Bad hay is more than unappetizing for your horse. Moldy, dusty or spoiled roughage can trigger respiratory allergies or colic in horses. Buying your hay from a reputable supplier reduces your chances of getting an unacceptable lot, but an occasional bad bale can slip into any shipment.
To screen out potentially harmful hay, give each bale you feed the following five tests. Failing any one means the bale is moldy or otherwise spoiled and needs to go straight to the compost heap.
The bounce test: Drop the bale from waist level or higher. Acceptable hay has some spring and bounces when it hits the ground.
The bend test: Pick up the bale by the twine. A good bale has some flexibility and sags a bit when you lift it. The degree of sag depends upon how tightly pressed the hay was during baling.
The "poof" test: When you release the twine, good-quality hay "poofs" out and expands because of its springiness.
The color test: Any shade of green is a hallmark of good hay. Yellow or brown hay is sunburned and, while generally safe, probably has lost some nutrients along with the color change. Gray or black coloring is grounds for immediate rejection.
The sniff test: Take a close-up whiff. Good hay smells sweet and grassy, without the slightest hint of breath-catching mold or dust.
This article originally appeared in the March 2000 issue of EQUUS magazine. To find out how to find the best forage for your horses, read "Buy Hay with Confidence" in the August 2005 issue of EQUUS magazine.