Horse hay cubes are actually made of horse hay that's been cut into small pieces then compressed. Anything added, such as molasses or oil, will appear on the label. Some people are afraid if they use horse hay cubes they won't be able to see what's in them, but horse hay cubes aren't like pellets. The horse hay isn't finely ground like it is for pellets, it's only cut/chopped so you see what's in there.
Evaluate the quality of horse hay cubes in much the same way you do hays. They should have a nice green color and a fresh, appealing aroma. Some horse hay cubes are harder and more densely packed than others, so you may need to check the products of different manufacturers to find one your horse accepts well.
The cubes manufacturers will also be able to provide you with average analysis figures on their cubes, information like protein, digestible energy (calories) and important minerals.
Incorporating Cubes Into Your Horse's Diet
When substituting cubes for hay, start by feeding 75 to 80% as much cubes as you were hay, by weight. Adjust up or down depending on the horse's body condition. As with any feed change, make the substitution gradually. Use cubes to replace part of all of a poor-quality hay, or to stretch a limited supply of good hay.
Cubes are much simpler to use away from home, but if you plan to do this, make sure the horse has been getting at least 25% of his forage ration as cubes before you leave, to avoid digestive upset.
Check out www.thehayexchange.com for more information on cubed hay.
Hay cubes have advantages:
• Nutritional value: Quality cubes are made from hays cut at their peak feeding value.
• Hypoallergenic: Cubes are much lower in dust and mold spores than baled hays.
• Shelf life: Because of their low moisture content, low mold content and that they're bagged, cubes hold nutritional value longer.
• Storage: Cubes take up much less space than baled hay and are easier to travel with.
• Chewing problems: Horses that can't effectively chew long-stem hay may do just fine with cubes, and cubes can easily be soaked to a mash for horses that have trouble with them dry.
• Digestibility: For hays to be effectively fermented by the organisms in the hind gut, they have to be present in short pieces, which provide more surface area for the organisms to "attack." Starting with the short pieces already in the cubes gives you a jump start on digestibility. Cubes may also be lower in nondigestible fibers.
• Less waste: Horses fed loose hay free choice will waste anywhere from 10 to 25% of it under foot.
• Consistency: The bag-to-bag consistency of hay cubes are usually superior to load-to-load consistency from a hay dealer. This is because hay appropriate for cubing is usually cut at the same growth stage each time, and manufacturers either maintain their own fields or buy from the same sources. This can be important for horses prone to gut upset with diet changes.
• Expense: Baled hays typically cost about half as much as cubes, unless there's an area hay shortage.
• Chew time: Some horses become bored when fed only cubes and will take to wood chewing to amuse themselves. To minimize this in these problem horses, provide some hay between cube feedings. Even if the horse can't chew well, he'll keep himself occupied trying to do so.
• Choke: Choke is usually more of a problem with pelleted hays, which can be bolted down with next to no chewing at all.
Older horses that don't chew thoroughly, aren't producing a normal amount of saliva, or have swallowing problems or abnormal motility in their esophagus could have problems with cubes but would also have problems with loose hay. Soaking the forage is a good idea for any horse with a history of choke, whether feeding cubes or loose hay.