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Answer Exchange

  • Q:

    I have the chance to purchase some mature tall fescue hay for a reasonable price. Though I’ve only seen photographs, it looks greenish-brown, and the producer assures me there is no dust or other contaminants. Would this be acceptable forage for a broodmare, from late pregnancy through weaning of the foal?

  • A:

    Although hay made from tall fescue can be fed to many classes of horses, avoid offering it to broodmares. Certain varieties of tall fescue may be infected with a fungus that can cause reproductive problems for mares, including prolonged gestation (some mares have carried foals for well past a year), difficult births, weak foals, and little or no milk production.

    Even though the seller offered sharply focused, close-up photographs of the hay for your consideration, unlike mold, there is no way to know if fescue is infected with the fungus because it is hidden within the internal structures of the plant.

    To help ensure the health of your mare and her foal, choose a different hay that meets all the criteria for quality. In your original question, you mentioned the color of the hay. Certainly, color is one determinant of hay quality, but others include smell, texture and, most importantly, nutrient content, which can be ascertained through forage analysis. High-volume, reputable hay dealers will often have their hay tested so they understand fully the product they’re selling.

    In the same vein, use caution in choosing a bedding for pregnant mares. On certain farms, old or unpalatable grass hay is often used as bedding. Usually, this hay is not dusty or in any way dangerous for the mares or their foals, but it’s not choice forage from a nutritional perspective. If the hay is fescue and a ravenous mare decides to devour her bedding, problems could ensue.

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