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Monday, June 2, 2014

Hay Soaking

Hay soaking should only be done if the horse has been diagnosed with laminitis, EMS, PSSM, and/or HYPP, and a hay analysis indicates specific nutrients are in excess of recommendations.

Questions: Should I always be soaking my horse's hay, or is this something reserved for horses with respiratory problems or other health conditions such as laminitis?

Answer: Soaking hay in water is a common strategy used to manage horses diagnosed with laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM), and hyperkalemic and periodic paralysis (HYPP). Soaking hay should not be done, and is not necessary, for healthy horses because essential nutrient are leached during the hay soaking process.

Hay is soaked for horses diagnosed with PSSM, EMS and laminitis to remove some of the nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) from the forage; NSC are water soluble. Horses diagnosed with PSSM should have an overall diet of ≤10% NSC, and horses diagnosed with EMS and/or laminitis should have an overall diet of ≤ 12% NSC. Although forage is the major component of a horses diet, when feeding horses diagnosed with these diseases, make sure to account for NSC content in any grain, supplements, and treats the horse is also receiving.

Before soaking hay, it is critical to have the hay tested for nutritive value. Legumes (i.e. alfalfa) tend to be lower in NSC compared to cool-season grasses (i.e. timothy), and hays containing legumes may not need to be soaked. Soaking most grass hays for 15 to 30 minutes will remove enough NSC for horses diagnosed with PSSM, EMS, and/or laminitis. However, testing forage both before and after soaking is necessary to ensure recommended levels of NSC are being met. Soaking forage for greater than 60 minutes is rarely necessary and may actually be detrimental due to excessive leaching of essential nutrients and loss of dry matter.

For horses diagnosed with HYPP, soaking hay is water is necessary to leach potassium (K), which is water soluble. Unfortunately, legumes and cool-season grasses tend to be very high in K and often exceed the recommended 1.1% maximum over-all diet for horses diagnosed with HYPP. For horses with HYPP, soaking hay for 60 minutes is often necessary. If soaking hay for 60 minutes does not achieve the recommended amounts, owners may need to consider feeding a complete feed that formulated for horses diagnosed with HYPP.

For horses diagnosed with respiratory disease, including heaves, thoroughly wetting the hay is sufficient. Wetting the hay is different from hay soaking. The goal of wetting hay is to weigh down mold and dust particles so they are not inhaled. Horses diagnosed with respiratory problems do not have nutrient restrictions (unless they have a secondary diagnosis), and therefore, hay soaking is not necessary. Wetting the hay will have a minimal impact on leaching of essential nutrients.

Bottom line, hay soaking should only be done if the horse has been diagnosed with laminitis, EMS, PSSM, and/or HYPP, and a hay analysis indicates specific nutrients are in excess of recommendations. Thoroughly wetting the hay is necessary for horses diagnosed with respiratory disease. Soaking hay in water is not necessary for healthy horses.

For more information on hay soaking, visit

By: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Monday, March 24, 2014

What is certified hay and how do you raise it?

Question: What is certified hay and how do you raise it?

Response: The invasion of noxious weeds causes substantial economic loss and ecological damage. Common sources for the introduction and spread of weed seed include the transportation and utilization of contaminated forages.

In Minnesota, the state agency in charge of certified hay is the MN Crop Improvement Association (MCIA). The Noxious Weed Seed Free Forage certification program is designed to assure that forage (hay, cubes and pellets) meets minimum standards designed to limit the spread of noxious weeds. Most public lands in the western U.S. require that hay transported into these areas be certified noxious weed free.

To grow Noxious Weed Seed Free Forage, famers must first submit an application for membership to MCIA and apply for field inspection stating the location of the field and expected harvest date. MCIA then inspects the field and intended storage site to determine conformance to standards for freedom from noxious and undesirable weeds. The farmer then harvests the eligible crop and submits a tag request for the bales harvested. Certification labels are then issued by MCIA for eligible bales. The labels must be attached to each bale prior to delivery.

The MCIA website has additional information at, or they can be contacted by phone at 1-800-510-MCIA.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How many small square-bales are in a round-bale?

It depends on the weight of both the large and small-square bales. For example, if the round-bale weighs 1,000 pounds, then 20 50-pound small-square bales would be equivalent to 1 round-bale. If the large round-bale weighs 1,200 pounds and the small-square bales weigh 40 pounds, then 30 small-square bales would be equivalent to 1 round-bale. It important to know the weight of hay bales both for feeding and economic efficiencies.

By: Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Where it is illegal to bury a chemically euthanized horse and why?

Legal options for horse carcass disposal in Minnesota include burial, composting, cremation, rendering, fur farm use and pet food. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Pollution Control Agency (PCA), and Board of Animal Health (BAH) regulate carcass disposal. Burial can be the most cost effective way of disposing of a carcass (if you own equipment to prepare the site), but may not be an available option in all areas of the state. The BAH states that the carcass must be five feet above the high water level, covered with three feet of soil, and not in soils that are within 10 feet of bedrock. If your burial site meets these requirements, then burial of a chemically euthanized horse is a legal option. These regulations are in place to prevent contamination of groundwater and to prevent exposure of the carcass to burrowing, digging, or scavenging animals, especially birds like bald eagles.

In some areas of the state (because of high water tables and the abundance of bedrock) it is not possible to meet the BAH criteria listed above. Therefore, in these areas of the state, burial of any equine carcass is not a legal option.

By: Krishona Martinson, PhD, Univ. of Minn.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Buying Hay

Question: What questions should I ask when buying horse hay?

Answer: Here are some questions horse owners should ask when purchasing hay:

1. Have you sold to horse owners before or do you specialize in horse hay?

2. What is the average weight of the bales? This is very important if buying hay by the bale.

3. What crop/cutting is the hay? Helps indicate maturity; good to know.

4. What species are present in the hay? Legumes and grasses have different nutrient values.

5. Where was the hay harvested? Rule out ditch hay.

6. Was the hay rained on? Rained on hay is a good choice for horses with metabolic problems; it tends to be lower in water soluble carbohydrates.

7. Was the hay stored inside or under cover after baling? Hay stored inside or under cover has less storage loss.

8. Was the hay field fertilized and/or sprayed for weeds? Show good management and likely a better quality product.

9. What are the payment options?

10. Is delivery available and if so, what is the cost?

11. What is the price? Is there a price break for volume or cash?

12. Is assistance available with onsite handling and stacking of hay, and if so, at what cost?

13. How much hay do you have/bale each year? Helps ensure a consistent supply of hay.

Author: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Monday, April 1, 2013

Mud Management in Horse Pens

Question: I recently built three 14' x 65' drylots for my horses. The soil in my area is heavy, mucky clay. What do you recommend using as footing to ensure proper drainage and as little mud as possible?

Response: Unfortunately, with heavy clay soil, drainage and mud is going to be a continued problem unless the drylot is renovated. The below system, called a high traffic pad, has proven to work (tested at the Universities of Kentucky and Vermont) and will dramatically decrease mud problems in drylots. To install a high traffic pad:

  • Remove the 8" of top soil 
  • Install drainpipe to direct water out of the pen. The pipe must be sloped towards an outlet. 
  • Roll out geotextile fabric. The fabric comes in large rolls. 
  • Add 4" of crushed limestone (usually 1 ½ to 1 ¾ in diameter).
  • Add second layer of geotextile fabric.
  • Add 4" of dirty pea stone (small gravel)
  • Refresh the top layer as needed; usually once every year or two. 

The estimated cost for installing a high traffic pad is about $0.80 per square foot. In one of your 14' x 65' drylots, the cost to renovate the entire paddock will cost just under $800. To lessen the investment, renovate one drylot per year.

The University of Kentucky has a factsheet further outlining the process. It is available online at

By: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Feeding Timothy Hay

Question: I heard the best time to harvest horse quality timothy hay is in the bolt phase (right before heading). The farmer has been trying to sell me hay with timothy heads; the hay is very coarse and has few leaves. Is it worth waiting until second cutting hay?

Answer: Unlike many other cool-season grasses (i.e. orchardgrass, bluegrass, fescue), timothy sends up seed heads after each cutting. Most other grasses will only send up seed heads once in spring, and once cut will remain vegetative with no seed heads. For example, it's common for first crop orchardgrass to include seeds heads, while subsequent cuttings will not. So, it is rare to find timothy hay without seed heads. More mature grasses will be lower in quality since maturity at the time of cutting dictates forage quality.

If you are concerned about the quality and coarseness of the hay, select a mixed cool-season grass hay as most cool-season grasses will remain vegetative after first cutting.

However, to lessen the chance of weather (i.e. too much or not enough rain) affecting your ability to secure hay, it is generally recommend to purchase 50% of your hay needs during first cutting and 50% during second cutting; assuming your hay supplier is operating on a two-cut system. If your hay supplier is operating on a three-cut system, purchase a third of your hay needs from each crop.

First cutting will likely be more mature (because of rapid growth in the spring) and less calorically dense compared to subsequent cuttings; however, use that to your advantage. Feed first cutting hay to maintenance horses or ponies and keep the better quality, later cut hay for horses in an exercise program or ones with greater caloric needs (i.e. growing horses, broodmares).

A forage analysis will provide the nutrient content of the hay; however, make sure to request an equine forage analysis.

By:  Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

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