Hay Analyses: Imperative To Understanding Quality Of Equine Diets

In most cases, the majority of a horse’s diet should consist of forage, such as hay. A hay analysis can help you determine if your horse is on a well-balanced diet and can also be useful when managing horses diagnosed with nutrition-related disorders. When reading a hay analysis, values will be reported “as sampled” and “dry matter.” Dry matter values allow for direct comparisons between nutrients and simplifies balancing rations.

  • Moisture should ideally be between 10 to 15 percent. Hay with less than 10 percent moisture may be too dry and brittle. Whereas hays over 16 percent moisture (without a preservative) are at risk of molding. Hay greater than 25 percent moisture is at risk of severe heat damage and potential fire hazard.
  • Equine Digestible Energy (DE) measures the digestible energy in the hay and can help you balance the energy part of your horse’s diet. Hay tends to range between 0.76 to 1.1 Mcal of DE per pound. A horse in light work needs about 20 Mcals of DE each day. Make sure to request equine DE when having horse hay analyzed.
  • Crude Protein (CP) measures the protein content in hay. Most idle, adult horses need about 10 to 12 percent CP. Crude protein content varies with hay type and ranges from
    8 to 14 percent in grass hays
    14 to 17 percent in legume-grass mix hays
    15 to over 20 percent in legume hays
  • Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) measures the cellulose and lignin content and indicates how digestible the nutrients are in the hay. Hays with ADF values of 30 to 35 percent are readily digested, while those above 45 percent are less digestible and could be appropriate for feeding horses with lower energy needs (e.g., horses at maintenance).
  • Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) measures insoluble fiber and is often an indicator of palatability. Neutral detergent fiber levels between 40 and 50 percent represent hays that will be highly palatable, while those above 65 percent will likely not be readily consumed by most horses. However high NDF hays can be used as “busy hays.”
  • Nonstructural Carbohydrates (NSC) is an analysis of starches and sugars in the hay, which is often estimated by combining starch and water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) contents. The NSC level can help owners select hay for horses sensitive to starches and sugars (e.g., horses diagnosed with equine metabolic syndrome, laminitis, or polysaccharide storage myopathy). Hay with NSC greater than 10 to 12 percent should not be fed to sensitive horses.
  • Calcium (Ca) and Phosphorus (P) are macrominerals required in the diet by all horses in specific amounts. The levels of these minerals can vary among different types of hay. For example, legume hays have high Ca levels relative to P. For the adult, idle horse, the Ca:P ratio should be between 3:1 to 1:1.

Click here for more information on interpreting a horse hay analysis.

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