over the damp coat.

Q: Is there any point to layering blankets according to increments in temperature?

A: A 10-degree temperature change is not cause to pile on more layers or change blankets, particularly when horses are stabled or have outdoor shelter.

In times and locales with significant temperature fluctuations--from 15 to 55 degrees in a single day, for example, or in climates where wintertime lows range from 32 degrees to below zero--you'll need several blankets of varying thickness if you're going to keep the horses comfortably covered throughout the season. Even if a single medium-weight blanket is all your stabled horse needs for the winter, you'll probably find it handy to have an alternate cover in case the primary blanket gets damaged, dirtied or thoroughly soaked.

Greater complexity of blanketing routines--layering formulas and frequent changes--produces management benefits when the horses' comfort and well-being are the guiding principles. At the Hunterdon barn, based in Pittstown, New Jersey, all of the 40-some horses are blanketed except for the turned-out retirees. Each horse has about four blankets, and in the dead of winter, they may wear three layers at a time. "Our horses have very short coats because they are clipped year-round [for competition]," says Bates, "so we have to be conscientious about how they are blanketed. When we layer, we use a cotton sheet on the bottom, then a thick wool blanket with no straps and a Baker blanket on top of that. All horses have different temperatures just like people, and you learn that some horses need less clothing."

Q: Should horses always be blanketed when they are transported in winter?

A: If you've ever stood in an enclosed trailer with several horses, you know that plenty of body heat is generated and retained in that small space. When considering how to dress your horse for the road, be most concerned about his respiratory health, and opt for good ventilation and just enough clothing to fend off chills. The weather conditions, trailer/van type and number of passengers all contribute to the interior temperature.

"We keep the windows open on the van and blanket less," says Bates. "With all those bodies, they get hot on the trucks."

When horses are already reliant on blanketing during their daily lives, they will need some coverage, but a stable sheet or lightweight blanket may suffice in enclosed vehicles. Unclipped, never-blanketed horses may not need additional covers when transported in a draft-free, mostly enclosed conveyance, but in stock trailers or other airy vehicles, they'll need a blanket when temperatures dip to freezing or below.

This article originally appeared in the December 2001 issue of EQUUS magazine.

By: Joanne Meszoly


Livestock Winter Hay Needs

With winter coming on, it is time to make sure that you have enough hay in the barn to last until your pastures are growing again next spring. While there are many factors to consider when calculating winter hay needs, we are giving you some conversions to simplify the process—and even providing you with a handy “Hay Calculator” to make the process even simpler!

Before performing any calculations, take these factors into consideration:

  • Length of season. The number of months you will need to feed hay will vary by your location. Animals can forage much later in the fall and earlier in the spring in the southern half of the United States. Northern areas are much more dependent upon hay to keep animals in good condition through the winter months. Here in Indiana, we typically need to feed hay from October through March. Though it is sometimes tempting to allow animals to forage later or earlier in the year, it is best to remember that this can damage pastures and keep them from reaching peak production during the growing season—a topic for another blog.
  • Temperatures. Animals in areas with extreme winter temperatures will require a higher caloric intake to maintain condition. If your location is prone to long cold spells where low temperatures can regularly fall below zero, be sure to calculate your hay needs on the higher side.
  • Number of animals. This sounds extremely basic, but more animals, more hay. Be sure to calculate in any additional animals you may be purchasing/selling over the winter or births that may occur over that time.
  • Animal performance. Gestating or lactating females will need more and higher quality hay for milk and offspring production. Working animals will also require more calories than nonworking animals. Growing animals will require increasing amounts of hay as they develop.
  • Weight of animals. Again, very basic, but larger animals require larger amounts of hay to maintain condition than smaller animals. The table provided below gives you an estimate of your animals’ needs.

Now that you have considered these factors, use the following “Hay Calculator” to determine your livestock’s winter hay needs. Simply input your animal species, average animal weight, number of animals, number of days you will need to feed hay, and average bale weight. This will give you the total number of bales you will need to have in the barn to meet the needs of your animals until spring. Give it a try!

See link below to use the hay calculator!


Winter Storage of Horse Hay

Some helpful hints for storing your horse hay properly for the winter.

The most economical time to buy hay is in the summer, during and right after the growing season, because prices will go up later in the year, as the supply dwindles. But if you stock up on hay, you'll need to store it carefully. Otherwise, it may lose nutrients, grow mold, ferment, or even spontaneously burst into flames.

Dampness and poor air circulation are the culprits. Moisture causes hay to grow mold and ferment. Fermentation produces heat-and heat can build up to the point of combustion.

Start dry. Buy only properly cured hay, so it's dry from the start. Open a few bales, and stick your hand into the center of them. Reject hay that feels damp, or warm and steamy. Also reject dark or musty-smelling hay, which may be moldy.

Go undercover. Store your hay underneath a roof, where it's protected from rain and other elements. Although a hayloft is convenient, it's better to store your hay in a separate hay barn or shed. Hay is dusty-which can harm your horse's respiratory system-and it carries that risk of spontaneous combustion.

Ventilate. Make sure your storage area has good air circulation, with roof vents and/or cupolas. Also consider installing a fan. To prevent heat buildup, look for one that kicks on automatically when the temperature inside your storage area hits a certain point.

Stack loosely. Also to prevent heat buildup, stack bales so that air can flow between them, rather than tightly against each other. Never stack hay against walls or all the way to the ceiling, as solid barriers block airflow. Also, set bales on their sides, so the stalks run vertically. This helps warm, moist air rise out of the stack.

Keep it up. If you store your hay at ground level, put the bottom bales on wooden pallets-rather than on the ground (or even on a concrete floor). Pallets let air circulate, so the hay absorbs less moisture from below.

Check and recheck. From time to time, break open random bales to check for signs of mold or increasing heat. If a bale feels hot inside, take it out of the barn and break it apart. You'll probably need to discard this fermenting bale, as mold will already be starting to grow.

Elaine Pascoe is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Horse & Rider.

This article first appeared in the June 2000 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.


How to Feed a Horse: Understanding the Basic Principles of Horse Nutrition


How do you properly feed a horse? With so many feed, supplement and hay choices available, many people find themselves wondering exactly what their horse needs for good health and nutrition. Many horse-feeding opinions and myths make deciding what to feed even more difficult. The law requires commercial horse feed manufacturers to put information concerning their feed on a "feed tag," which is either attached to or printed directly on the bag. This tag provides essential information on what the horse will be eating. However, most horse owners either don?t understand or don?t take the time to read this information. This publication explains your horse?s nutritional needs, common guidelines to observe when feeding your horse and how to determine if your horse?s nutritional requirements are being met.

Basic Nutrients

When feeding horses, it is important to recognize that there are six basic nutrient categories that must be met: carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. Often, feed companies will balance the first five nutrients for us; however, it is critical not to forget about water. A normal, healthy horse will consume 5-15 (or more) gallons of water per day depending on temperature, humidity and activity level. Clean water should be provided daily, and ideally, should be available at all times for the horse to drink when it is thirsty. If this is not possible, horses should be watered a minimum of twice daily and allowed several minutes to drink each time. Horses that do not drink enough water are more susceptible to conditions such as dehydration, intestinal impactions and other forms of colic.

The rest of the horse?s diet should be formulated based on its requirement for each of the other five nutrients. These requirements differ from individual to individual and are influenced by the horse?s body mass, age, workload and metabolic efficiency. It is a very useful skill to be able to look at a feed tag and determine if that feed is going to meet your horse?s requirements. Let?s look at each category of nutrients you will encounter when evaluating your feeding program.


Carbohydrates will most likely be the largest part of the horse?s diet. They can be divided into two groups: structural (fiber) and non-structural (sugars and starches). Structural carbohydrates are found in the largest amounts in the roughage that the horse eats (e.g., hay, grass) and are able to be digested thanks to the design of the horse?s intestinal tract. Following digestion in the stomach and small intestine, the horse?s digestive material enters the large intestine (hindgut), which in the horse consists of the cecum and colon. The cecum and colon contain microorganisms that are capable of breaking structural carbohydrates down into an energy source that the horse can absorb. This is why horses get so much nutritional value from grass and hay.

It is important to feed good quality hay that is free of mold and dust and is cut at an appropriate length and stage of maturity. Hay that has too coarse a stem or hay that is too fine can cause digestive problems such as impactions. Hay that is overly mature when it is cut has little nutritional value to the horse due to an increase of a component called lignin, which is completely indigestible for the horse or the microbes in the gut flora.

Horses can easily digest nonstructural carbohydrates, mostly in the small intestine. These sugars and starches are primarily found in grains (e.g., corn, oats, barley) and provide a more concentrated form of energy than structural carbohydrates (thus, the term "concentrates" is often used when referring to grains and grain mixtures). It is important to recognize that the horse?s digestive system evolved to process a roughage-based diet; therefore, concentrates should be used only to supplement the forage program and meet nutritional requirements that cannot be met by forage alone. The horse should always be fed a minimum of 1 percent of its body weight in forage (on a dry matter basis); the ideal is 1.5 to 2 percent of its body weight. Feeding less roughage than this can lead to health issues such as colic and ulcers.

There are currently a number of "safe" feeds marketed to the horse industry. These feeds are manufactured with ingredients that are high in digestible fiber and low in sugars and starches. For example, "safe" feeds often use ingredients such as beet pulp and soybean hulls, which have a high composition of digestible fiber, a low starch content and avoid use of ingredients such as corn, which is high in starch. Often feed tags will give an average starch percentage listed on their guaranteed analysis to allow owners of those horses with special needs (e.g., Cushings, metabolic syndrome, chronic laminitis, ulcers or recurring colic) to select a horse feed with a low starch content.


Protein, which is necessary for body growth and maintenance, is a nutrient that is poorly understood by many horse owners. Proteins are broken down in the small intestine into amino acids that are recombined to make proteins in the body that make up muscle, hair and hoof. It is important to realize that proteins are composed of amino acids, and the proteins that the body makes have very specific amino acid sequences. The amount of protein that the body can synthesize is limited by the amino acid that basically runs out of supply first. For horses, this is generally lysine. Therefore, on many bags of horse feed where the protein percentage is listed, it might also say "added lysine" and list an additional percentage for the lysine content. This, in essence, improves the protein quality without increasing the total amount of protein in the feed.

There are advantages to improving protein quality without increasing the total protein amount. It is a commonly held misconception in the horse industry that higher protein is associated with higher energy. In reality, proteins are the most difficult energy source for the horse to digest and convert to usable energy. Protein requirements for growth and maintenance vary depending on age and workload. In general, growing horses need a higher percentage of protein than mature horses. A growing horse generally needs between 12 and 18 percent crude protein in its diet for proper growth and development. Horses need more protein when tissue is being laid down for growth (i.e. young horses in rapid growth phases, gestating mares in their last trimester, and lactating mares that need to produce large quantities of milk). Mature horses will most likely do fine on a lower protein percentage (8 to 12 percent), depending on their workload. Horses that are in intense training need more protein than the maintenance horse because they are developing muscle tissue; however, most will still do well on a 12 percent protein feed. Feeding horses higher levels of protein than they need simply means that the horse breaks down the excess protein and excretes it as urea in its urine, which is rapidly converted to ammonia. This is not desirable since excess ammonia can lead to respiratory problems in stabled horses.

It is important to recognize that forage is also a source of protein. Select hay that will help meet the horse?s protein requirement. Hays can be categorized as either grass hays (e.g., bermudagrass, timothy) or legume hays (e.g., alfalfa, peanut, clover). In general, legume hays are higher in protein than grass hays. Good quality legume hay can have roughly 18 to 22 percent crude protein, while good quality grass hay can have 10 to 16 percent crude protein. Again, quality and growth stage at harvest determine how digestible the hay is and influence how much protein the horse receives from it.


Feeding high-fat diets is a relatively new trend in the horse industry. It has been demonstrated that horses can tolerate a fairly high level of fat in their diet. Fat is an excellent and easily digestible source of energy. Commercial feeds that are not supplemented with additional fats contain approximately 2 to 4 percent fat. Many commercial feeds are now supplemented with fat in the form of some type of stabilized oil. These feeds can contain anywhere from 6 to 12 percent fat. Since adding fat to a feed increases its energy density and the horse will require less feed, it is important to be sure that all other nutrients (i.e., protein, vitamins, minerals) are also high enough to meet your horse?s requirements. While commercial feeds will be nutritionally balanced, if you are increasing the fat in your horse?s diet by simply pouring some type of oil or fat supplement on the feed, it is important to be sure that you are meeting his other nutrient requirements and not just his energy requirement.


Vitamins are critically important organic compounds. They must be present in the body to enable important reactions to take place that allow the animal to live. Vitamins are divided into two categories: the water-soluble group consists of the B-complex vitamins (e.g., B1, B2) and the fat-soluble group is comprised of vitamins A, E, D and K. Some vitamins also have associated names (for example, B1 is also known as thiamine). It is important to recognize that the horse synthesizes many of the vitamins it needs and therefore does not typically need dietary supplementation of all vitamins. This would include vitamin C, B-vitamins and vitamin K; therefore, you will often not see these vitamins included on commercial horse feed tags. It is important to check your feed and be sure that all of your horse?s vitamin requirements are being met since vitamin deficiencies can lead to various health problems. However, it is also important to realize that extreme excesses in these vitamins are not desirable either, particularly regarding fat-soluble vitamins. Excess water-soluble vitamins are generally excreted in the urine; however, fat-soluble vitamins are stored readily in the animal?s fat tissue and therefore can build up to high levels if fed in excessive amounts. Since excessively high levels of vitamins can lead to toxicity, it is important to use good judgment when feeding nutritional supplements that are high in particular vitamins. In most cases, a good forage program combined with a well-formulated concentrate will provide adequate vitamins to meet your horse?s requirements.


Minerals are critical inorganic materials that must be present in adequate amounts for the body to function properly. Minerals are another item that can be found in supplements on feed and tack store shelves. It is important to understand that mineral needs will change depending on your horse?s age and status (i.e., if the horse is working, gestating or lactating). Most commercial feed companies balance their feed to meet the mineral requirements of different classifications of horses. Forage will also provide minerals. In some cases, additional supplementation of some minerals may provide desirable results. For example, biotin, zinc and copper supplemented above requirements have been shown to improve hoof strength. However, care should be taken because excessive amounts of minerals may also cause toxicities, lead to serious health conditions or interfere with absorption of other minerals.

If your horse does not receive a commercial concentrate or eats very little of it, it may be important to supplement additional vitamins/minerals to his forage diet by feeding a product called a ration balancer. Ration balancers are manufactured by many feed companies and are designed to be fed at a low level (approximately 1 pound per day) that contains the needed vitamins, minerals and protein. It is also possible to meet vitamin and mineral requirements by providing a free-choice loose salt-vitamin-mineral mix. Horses are inefficient lickers, so loose mixtures tend to work better than salt blocks. Also, mineral blocks are generally less than 5 percent mineral and more than 95 percent salt, so they do little to provide for the horse?s vitamin/mineral requirements. A loose vitamin/mineral premix or a ration balancer is a good option for horses maintained on pasture and adapted to eating all-forage diets. If providing a loose mixture, a general rule of thumb is to expect horses to consume 1.5 to 3 oz. per day.

One common mineral ratio you will see when looking at a bag of feed is the calcium:phosphorus ratio. It is important to check that both commercial feeds and vitamin/mineral premixes have a calcium:phosphorus ratio between 1:1 and 2:1. If the phosphorus levels are high in relation to calcium, calcium will be pulled from the bone into the blood stream to balance the calcium:phosphorus ratio. This is not typically a problem for grazing animals since phosphorus is fairly low in grasses, but grains are very high in phosphorus and commercial feeds are generally supplemented with some form of calcium. Feeding single grains, such as oats, can cause an inverse calcium:phosphorus ratio if calcium is not supplemented in some form. Another important mineral consideration is your horse?s sweat loss. Horses that are in moderate to intense work and are sweating heavily lose electrolytes in their sweat. For these horses, it may be necessary to supplement both salt and additional electrolytes (such as potassium). A balanced electrolyte mix can be added to the horse?s grain mixture as needed.

Simple Calculations to Determine Nutrient Intake

Nutritional requirements vary from horse to horse and it is important to be able to examine a feed tag and assess whether or not that feed will meet your horse?s needs. Manufacturers typically put feeding instructions on the tag to help buyers determine if the feed is appropriate for their horses and how much of it should be fed to each individual. However, it is beneficial to be able to look at a particular feed and understand why it is or is not a good choice for your horse.

If you want to examine your feeding program more closely, the most in-depth listing of requirements can be found in the National Research Council (NRC) recommendations for horses (Nutrient Requirements for Horses 6th Edition, 2006). Approximate nutritional requirements based on a horse?s age, workload and status are listed along with the nutritional value of different grains and hays. This resource is based on scientific research and is updated periodically to stay current with recent findings. To access this database online, go to This Web site allows you to select the age, weight, status and workload of a particular horse (under "Animal Specifications") and determine its specific nutritional needs for macronutrients (given in the table at the bottom of the web page) as well as vitamin and mineral needs (under "Other Nutrients"). This program also allows you to select certain forages and other feedstuffs (under "Dietary Supply" — click on "New" to change feedstuff) to determine how much of your horse?s requirements are being met by a particular feed or combination of feeds (you must input the weight of each feedstuff being consumed).

Sample By-Hand Calculation

If a mature horse weighs 400 kg and is not exercising, maintaining his weight and body condition will require approximately 504 g of protein (according to recent NRC guidelines). If the horse is eating 1.5 percent of its body weight in coastal bermudagrass hay, it is eating approximately 6 kg of hay each day (400 X 0.015). The average coastal bermudagrass hay contains approximately 10.4 percent crude protein. If you multiply 6 kg by 0.104, you get 0.624 kg, or 624 g. Therefore, in this instance, the horse?s protein requirement is being met through the forage it is consuming.

As another example, if that same 400 kg horse is working at a very intense level, it will require approximately 804 g of crude protein. If the horse is eating the same 1.5 percent of its body weight in coastal bermudagrass hay, it will be short 180 g of protein (804-624) necessary to meet its needs. Therefore, a concentrate (grain) must be provided to make up the difference, and/or hay with higher protein content (e.g., alfalfa) can be fed instead of coastal bermudagrass. (Special note: When allowing the NRC computer program to calculate the dietary supply a certain foodstuff you are providing, it will often calculate slightly lower than when you calculate by hand. This accounts for losses that are difficult to determine by hand calculations; however, hand calculations will still give a fairly accurate estimate as to whether your feeding program is meeting your horse?s requirements).

Calculating whether a feeding system meets a horse?s nutrient requirements can be done on virtually every nutrient (including digestible energy that is provided primarily by carbohydrates and fats). Commercial feeds typically provide recommendations based on the horse?s weight, age and activity level. These recommendations are based on NRC recommendations as well as the composition of their feed. Because there are many myths surrounding the practice of feeding horses that really have very little or no truth, it is important to understand your horse?s nutritional requirements and be able to apply your knowledge in a practical manner.


6 Important Alpaca Health Indicators to Be Aware Of

By Breezyhill

The health of any animal is indispensable, but especially on an alpaca ranch. A herd of alpaca must be kept safe, comfortable, and well-fed as a whole to produce healthy alpaca individuals.

Some people would refer to alpacas as docile, which is true. In fact, they are prey in their natural environment, and instinctively mask signs of pain or weakness to survive. On a farm, these instincts are still at work, which can make it tricky to monitor your herd’s health. But when you know basic alpaca health indicators, you can size up the general condition of a single animal or your herd pretty quickly.

Since these creatures are cute and cuddly, you should find it easy to develop a relationship with each animal. With this approach, you can readily assess the herd and identify any suffering alpaca as soon as possible. For example, if a particular alpaca does not exhibit the same degree of friendliness and effervescence as usual, this may indicate that the animal is not well or has been hurt.

6 Important Alpaca Health Indicators

1. If an animal is listless, dull in color, or very skinny, then it may be unhealthy. Generally, alpacas are alert, curious, and nimble animals, and their coats are lush. A mature alpaca can range in weight from 48 kg – 84 kg (106 – 185 pounds), depending on height and age. So if an alpaca is stumbling, lying on the ground and refusing to get up, being less social with its herd members, or just seems and looks more tired than usual, it may be injured or ill. If the condition is minor and easy for you to identify, you can try treating it yourself. However, if it is more serious, consult a veterinarian.

2. If the entire herd is dull, not alert, and not curious, then there may be a parasite or nutrition problem. Get in contact with local vets to find out what diseases are common in your area. Diseases abound but they rarely manifest themselves in a dangerous way. Early detection and treatment will prevent the spread of an illness throughout your herd. The following diseases are a possibility:

West Nile Virus

Bovine viral diarrhea

Hoof and mouth disease

Meningeal worm transmitted by rabies, ticks, lice, or deer

The actual occurrence of any of these illnesses is rare in alpaca, but if you are uncertain about your animal’s condition, check with a vet.


Be careful of how frequently you administer worming medication. Too often, a worming can make worms more resistant to the treatment, leading to the need for more concentrated or costly medication. Monitor your own area and administer a wormer quarterly or when infestation is actually detected. The alpaca density on a farm determines the rate of spread of a disease. Study alpaca droppings for signs of worms and rotate to new pastures if worms are detected.

3. If an animal has an over-bite or has crooked legs, it may have genetic problems that will affect its mobility and health. If you’re purchasing an alpaca, pass over all such animals unless the owner can prove it was an injury and not genetic.

4. Blue eyes with a white coat may indicate deafness, which is genetic. Check for this and make sure you are prepared to treat them appropriately if you go ahead and purchase this alpaca

5. Alpacas should have narrow chests and straight legs, a nice tuft of hair topping their heads, and should always be alert and curious. However, they should not be aggressive, kicking or jumping on humans.

6. If you plan to breed your animals, you will need to see pedigree information, the parents (if they are still on the ranch), and all vet and vaccination records.


Vaccination Yearly Planner

By Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Immunizations are the cornerstone of disease prevention if given appropriately and in a timely manner. One of the brightest spots of equine medical care for horses is the availability of many safe and effective vaccines to protect horses from infectious and noninfectious diseases. Sometimes it is confusing as to which ones your horse might need. Let’s look at the vaccine options, the necessity of each, and how to plan for boosters throughout the year. Always keep in mind that your veterinarian is the best person to advise you on the vaccinations needed for your particular horses and your area.

Planning a Vaccination Strategy

Mary Scollay, DVM, previous chair of the Infectious Disease Committee of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), urges, “I would like to reinforce that the development of an effective vaccination program requires a partnership between the veterinarian and the horse owner. A horse owner has an obligation to provide input when a vaccination program is being developed. It is not a passive process. Examples of information that should be shared include how the horse is used, whether it travels, and what other animals is it likely to come in contact with.”

Vaccines are only one aspect of preventing disease; it is just as important to implement good horsekeeping and biosecurity strategies (see page 31 for more information) to minimize disease risk.

The AAEP developed a useful vaccination protocol that can be accessed at

Core Vaccines

Spring heralds more riding and transport, so schedule your horse’s annual spring veterinary checkup. (For more information see article #11398 at Your veterinarian will administer “core vaccines,” which are those considered important for every horse to have annually, regardless of geographical location or athletic use.

Vaccine Timeline for the Adult Horse

DEC/JAN/FEB: During the winter months, not much needs to be considered in the way of vaccinations unless a horse will be traveling to an area with diseases for which he would be at high risk and has not yet been immunized.

MAR/APR/MAY: Administer spring immunizations during these months in order to have vaccines on board in advance of warming weather and an active mosquito season. Your horse should receive, at the very least, Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis (EEE and WEE), West Nile virus (WNV), tetanus, and rabies vaccines (first three are spread via mosquitoes). Other immunizations commonly given this time of year are influenza and herpesvirus vaccines. In high-risk areas or situations, your horse might also be immunized against strangles, Potomac horse fever (PHF), or botulism. In breeding situations where a horse is likely to be exposed to equine viral arteritis (EVA), this vaccine would also be included.

By the last month of gestation, the pregnant broodmare should be toward the end of her series of primary immunizations or boosters against all “core” diseases and those specific to your general area for which she’s at high risk.

JUNE/JULY/AUG: In the summer months you’ll want to make sure your horse is protected against all the necessary insect-related diseases for which there are vaccinations.

SEPT/OCT/NOV: In the autumn months preparations are under way for winter. This is the time of year your horse should be well-protected against respiratory viruses, specifically influenza and the respiratory form of herpesvirus (rhinopneumonitis). These are usually incorporated into the vaccine program at the time of the fall veterinary visit. Boosters can be given at this time for WNV, EEE, and WEE in areas with mosquito seasons that extend into winter months.

The AAEP and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) describe core vaccines as those “that protect from diseases that are endemic (prevalent with a high rate of occurrence) to a region, those with potential public health significance, required by law, virulent or highly infectious, and/or those posing a risk of severe disease.” These include: tetanus, West Nile virus (WNV), Eastern and Western encephalomyelitis (EEE and WEE), and rabies.

TETANUS Horses spend a lot of time around dirt/manure, so they are at particular risk for contamination of even the smallest wound with Clostridium tetani spores. An annual booster of tetanus toxoid in the spring is recommended.

Debra Sellon, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, a professor of equine medicine at Washington State University, suggests, “The tetanus toxoid is inexpensive and safe, and the disease is highly fatal. Therefore, I always recommend a booster tetanus toxoid injection in horses with wounds or with plans to undergo surgery if it has been more than six months since that horse received its last booster injection.”

WEST NILE VIRUS This disease, which causes potentially fatal neurologic illness and is endemic in the lower 48 states, is carried by birds and transmitted by mosquitoes to horses. Luckily, there are three vaccines against WNV–all are safe and have demonstrated good efficacy. Horses should receive an annual booster following the initial vaccine series.

Keep in mind the timing of your annual boosters, making sure the horse is protected during mosquito season. In warmer climes where mosquitoes abound year-round, it might be necessary to administer boosters twice a year, depending on the vaccine product. Scollay says if your veterinarian recommends vaccinating twice yearly, “it might be prudent to consider vaccinating say, April 1 and Aug. 1, to enhance immunity during the period of high risk for exposure, instead of at a rigid six-month interval.”

EASTERN AND WESTERN EQUINE ENCEPHALOMYELITIS Encephalomyelitis (or encephalitis) virus, which causes neurologic disease, also is carried by birds and transmitted by mosquitoes. The vaccination strategy for EEE and WEE is comparable to WNV–once or twice annual boosters, depending on length of mosquito season, following an initial priming series. Horses living in states directly bordering Mexico might also receive an annual booster for Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis (VEE).

RABIES Scollay says, “Rabies is a fatal neurologic disease of warm-blooded animals; that means horses and humans.” Wild animals such as bats, skunks, foxes, or raccoons can bite a horse and pass this virus without anyone being aware. Given that humans are constantly inserting their hands into horses’ mouths when placing a bit, checking age, floating teeth, or administering dewormers and paste medications, Scollay asks, “Why would you risk contracting a fatal disease from routine contact with a horse, especially when the disease can be effectively prevented?”

Rabies vaccine is labeled to be given once a year, but Scollay says if you have concerns about a specific horse’s immunity, it would be appropriate to consider a series of two vaccinations.

Risk-Based Vaccines

Vaccines against certain diseases are given based on anticipated degree of risk.

INFLUENZA VIRUS Horses that travel or encounter horses that have been traveling are at an increased risk of exposure to equine influenza virus. The 2007 Australian epidemic, in which thousands of unvaccinated horses were exposed to flu, displayed how readily the disease could spread. There are many effective equine flu vaccines, and a horse should receive two or more boosters a year (depending on which product is used), usually in the spring and fall, following the initial series of three injections and/or intranasal (IN) administration of certain products.

HERPESVIRUS OR RHINOPNEUMONITIS Equine herpesvirus (EHV-1 and EHV-4) can cause respiratory problems (this disease expression is known as rhinopneumonitis). Rhino is spread through respiratory secretions–on shared objects or airborne. Cough, runny nose, or fever can be readily apparent, but EHV can be latent (hidden) in the horse, meaning it sits in the lymphatic tissue without producing any proteins and, therefore, the horse does not “respond” to it. Stressors such as transport, weaning, castration, mixing of horses, or foaling can reactivate the virus, which the asymptomatic horse sheds in respiratory secretions. EHV-4 causes mostly respiratory disease, whereas EHV-1 can cause respiratory disease, abortion, or neurologic disease.

Scollay says research has shown EHV vaccination programs help reduce clinical disease and the period of viral shedding in adult horses. “It is reasonable to assume that many of the horses that experience these benefits were initially infected as foals,” she notes. “This is an important ‘herd health’ concept–that by minimizing clinical disease and viral shedding in horses that respond well to vaccination, you are also providing increased protection to horses in the same population that did not, for whatever reason, develop a good immune response to a vaccination.”

Vaccination can prevent the return of disease, suppress virus so it remains latent, and stop shedding in nasal secretions, limiting transmission to naïve horses.

STRANGLES Available vaccines do not protect entirely against Streptococcus equi-caused disease, and there are controversies surrounding its use in some animals. Sellon weighs in: “Strangles IN vaccine is used in horses at risk of exposure to strangles. The exception to this is horses with very high previous, especially if recent, exposure to strangles. Most experts agree that vaccination of horses with either IM (intramuscular) or IN vaccines, if they have a pre-existing high titer to the bacterial organism, is associated with an increased risk of adverse effects. I recommend IM strangles vaccine for broodmares in the last 30 to 60 days of gestation if they or their foals are at risk of exposure.

All strangles vaccines have been associated with immune-mediated reactions, such as vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) and myositis (inflammation of muscles). The IN vaccine, which is (made with) modified-live bacteria, may cause abscesses, rarely. The IM vaccine often causes soreness, swelling, or potential abscesses at the vaccination site. Base your decision to vaccinate for strangles on assessment of the potential risks (farm history, lots of horse traffic on and off farm) and benefits.

EQUINE VIRAL ARTERITIS This disease is encountered most commonly in the semen of an infected carrier stallion, yet it can be passed from horse to horse in respiratory secretions. Most times this vaccine is used to protect breeding stallions, mares with planned breeding to a known infected stallion, and nonbreeding horses in the event of an outbreak. Pregnant mares should not receive the EVA vaccine. Before vaccinating, you can screen a horse for previous exposure to EVA with a blood test. Vaccinating for EVA might also preclude a horse’s entry into some countries, as it is difficult to determine natural versus vaccine titers. (For more information see article #10215 at

POTOMAC HORSE FEVER (PHF) This is a diarrheal disease (and occasional cause of abortion) caused by the organism Neorickettsia risticii. Its effect on horses follows a seasonal pattern, usually between late spring and the fall during hot weather (vaccinate prior to insect hatching and warm weather). Horses are infected by ingesting infected insects derived from aquatic environments. Current vaccines do not have challenge information based on this natural route of infection, but, instead, are based on a transmission method that was suspected and now has been disproven (ticks, so tests to determine vaccine efficacy were done with blood challenge).

ANTHRAX This is a fatal disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, occurring in specific geographical locations where the spores remain in the soil for decades. This vaccine is usually only administered to pastured horses in high-risk areas. A primary series is followed by an annual booster.

BOTULISM This fatal neurotoxic disease disease is caused by Clostridium botulinum. A vaccine is available for C. botulinum type B, which is particularly useful to protect foals against shaker foal syndrome that have acquired botulism through ingestion of the spores.

Sellon comments, “Botulism should be included in broodmare vaccinations if the horses reside or will travel to areas where type B botulism is known to occur. This generally means Kentucky and the mid- Atlantic region of the eastern United States.”

Pregnant mares in high-risk areas should be receive a primary series at least four to six weeks prior to foaling to ensure transfer in colostral antibodies for the foal. Foals should also receive this vaccine series in high-risk areas. Vaccinate adult horses in these areas based on a veterinarian’s recommendation.

ROTAVIRUS In the case of the diarrheal disease rotavirus, vaccinate the mare to protect the foal, especially if there have been previous problems with this disease on the farm or in the area. Sellon counsels, “All breeding operations, large and small, should have in place reasonable biosecurity plans to decrease the chance of accidental introduction of the disease on the premises. Vaccination for rotavirus should never be considered as a replacement for this type of husbandry.”

Administer a three-vaccine series to a pregnant mare by the last month prior to foaling. This way a foal receives colostral antibodies that provide resistance to rotavirus for the first 30 to 60 days. This vaccine is not necessary for other adult horses.

Foal Vaccine Program

A foal’s first-year immunizations begin as a series of two to three injections (depending on the product), followed by boosters once or twice a year. Most foals are born in the spring and will not receive EEE, WEE, WNV, and tetanus immunizations until 4 or 5 months of age or later. Don’t start flu and rhino until 6 to 9 months of age, depending on the mare’s vaccination history.

Scollay explains that foal vaccination timing is based on maternal antibody interference. “While the antibodies in the mare’s colostrum provide a foal with early protection against infectious diseases,” she says, “those same antibodies can also inhibit the foal’s own immune system from ‘learning’ from a vaccine and developing its own immunity to disease. If the mare was vaccinated late in pregnancy, the foal’s vaccinations should begin later than if the mare was not vaccinated late in pregnancy. If you don’t know the mare’s vaccination status, you must assume she was both vaccinated and unvaccinated.”

How Many Vaccines At Once?

Many horses can receive multiple vaccines at one time and have no adverse reactions, particularly if using separate injections rather than multivalent products, but not all horses fare well in this scenario.

Scollay gives the vaccinations in two sets, 10 to 14 days apart. She says, “I don’t know if this benefits in terms of developing better immunity, but I do think the horses are more comfortable with less localized muscle soreness and general ‘punkishness.’ ”

Determine how your horse fares with individual vaccine products, then try to minimize future adverse reactions.


Photo Source: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Equine Dental Care: What Every Horse Owner Should Know

By Rob Arnott, DVM

Horses have been around for many, many years. Some experts have determined from fossil evidence that horses have existed for over 55 million years. These early horses were probably browsers that ate soft, leafy vegetation and groundcover in the prehistoric woodlands. The horse evolved over time, and the current form and type of dentition in the horse is believed to have evolved about 15 to 20 million years ago. This evolution allowed adaptation that was better suited to grazing. The changes included a longer cheek teeth row and a deeper skull and jaw to better accommodate the hypsodont (high-crowned) tooth. The hypsodont tooth (a tooth that continues to erupt from the jaw over a very prolonged number of years) is better equipped to handle the increased wear that occurs when grinding the more abrasive grass (which may often have trace amounts of grit from the surrounding soil surface and plant roots).

The horse as we know it today has a hypsodont tooth and an anisognathic jaw conformation; the upper jaw, the maxilla, is wider than the lower jaw or the mandible. This arrangement allows horses to maximize their chewing efficiency, prolong the effective life of their chewing equipment (premolars and molars), and hopefully, remain adequately fed for a long, long period of time.

The hypsodont tooth erupts on average about three to four millimeters per year to compensate for the wear from the daily grinding action of the food processing. The average permanent (adult) premolar or molar (grinding or “cheek” teeth) have a reserve crown of approximately four inches (100 mm); under ideal conditions one could estimate that the happy, healthy horse should have teeth that should not wear out for 25 to 30 years.

In order for the horse to obtain food, it must first prehend or grasp the food. If they are grazing, as they lower their head to the ground surface the maxilla (upper jaw) slides slightly backward as the mandible (lower jaw) slides forward. As the head comes into position at the ground surface, the incisors (front) teeth should be aligned to cut or shear off the grass pasture. This allows the horse to graze or cut the pasture very close to the ground surface without disturbing a significant amount of surrounding grit, dirt and debris. Under normal circumstances, the horse will cut the grass off at ground level, rather than pulling the plant out by the roots.

The lips, tongue, cheeks and hard palate all serve a role in moving the food along the conveyor belt into the oral cavity for further processing. The lips act as a sorting/selection tool to find, test and pull food into the mouth. The tongue acts as an auger to work the food back in the mouth, where the bolus is pushed out onto the grinding surface of the cheek teeth (premolars and molars).

The chewing cycle is a repetition of a cyclical movement of the rhythmical contraction of the muscles that control the opening and closing of the jaw. There are three parts to the chewing cycle; the dropping or lowering of the mandible and it’s sliding sideways in relation to the maxilla, the closing of the mandible against the maxilla and the grinding of the mandible across the maxilla. The steps are called the opening, closing and power stroke phases of chewing. Some horses will consistently chew or process their food in one direction; others will process or chew their food in both directions. The important point to remember is that mastication (grinding) requires significant motion of the mandible and maxilla in relation to each other. Studies that have examined how the different types of feed affect how a horse chews its food have shown that a much larger range of motion is required to grind hay than a concentrated feed source (i.e. grain).

As the food is ground, it is moved across the occlusal surface of the tooth, out into the buccal oral cavity; the cheek contains the feed and pushes it back onto the occlusal surface of the cheek teeth where it is crushed again. The palatine ridges on the roof of the mouth in the hard palate aid in the direction of the food bolus, passing it further back into the mouth where the tongue pushes it out onto the occlusal surface for additional grinding. This process is repeated multiple times until a thoroughly chewed bolus arrives in the back of the mouth at the glottis for swallowing. Any changes in this finely tuned, delicately balanced and “machined” process can greatly affect the horses ability to find, collect and process its food to nourish itself. Our domestication and current housing and management of the magnificent horse also can have a tremendous impact on the horses ability to maintain a balanced and healthy food processing machine (mouth).

Adult mammals have four types of teeth: incisors, canines, premolars and molars. Each tooth has several regions associated with it; the crown (visible, exposed portion), the reserve crown (portion that is hidden within the boney socket) and the root. Each tooth is made up of enamel, dentin, cementum and the pulp cavity.

Enamel is the hardest, most dense substance in the body. Although it is extremely hard, it is also very brittle. In most areas of the tooth it is covered by the cement; the exception is on the occlusal (chewing) surface of the tooth.

Dentin makes up the bulk of the tooth. One of the main purposes of the dentin is to act as “crack stoppers” should any micro fractures (tiny, microscopic fractures) occur in the adjacent, brittle enamel. Another equally important function of the dentin is that is allows a rough, irregular wear pattern to develop on the occlusal surface of the premolars and molars. This creates a more efficient grinding surface for the food to be processed on.

Cementum has several critical functions. It acts as a protective covering over most portions of the tooth, including the crown. The cementum also serves to attach the tooth to the boney socket as it continues to erupt throughout the life of the horse. Cementum helps protect the coronal enamel from cracking. It helps in forming the protruding enamel ridges on the occlusal surface and also makes up a significant portion or bulk of the clinical crown (i.e. exposed, visible portion of the tooth). 

Pulp is a collection of soft tissues including blood vessels, nerves and connective tissues. The pulp fills the pulp cavity of the tooth; the size and shape of the pulp cavity changes throughout the life of the horse and the hypsodont tooth. The pulp cavity is much larger in the young horse that has the newly erupted, fully mature tooth than in the geriatric horse with minimal, remaining reserve crown.

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Goat Facts (From various resources)

by Gary Pfalzbot

Origins of the Goat

Goats were one of the first animals to be tamed by humans and were being herded 9,000 years ago. They are a member of the cattle family and are believed to be descended from the wild goat, bezoar.

Breeds of Goats

There are over 210 breeds of goats with an estimated 450 million goats in the world (2001). Of the 450 million goats in the world, it is estimated that approximately 6 to 8 % of them are in North America (2001). The majority of the world goat population can be found in the Mideast and Asia.

Eating Habits

Goats are ruminants or cud chewing animals that eat cracked or ground corn mixed with oats, hay and grass. Most breeders and producers prefer to limit the amount of corn in a goat's diet, preferring to feed specialized goat feed mixes with the majority of the diet being made up in a mixed, grassy alfalfa and other weeds, browse and shrubs known to be compatible with a goat's nutritional needs.

Goats also have specific mineral and vitamin requirements that determine their overall health and production. These requirements often vary between breeds of goats and coloration of the goat. Most people believe that goats will eat almost anything and this is simply not true. The goat has very sensitive lips and their natural curiosity gives them a habit of "mouthing" and "smelling" for food that is clean and tasty. Goats will not eat soiled food (unless they are pushed to the point of starvation - often preferring to starve).


Goats have a lower set of teeth which meet a hard pad in the upper jaw, and 24 molars on the top and bottom in the back of their mouths. Kids have 8 small, sharp teeth in their lower front jaw, and like children, when their baby teeth fall out they are replaced by permanent teeth. The age of a goat can often be closely determined by their teeth.


The overall health of a goat is largely determined by their environment, genetics and nutrition. There are a number of illnesses that can affect a goat both in chronic and curable form. Some of these illnesses can be passed to humans and other animals while some illnesses are specific to goats. Much research is being done to provide more drugs that are approved for use in goats.

Two illnesses that can bring sudden death to a goat are coccidiosis and pneumonia. Of most concern to breeders and producers are worms and parasites. A goat that is ridden with parasites and worms and left untreated will most likely suffer a rapid decline in health, production and often result in death.

Weight and Physical Characteristics

Depending on their breed, female goats weigh between 22 to 220 pounds, whereas male goats weigh between 27 to 275 pounds and are bigger and shaggier in appearance than females. Male goats are also endowed with beards that grow longer as they get older. Female goats are also capable of growing a beard. With the advent of the Boer or "meat goat" in the United States, these standards are becoming somewhat variable.

Cross-breeding and genetics have begun paving the future for new breeds of goats which will undoubtedly exceed current standards. Many a breeder and producer will share that their particular line of goats will often be bred for a specific characteristic or feature. It is important to understand that a "desirable" characteristic to one producer may be "undesirable" to another.


Widely accepted as a "standard", depending upon the breed, goats may be cream, white, black or brown in coloring. However, as more cross-breeding and genetic enhancement is achieved, the results are often dazzling sets of colors not previously seen. In my experiences, cross-breeding can often result in the offspring displaying both sets of colors from the original breeds. These cross-bred goats are often referred to as "Brush Goats".


The pupil in a goat's eye is rectangular in shape instead of being round like those of other animals. It is believed that goats have excellent night vision and will often browse at night. The actual color of the goat's eyes is varied with the most common color being yellow or brown. Blue coloration is a bit rarer and often a characteristic many breeders will try to achieve.


Goats generally live 10 to 12 years. There have been cases of goats living up to 15 years.


The behavior of a goat can vary widely based upon a number of factors such as breed, surroundings, and size of the herd. For the most part, goat behavior is often summed up as: goats are very sociable, lively, inquisitive and independent animals. They are also quite intelligent and can learn how to open latches on farm gates. Goats are also herd animals.

One particular behavior of goats that is intriguing is that while they are independent, they often prefer to surround themselves with goats of their same breed in a mixed herd. Another example of goat behavior is that the kids will prefer to remain nearby their mother, even if separated for years and reintroduced.

Physical Capabilities

Goats can climb, run, crawl under fences and some breeds of goats are able to jump heights of over 5 feet. It should be noted as well that most goats will also stand on their back legs to reach tree branches and shrubs.


The main products associated with goats are milk, cheese, meat, mohair, and cashmere. Large dairy does produce 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of milk each year. (On a daily basis they produce 2 or 3 quarts of milk). With the emphasis on genetics, it should be noted that breeders and producers are beginning to surpass previous levels of milk and meat production with daily yields often exceeding one gallon of milk per day.

Goat Names and Terminology

You will often hear goats referred to by the following: "Buck or Billy" - a male goat. "Doe or Nanny" - a female goat. "Kid" - a young goat. "Wether" - a castrated male goat. "Hermaphrodite" - a goat showing both female and male characteristics, most likely unable to reproduce. "Herd" - a group of goats. "Wattles" - little round balls of fur on a goats' neck close to its chin. Not all goats have wattles.


Feeding the Insulin Resistant Horse

By Dr. Martin Adams, PAS Equine Nutritionist for Southern States

Dry lots are recommended for insulin resistant horses.

Insulin resistance is a problem that has recently been documented in horses, ponies and donkeys. The causes and effects of insulin resistance, as well as its diagnosis and treatment, as well as some tips on feeding the insulin resistant horse will be provided.

The horse digests and ferments carbohydrates in feedstuffs to produce glucose, which is its primary source of energy for body functions. Insulin resistance (IR) occurs when body cells that use insulin to regulate the uptake and metabolism of blood glucose become less sensitive to insulin’s effects. This means that insulin is required in greater amounts to keep blood glucose concentrations within normal amounts, especially after a meal high in starch and/or sugar.

There are many contributing factors to IR including diets high in starch and sugar, obesity, breed, age and inactivity. In one research study, horses fed a high sugar and starch feed had increased IR compared to horses fed a high fat and fiber feed, even when they were not overweight, Horses that become obese may develop IR and have an increased risk of laminitis. Horses or ponies with a history of laminitis without an obvious cause such as grain overload, heat stress, recent intestinal surgery or road founder likely have IR. IR is the major symptom of Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), which is the term used to describe horses that have IR as a result of genetics and/or obesity. Horse diagnosed with EMS are characterized by abnormal fatty deposits on the neck (cresty neck), rump and above the eyes, voracious appetite and reduced stamina. Weight loss in obese EMS horses may allow them to return to a normal metabolic status, but other horses may still be symptomatic as there is likely a genetic connection with certain equine breeds and EMS.

Ponies, donkeys and “easy keeper” horse breeds may have a “thrifty gene” which is a genetic adaptation to sparse vegetation in geographic areas where they originated. An altered metabolism that allows maintenance of body weight on a less feed, and the secretion of more insulin or an insulin resistant metabolism allowed these IR-type equids a greater chance of long-term survival. Insulin has the effect of directing blood glucose into body cells and storage of glucose as fat, which is the most efficient method of storing energy when food is not available. Modern equine management providing excessive calories from improved pasture and grain feeding has resulted in obesity and the many problems associated with EMS.

Equine Cushing’s Disease (ECD), which is also known in the horse as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction or PPID. ECD is common in horses over 20 years of age, and can include symptoms such as hirsuitism (long curly hair that won’t shed in spring), excessive sweating, muscle wasting, excessive water consumption and urination, frequent infections and infertility. Horses can have EMS or be insulin resistant and also develop ECD in their later years, with both problems causing health issues.

Regular exercise reduces blood glucose and insulin levels, allowing an active horse to prevent IR even when fed high sugar and starch meals. However, lack of activity combined with overfeeding can result in obesity and onset EMS. Prolonged high levels of blood glucose and insulin due to insulin resistance can have harmful effects on the horse’s health, so diagnosis and treatment are important.

Your veterinarian can diagnose IR in your horse by measuring blood levels of glucose and insulin. A combined glucose-insulin test may be used but more likely a resting serum insulin concentration will be utilized to diagnose IR. Levothyroxine (also called Thyro-L) has reduced IR symptoms and laminitis and increased weight loss when used over a 4 month-long period in horses diagnosed with EMS. A weight management program should also be initiated with or without the use of Thryo-L for the obese horse, with the use of a supplement pellet such as Legends CarbCare Balancer Pellet, Triple Crown Lite Formula or 30% Ration Balancer, limited hay feeding at 1.5% to 1.25% of body weight daily, and limited or no pasture for horses diagnosed with Equine Cushing’s Disease (EMS) and an increased risk of laminitis.

Prevention is always more economical than treatment, so use the following tips on feeding your horse to help prevent and/or treat IR:

  • Adjust your feeding program to maintain proper body condition of your horse, avoiding obesity. This may require limiting pasture grazing time or the use of a grazing muzzle, and limiting the amount of hay and grain fed, especially for pony breeds and horse breeds such as Peruvian Paso Fino, Paso Fino, Icelandic Horse and Morgan, and many Arabians.
  • Maintain good soil fertility of horse pastures. Research has shown that a well-fertilized pasture of cool-season grasses will have lower levels of sugars that have been implicated in causing laminitis.
  • Provide as much exercise and turnout for your horse as possible. Consider a sacrifice area or paddock, where pasture grass is not available but horses can be turned out daily for activity.
  • Avoid or severely limit access to pasture grazing for IR horses in the spring and fall. Cool season grasses are growing most rapidly during these times and contain the greatest amount of sugars, including fructan sugars, which have been implicated in causing laminitis. Horses with IR are more likely to have a laminitic outbreak when grazing on pasture during these times.
  • Select hay with a low level of soluble carbohydrates for the IR horse. Small grain hays such as oat and ryegrass have much greater sugar content than other grass hays like timothy and orchard grass. Alfalfa hay and coastal Bermuda grass are usually the lowest in soluble carbohydrate (sugar and starch) content, but alfalfa contains more calories and feeding rate must be monitored closely. Clover hay should be avoided for the IR horse as the starch content can be high as well as the caloric density. Moderate quality grass hay is preferred due to its low soluble carbohydrate content and moderate caloric content. Soaking hay for 60 minutes in cool water or hot water for 30 minutes will significantly reduce its soluble carbohydrate content.
  • Select a horse feed low in sugar and starch (20% or less) to normalize blood glucose and insulin levels for your horse with IR. Beet pulp and soy hulls contain very low levels of soluble carbohydrates, so select a feed that is based on one of these ingredients. Southern States has the soluble carbohydrate values of its horse feeds available for you to select an appropriate one for your horse, and many products with 20% or less sugar/starch content. There are four Legends CarbCare horse feeds. They are formulated with low levels of sugar and starch content and are recommended for IR horses. All of the Triple Crown Horse Feeds are formulated with low levels of sugar and starch and are recommended for insulin resistant horses.
  • Proper hoof care is essential for the IR horse due to increased incidence of laminitis. Select a well-fortified horse feed and make sure you are feeding an adequate amount of feed to meet requirements for protein, lysine, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and iodine, these nutrients are especially important for good hoof growth. Also consider selection of a horse feed with added biotin or the use of a hoof supplement containing biotin if hoof quality is poor.
  • Magnesium is involved in insulin secretion and supplementation of magnesium has been recommended for horses with IR. Chromium has been used to reduce blood glucose levels in horses and has also been recommended for supplementing the IR horse. Select a horse feed with a higher guaranteed level of magnesium or consider using magnesium and chromium supplementation for a horse with IR. Dietary guidelines would be 2 grams of magnesium per 100 pounds of body weight and 1 gram of chromium per 100 pounds of body weight.
  • Many horses with IR are fed small amounts of horse feed to decrease calories but may not be provided with optimal amounts of required nutrients. Consider the use of a balancer pellet, such as Legends CarbCare Balancer Pellet or Triple Crown 30% Ration Balancer or a concentrated feed such as Triple Crown Lite Formula. Triple Crown Lite Formula is specially formulated for miniature horses, ponies, overweight and “easy keeper” horses with a low feeding rate, concentrated nutrient profile, and low starch and calorie content to be fed with an all forage (hay or pasture) diet.
  • A convenient option for miniature horses or ponies is Triple Crown Safe Starch Forage. This is a chopped hay product that is fortified with minerals and vitamins and has a sugar and starch content of less than 10%. Triple Crown Safe Starch forage can be fed as the sole feed source for the horse. The recommended feeding rate is 1.0% to 1.5% of body weight per day.
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Choosing Hay When the Weather Hurt the Harvest

Written by Sue Stuska, Ed.D.

Your horse needs it. It is a valuable source of nutrients and provides the roughage his digestive system needs. But all hay is not created equal. Drought can severely limit your selection and drive up the price. What choices are healthy ones for your horse? How can you critique hay to get the best hay for your money?

Hay as Primary Feed

Most horses’ diet needs can be met primarily with pasture or hay. Mature horses in light work may not need grain; they can usually get all the nutrients they need from good hay, salt and water. This assumes that your pasture is producing high-quality forage or that you can grow or purchase good-quality, nutritious hay.

Don’t mistake the greenery or dried plants (in winter or drought) of your pasture for feed. Walk around in the field and look to see what percentage of these plants is edible. Weeds grow more easily than desirable plants, particularly when the weather is not ideal. Some weeds are toxic, and while horses generally won’t eat these if there is something better to eat, you don’t want him hungry enough to try them. You may need to feed hay other than during the winter.

Hay alternatives like chopped hay products and hay cubes may be more nutritious than the hay you can purchase. They can be expensive. Even if you choose to feed them, your horse still needs the roughage equivalent of some long-stemmed hay each day.

Providing roughage twice a day is considered by many to be the minimum. We want the horse to have something to chew on for as much of the day as our schedules allow.


The horse’s digestive tract is designed to process relatively low-energy and low-protein forage around the clock. Wild horses spend a great deal of time eating, and they choose their forage carefully from what is available. When we take over the responsibility of feeding, we must provide roughage that will keep the horse’s digestive tract working. Without adequate roughage, digestive disturbances like colic can develop, plus your horse will be more likely to chew on other items—like the wooden fence or the barn.

Providing roughage twice a day is considered by many to be the minimum. We want the horse to have something to chew on for as much of the day as our schedules allow. If you care for your horse at home, throw him a flake of hay when you check on him last thing at night. If you share duties, arrange to have one person feed hay in the morning and the other in the evening. If the only hay available is low in nutrients, it is still important. We can make up nutrient requirements with other feeds.

Diet Changes

Make any diet change—for example, between hay types—as gradual as possible. This allows the gut bacteria to adjust and minimizes digestive upset. When possible, plan ahead so you still have some of the old hay left when you purchase the new. If you have to shop around and use different sources (whose hay is different), or if you run out between loads because of availability, start with smaller amounts for the first few feedings to let your horse get used to it gradually.

Hay Types

The two main types of hay fed to horses are grass and legume. Examples of common grasses are timothy and Bermuda; common legumes are alfalfa and clover. Grass hay is generally lower in protein and other nutrients than legume hay. Horses don’t necessarily need legume hay, but the legumes in a grass-legume mix can provide valuable protein. If you usually feed a legume like alfalfa but can’t get it, a grass-legume mix (like timothy with some clover) can be fed along with a protein supplement. Even plain grass hay can be supplemented to total the protein your horse used to get from alfalfa.

Cereal grain hay is also occasionally available. This is the grain (like wheat) when it’s still on the stalk. Mostly, however, the grains are harvested for human use and the remaining roughage is sold as straw.

While straw is usually considered horse bedding rather than feed, many horses will eat it. In times of serious drought, when suitable hay is not available, straw can provide roughage as long as it fits the other good hay criteria (no dust, mold, weeds, etc.).

Alfalfa leaves, lower right, remain intact, retaining the nutrients.


Hay color can show hay nutrient content, though it’s not an absolute indicator. The loss of nutrients is somewhat linked to the loss of the desirable green color. Bright green is best; green is desirable over yellow or brown. If you are feeding hay for its roughage content, and recognize the horse’s need for additional nutrients, feeding brown hay is acceptable.


Choose soft, pliable stems and leaves over coarse and brittle ones.


Good hay has a fresh, sweet, pleasant scent recognized by horsemen everywhere. Avoid musty-smelling hay.

Leaves and Stems

The more leaves the better, relative to stems, because the leaves hold the majority of the nutrients in the plant. If you are feeding hay for its roughage value, stemmy hay is OK as long as your horse will eat it. Fine stems are preferable to coarse ones because they are generally more palatable and nutritious, but there is nothing harmful in coarse stems if that is what is available.

Desirable percent of long slender grass leaves, and fine stems.


Whatever you choose, your horse has to eat it. If he wastes 90 percent of it by trampling it around his paddock, you’re not getting your money’s worth. If you have a choosy horse, he may refuse to eat the new, less tasty, hay. As long as you’ve chosen healthy hay (some horses won’t touch dusty or moldy hay, either), persist in offering him small quantities of the new hay until he eats it.

Whenever your best choice is less palatable hay, feed more than your horse will clean up. Your horse will pick through the hay; while this appears wasteful, it allows him to avoid the occasional weed or a patch that doesn’t smell as fresh. Consider this as insurance against his eating something he shouldn’t.

Stage of Maturity

The average stage of maturity of the plants at harvest is perhaps the most important factor in the nutrition available to the horse. Ideally, hay is cut just as grass heads begin to show and just prior to legumes blooming. This maximizes nutritional content. While preferable, this is not always possible. Dry weather influences the maturation process. There is nothing wrong with hay cut at earlier or later stages, as long as we recognize that it is less nutritious. It is still valuable as roughage and contributes to the total nutrition.

Harvest Weather and Handling

Rain falling on cut-but-not-yet-baled hay leaches out nutrients. Heavy dew causes haymakers to turn the hay additional times before it is dry enough to bale. Drought gives us dry, possibly immature, plants. When leaves are broken and lost during harvest, so is nutrition.

Hay put up too wet will probably mold—usually early in storage. Moisture content that allows the stems to bend crisply, but not crack and break, is ideal (this is 10—15 percent moisture content).

If your only choice is hay harvested a little too wet, store it with as much air circulation as possible around the bales, feed it as soon as possible, and check carefully for mold every time you feed.

The “Cutting”

Horsemen and hay dealers often generalize that hay from the “first cutting”—the first harvest of the summer—is better than second (or third) cutting hay. Some parts of the country don’t get more than one cutting. In times of drought, the number of harvests decreases. (This is the main reason that the price increases.)

It is best to look at the hay itself, rather than rely on the knowledge of which cutting it was. While the first cutting of the year is often more nutritious, it may have more weeds, or may have gotten rained on during harvest; both decrease its value.


If hay is stored well—dry and out of the weather, and where access by rodents is restricted—it will likely lose color and nutrients with age but is still healthy feed. If the hay gets wet during storage, moldy areas will appear—so sort through each bale as you feed. Last year’s hay can still be a good source of roughage if it was stored well.

Avoid Dust, Mold, Weeds and Trash

Do not accept dusty hay. Dust causes respiratory irritation, which can be followed by a bacterial infection, and it may promote allergy development. White dust is usually fungal spores from mold.

When water is available, slightly dusty (from leaf breakdown during handling, not from mold) hay can be used after soaking each portion for a few hours in a clean muck bucket or plastic trash can until thoroughly damp. The soaking container must be dumped and cleaned between uses or any remaining hay will mold. Spraying the hay with a hose is not effective in penetrating down to the dust.

Absolutely do not feed moldy hay. Exposure to hay molds can cause lifetime respiratory disease like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, also called heaves). Hay molds may also contain toxins. Identify mold by its pungent odor and the tendency of hay to pack together rather than separate easily into flakes. White mold and dusty spores may or may not be visible. Try to trade moldy hay to a cattle rancher or dairy herder, since cattle can eat hay which horses cannot.

Some weeds are a nuisance; others are toxic. Good hay contains a minimum of weeds. The more roughage you provide (within reason), the more picky your horse can be; he should avoid most weeds.

Foreign material like trash is to be avoided. If you know the grower and the hay fields, you may be able to predict that trash won’t be included. Regardless, trash sometimes gets baled with hay, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for it while feeding.

Roughage is vital. Hay is the best way to provide roughage if you can obtain and afford it. Low-nutrient roughages can be used. Choose carefully to keep your horse healthy.

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.9


Types of Hay

There are a wide variety of different hay types – each with its own benefits (a few even have drawbacks) for your animals. Always consult your vet or an equine nutritionist before you decide which hays to feed your horse, as their results can vary widely from breed to breed.


A palitable hay that horses like the taste of, this is the hay often used to make cubes & pellets. Alfalfa is easy to digest & high in protein, energy, vitamins & minerals. It is also produced & sold in every state of the US.


Has been thought to cause impaction in horses when low in quality, so buyer should be very aware of the product they are purchasing. This is a good flavored hay & generally animals like the taste of it.


When dried, clover hay doesn’t preserve the green color & becomes dry looking. This is normal. Clover is often mixed with grass hay & comes in red, white, crimson, alsike & landino. *Be aware when you feed clover hay that if it becomes damp, the mold can make horses very sick.


Oat hay has thicker, tougher stalks than the other options available (which some horses won’t eat). It is a hardy hay & seems to take a while for them to eat. Can be higher in sugar – not a good option for insulin resisting animals.

Orchard grass

Orchard grass hay is not as sensitive to time of cutting with regards to end-stage nutrient content. While it is not as nutrient rich as alfalfa hay, it has good flavor & is high in fiber.

Tall Fescue

Fescue – both in pasture & hay form – can be damaging to pregnancy in mares. This is a long, soft hay which also yellows as it dries.


Timothy hay is easier on the digestive system than some of the others, it is high in fiber & low in calcium content. Timothy has a tendency to be more expensive, but high in nutrients for aged animals, lactating mares & growing young.


Study: Horse Hoof Problem Prevalence High

Out of nearly 1,000 randomly chosen horses, 85% had at least one hoof disorder visible during a regular farrier visit.

By Christa Leste-Lasserre, MA Photo: Erica Larson

If your horse suffers from a foot disorder, he’s far from being alone. A recent epidemiological study from the Netherlands has revealed an unexpectedly high rate of mild foot disorders in a representative average horse population.

Out of nearly 1,000 randomly chosen horses, 85% had at least one hoof disorder visible during a regular farrier visit, said Menno Holzhauer, PhD, of GD Animal Health in Deventer.

Farriers and researchers identified multiple hoof issues, including:

  • Thrush (45.0%);
  • Superficial hoof wall cracks (30.4%);
  • Growth rings (26.3%);
  • Sole bruises (24.7%);
  • White line disease (17.8%);
  • Perforating hoof wall cracks (16.4%)
  • White line widening (11.8%);
  • Horizontal hoof cracks (5.2%);
  • Chronic laminitis (3.6%);
  • Quarter cracks (2.7%);
  • Keratoma (1.8%); and
  • Frog canker (1.0%).

“This was really higher than expected, and it’s important to diagnose and treat these disorders at an early stage because they interfere with animal welfare and cause lost days of performance in these horses,” Holzhauer said. “Individual farms should compare the prevalence of hoof disorders in their farms with the general prevalence. And, they should learn about risk factors so as to reduce them, thereby striving for maximal soundness and comfort of these horses in relationship to the hoof disorders found.”

In their study, Holzhauer and his fellow researchers asked 21 farriers across the Netherlands to record their impressions of the feet of the horses they saw. The farriers randomly chose one horse from each farm to examine during their regularly scheduled visits. The horses they treated were riding and driving horses, representing a variety of disciplines and levels. They averaged 11 years old.

Although 85% of the horses had at least one foot disorder, most of the disorders were mild, Holzhauer said, and the horses appeared healthy with no obvious lameness. About a quarter of the horses had two disorders.

Most scientific studies on hoof disorders focus on a single horse or a single disorder, he added. So having a study that looks at multiple disorders from a global, population-wide perspective is helpful in understanding how challenging these conditions are, Holzhauer said.

Many hoof disease risk factors appeared to be related to different external farm conditions, he added. For example, horses that spent more time indoors were more likely to have thrush. Horses whose hooves were picked out only once a week had more hoof cracks. And the bedding material increased some risks and reduced others. Other factors include soil type, discipline, age, hoof color, and trimming intervals, but, overall, each condition seemed to have multiple factors, he said.

“Both farriers and veterinarians should advise owners based on the presence and their knowledge of proven risk factors on the farm and give a follow-up after adaptations made by the farmer/owner during the next farm visit,” Holzhauer said.

“Some problems can’t be solved in one trim,” he added. “They can take a lot of time. But we noticed that some farriers don’t make a big issue of mild problems when they see the horses often, for example, with thrush. But reducing the risk through management changes could prevent these problems in a lot of cases.”

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