Choosing the right kind of hay for your horse is an important factor in their diet. With grazing making up such a large part of their lifestyle both out in the field and when indoors in their stable rugs, understanding the different types of forage and choosing the best type for your horse’s individual needs can go a long way. We’ve pulled together some of the most popular types of hay so you can understand the differences and establish the best route for your horse’s needs.
Being one of the favourite legume hays, clover hay is available in different formats and has a high protein and calcium content. Being great for more active horses who require a larger calorie intake, such as working horses or growing horses, clover hay tends to prevent the need for additional supplements. It is common for clover hay to lead to more saliva being produced but this is not harmful to your horse.
Also a legume hay, alfalfa provides additional protein, energy, calcium and vitamins in comparison to traditional hay. Alfalfa is incredibly palatable to horses and will lead to a higher consumption if they have the choice, so keeping an eye on intake is recommended to prevent overeating. Many horse owners combine alfalfa hay with traditional hay to keep costs lower and maintain a balance.
Growing between two to three feet tall in height among grasses, birdsfoot trefoil is great for digestion. This is ideal for horses who may struggle with their digestive system, such as older horses, as it provides the nutrients with less need for grazing. This is not always a good thing for other horses as they will not require as much forage and therefore will be less occupied throughout the day.
Being a type of hay derived from grass, it is one of the most popular kinds of horse hay. For best results, timothy hay needs to be harvested in the early stages of blooming before the quality begins to decrease and the levels of nutrients lessen. Depending on availability, sometimes timothy hay needs to be shipped which can make it a more expensive option.
Choosing the best hay for your horse
Even if you like the sound of a particular type of hay, there are various practicalities that need to be taken into account. The seasonality can affect availability so ensure that you will be able to purchase the hay all year round to maintain a sufficient stock. Storage conditions also matter; most hays need to be kept dry so having the appropriate storage facilities will ensure it does not grow mould or deteriorate before its time. Some hay bales are available very compacted so you can store more with ease, but once opened, the contents need to be used within a few days to prevent it from getting old so this will be suitable for horse owners with multiple horses to get good value for money.