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  • Q:

    On a recent hay-buying trip with a friend, we found some clean, though mature, grass hay at a great price. The hay contained a fair amount of timothy, which was well headed out. I was just getting ready to purchase the hay when my friend pulled me aside and said, “You’ve heard the adage, ‘When you see the head, the quality is dead,” right?” I own two retired Standardbred geldings, Grover and Cleveland, both easy keepers and equally lethargic, and I think the hay would have been fine for them. Your thoughts?

  • A:

    I hope the hay producer still has some of the grass hay available by the time you receive this response. In all seriousness, based on the information you provided about the hay and your geldings, I believe the forage would have served your purpose well.

    I understand where your friend was coming from when she shared that old expression with you. As you are aware, timothy that has well-formed seed heads is more mature, and thus potentially less nutritious, than timothy hay with early heading.

    Hay selection depends on two important criteria, quality of the forage and suitability of the forage for a specific horse. Quality refers to plant type, purity, and cleanliness, meaning the hay contains no mold or dust. All horses deserve good-quality hay. Suitability refers to the ideal type of hay required to meet energy and nutrient demands for a specific horse.

    For your geldings, which you describe as mature, low-energy, and retired, a suitable hay may be the mature grass hay you described above, as it will have less energy than earlier-maturing varieties.  Because more late-maturity hay must be eaten to meet energy needs, you will promote gastrointestinal motility (the actual act of ingesta through each compartment of the tract), which optimizes the health of the digestive system. The longer you can stretch forage consumption, the better it is for your horses. As a point of comparison, mature timothy hay would likely not be suitable for a hard-keeping mare nursing a two-month-old foal. She would probably fare better with a more calorie-dense forage.

    All horses on hay-only diets should be supplemented with an appropriate vitamin and mineral product, which will support overall health and well-being. Many of the nutrients in growing plants become lost once harvested and stored as hay. Two examples of this are vitamin A and vitamin E. A well-formulated supplement like Micro-Max will make up for nutritional shortchanges found in hay.

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