University of Minnesota Extension
www.extension.umn.edu
612-624-1222
Menu Menu

Extension > Horse Extension - Ask an Expert > April 2013

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 www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id164/id164.pdf

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



  • © Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy