Cutting For Sweet Hay

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Have you had your horses turn up their noses at a load of hay that seemed exactly the same as the one before it, maybe even coming from the same fields' The reason may be the time of day it was cut.

Research at the USDA Northwest Agricultural Research Station unequivocally shows that all grazing animals prefer hays from cuttings done late in the day. The reason for this is that the plants accumulate sugars during the day, which they draw upon at night when there is no sun for photosynthesis.

Different types of grasses accumulate sugars in different amounts as well. In another series of experiments that were testing for preferences between different strains of the same hay (fescue), the animals again showed a clear preference for the higher-sugar varieties.

The studies also showed a big jump in sugar content of the grasses/hays late in the growing season. Early morning is the time of lowest sugar level, but in September the plants had morning sugar levels even higher than the afternoon readings just a month before. The late-day sugar levels in September were the highest.

This is useful information if you have a horse that’s picky about hay, but it’s even more important if you have one with chronic, diet-related laminitis problems where avoiding the high-sugar hays and grazing on high-sugar grasses is important.

What About Hay Analysis'
Many of us groan when we’re told to get our hay analyzed, and few of us actually do it. However, even with information such as the sugar variation depending on cutting time, hay analysis remains the only way to really know your horse’s energy, protein and minerals consumption.

National Research Council figures will do in a pinch, but they’re based on small sample sizes, and many hays bear little resemblance to them.

If you buy your hay in quantity only a few times a year, it’s worth the $20 to $30 so that you can match your needs to a correct supplement. Contact your feed store, Cooperative Extension, or even feed manufacturers for the names of companies that do hay analysis in your area.

Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Hay Facts.”