What Makes For Good Horse Hay
Horse owners and hay producers don't always agree on
how to identify safe, good-quality horse hay. Here is a list of seven
key characteristics buyers should consider when evaluating horse hay.
Krishona Martinson and Paul Peterson, University of Minnesota extension
agronomists, spoke about these characteristics at recent Minnesota Horse
1) Mold/Moisture -- Buy hay baled between 15-17% moisture and it should
be free of mold. "With small square bales, you can sometimes get away
with baling at 18-20% moisture without spoilage," notes Peterson.
More-dense big square bales should be put up below 16% moisture for safe
storage. Hay baled above 25% moisture poses the threat of severe heat
damage or spoilage, mold growth, and/or hay fires. Hay put up at 20-25%
moisture and properly treated with organic acid preservatives can be fed
safely to horses. Horses, however, may require a short adaptation period
to readily consume this hay.
2) Maturity -- Don't equate seed heads with "good" hay. Seed heads just
indicate that the plants are mature, with thick stems, more fiber, less
protein and decreasing levels of digestible energy. Horses that aren't
working hard or lactating may be able to get by with a "stemmier" hay
containing more seed heads, Martinson and Peterson say. But hay with
more leaves and softer, smaller stems is better quality.
Consider grass hays that have been harvested when seed heads have just
begun to form. They have good fiber digestibility and more available
energy than more mature hay. Legume hay harvested at about the 10%
flower stage is usually a leafy hay with extra protein that horses will
convert into ammonia. Mature legumes make hay that does not exceed a
horse's protein level in most cases, but also tends to be very coarse,
according to Martinson and Peterson. Softer hay will be consumed more
readily, they explain. "If it feels rough to you, it will feel rough to
the horse," Peterson says.
3) Cut Or Crop -- Don't base nutritional value on when hay is cut, the
agronomists say. Maturity, followed by hay curing and storage, determine
what nutrients a hay holds. Because plants that grow under cooler
temperatures build more digestible fiber, first-crop hay may have more
digestible fiber than later cuttings -- but it is not a guarantee. First
cutting can often produce more coarse hay than later cuttings. But good
and bad horse hay can be produced in any cutting.
4) Grass Hay Vs Alfalfa -- Know how much digestible fiber and energy
your horses will need -- then find hay that will provide it. Alfalfa and
clover generally have higher protein content than grasses. So alfalfa
hay is a good protein source for young developing horses. But it may
have more protein than what other horses need. Fiber from grasses is
more digestible than from alfalfa and other legumes at the same maturity
stage, say Martinson and Peterson.
5) Smell -- Not all sweet-smelling hay is good, caution the experts.
Sometimes hay smells sweet because sugars within it carmelize, which
indicates mold presence. Horse owners should look closely at the hay to
make sure they aren't dealing with mold issues.
6) Color -- A green color is only a fair indicator of hay quality,
Peterson says. "Bleached color indicates exposure to sunlight or rain,
and can mean vitamin A has oxidized. But other essential nutrients are
usually present in bleached hay." When only bleached hay is available,
horse owners should have it tested.
7) Storage Considerations/Spoilage --Once you've bought it, keep stored
hay away from water and wild animals, which can contaminate it. Studies
have shown that up to 50% of a hay bale can be ruined when stored where
moisture can be wicked up into it from the ground. Round bales should
be dense and well-formed with twine or net wrap, and less than 18%
moisture to minimize storage loss potential.
Martinson and Peterson recommend that horse owners take representative
samples of every hay lot to a forage testing lab for an equine
nutritional analysis. Information about sampling and forage testing can
be found at www.foragetesting.org.
Contact Martinson at firstname.lastname@example.org and Peterson at email@example.com.
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Fuel Prices Strain Illinois Farm Budgets
Illinois farmers are paying, on average, 25% or $24,000
more to farm than they did in 2001. And it's all because of higher fuel,
fertilizer and pesticide costs. That's according to the Illinois Farm
Business Farm Management Association and University of Illinois
Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, Champaign/Urbana.
That figure was based on costs incurred by an average Illinois farmer
with a 1,000-acre farm.
Monitoring Alfalfa Quality
Alfalfa producers and dealers in northern Illinois can
still benefit from the Alfalfa Watch project, which helps monitor plant
quality, growth and first-cut timing, according to the University of
Illinois. The project estimates preharvest quality in the field using
the Predictive Equations of Alfalfa Quality (PEAQ) technique. PEAQ
predicts fiber and relative feed value (RFV) based on the height of the
tallest alfalfa stem and stage of maturity in a sampling area.
Alfalfa plant development and nutrient quality indicators are reported
twice weekly on the Illinois PEAQ Web site (peaq.traill.uiuc.edu), where
producers can calculate PEAQ, enter and track their own PEAQ values, and
view values by county and region in Illinois.
Because about 15 RFV units are lost during harvest, alfalfa needs to be
cut before or at 165-170 RFV to have harvested forage with 150 RFV. A
change of 3-5 points of RFV per day in the standing forage has been
noted, so adjustments need to be made for total harvesting time.
PEAQ is not designed to balance rations and does not account for quality
changes due to wilting, harvesting, or storage. It is most accurate for
good, healthy stands of pure alfalfa. Subsequent cuttings for high
quality can be made by either stage of maturity or harvest
Many alfalfa seed companies have PEAQ measuring sticks that indicate the
RFV of standing alfalfa based on the height and stage of maturity.
Lastly, producers need to balance the PEAQ technique with short-time
Source: University of Illinois.
Tips For Saving Time When Planting
Alfalfa producers can save time in several ways when
planting alfalfa in spring, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska
extension forage specialist. "Spring fieldwork for grain crops often
competes with the time needed for late alfalfa plantings," he explains.
He offered the following tips in the most recent issue of the Nebraska
Crop Watch newsletter.
- Use a floater or air seeder. Rather than preparing
seedbeds and drilling alfalfa seed, growers can save time by using
floaters or air seeders. They broadcast seed much faster than drills and
just two quick passes with a flat harrow or roller will incorporate it
into the soil. Disking, which can place the seed too deep, isn't
- No-till. No-till or low-till seeding into small grain, bean,
and even corn and sorghum stubble also can save time. If residue is
heavy, first shred or chop stalks so the drill can cut through them
easily. Also, if the field has much ridging from previous crop rows,
disk lightly to level ground. If weeds are already present, spray a
burndown herbicide like Roundup or Gramoxone before planting. Then
no-till seed and be ready to use a post-emergence herbicide like
Pursuit, Raptor, Poast, Select, or Buctril for early weeds.
- Seed in May. For best results, seed alfalfa by May 15 on
dryland fields or June 1 in irrigated fields.
Source: Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska Crop Watch
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Cowpea aphid densities declined in some Illinois fields
last week, says Dennis Epplin, crop systems educator, Mt. Vernon
Extension Center. Eplin attributed some of that reduction to rainfall.
Continue monitoring alfalfa for aphids and weevils in coming weeks.
Natural enemies and early harvest in many areas have been effective.
After first cutting, monitor alfalfa regrowth for insect injury, suggest
University of Illinois entomologists.
Don't let infrequent and large numbers of cowpea and pea aphids divert
attention from alfalfa weevils, cautions Kevin Steffey, University of
Illinois entomologist. Weevils have caused noticeable injury in some
fields in southern and central Illinois. Fortunately, weevil
infestations in most areas have not been very heavy, and spraying has
not been widespread. Growers may be able to cut before the weevils reach
economic thresholds. Consider insecticides only when weevil densities
exceed economic thresholds and the alfalfa is not mature enough to cut.
Alfalfa weevils are expected soon in northern Illinois, based on
degree-day indicators. First-instar alfalfa weevils should appear when
about 300 degree days have accumulated.
Alfalfa weevil pressure has increased in west-central fields. Cutworms
as well as an occasional "early instar" armyworm have been
Potato leafhoppers may show up in a few southern Illinois counties
within the next few weeks. In most years, potato leafhoppers' migration
becomes noticeable there by late May.
Source: University of Illinois.
Purdue University is advising producers to scout all
alfalfa fields for weevil feeding.
Although alfalfa weevils have been insignificant this
spring in Iowa, according to Iowa State University extension field crop
specialists, producers should continue to scout fields.
European skipper caterpillars, feeding on timothy hay,
were reported in Michigan's Upper Peninsula last week. First found in
Ontario in the early 1900s, this pest has spread across the northeastern
U.S. and Midwest, including into all of Michigan. Eggs overwinter and
hatch early in spring. Caterpillars feed on timothy and other grasses.
They strip leaves, or when populations are high, damage seed heads as
well. Caterpillars reach about ¾", then pupate. Adults emerge in
early July. The wings of adult skippers, often found feeding on flower
nectar, are burnt orange with black margins.
The only registered control of caterpillars in timothy is Dipel, a
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) pesticide, according to Michigan State
University entomologists. Small larvae are much more susceptible to Bt
than larger larvae, and good coverage is essential.
For a bulletin on skipper management, visit
For pictures of adults, visit
Source: Michigan State University
Pea aphids have been found in alfalfa in northeastern
Nebraska, and alfalfa weevils are beginning to hatch. Cowpea aphids have
not been seen, according to University of Nebraska reports.
Research trials conducted throughout the major alfalfa growing
regions of the U.S. prove the superior performance of Raptor®
herbicide: Controlling grasses and broadleaf weeds with Raptor in
both seedling and established alfalfa can have a significant effect
in improving the yield potential and forage quality of your
The chemical company.
Always read and follow label directions.
Raptor is a registered trademark of BASF. © 2005 BASF
All Rights Reserved.
APN 05-01-133-0010 b
"We're off to a crazy start in Kansas," reports Steve
Hessman, Kansas Department of Agriculture Hay Market News, Dodge City.
Early dry conditions, early aphid and weevil hatches and cool damp
weather have taken a toll on first-cutting hay. Although not early
enough for first cutting, "the eastern half of the state has had good
rains in the last two weeks, so it has a little promise for the future,"
Producers have been waiting out a cool, damp period before cutting. "We
aren't getting a lot of rain, but there has been a little drizzle and
hay won't dry out. There isn't much hay down yet, but producers are
trying," Hessman says. "In most cases, dryland hay looks like it needs
to be cut off so the second cutting can come back. It tried to bud early
and doesn't look like it is going to make a lot of growth. It looks like
we are going to be a little short on tonnage." Some irrigated hay looks
great, while other fields are average to below-average, he says.
Irrigated fields should produce a decent first cutting, but not a bumper
The season has started with strong prices. Grinders are bidding in the
$90/ton range for hay in parts of Kansas. "That is $30-35/ton higher
than it was a year ago," Hessman says. This winter, grinders ran out of
hay for the first time in the area. "They brought tons and tons in from
Nebraska, the Dakotas and Canada to help tide them through to the new
crop," Hessman says. "That is partly due to the drought south of us.
More cattle moved up here last fall and came up at lighter weights. They
were grown on high-roughage grower rations."
Kansans shipped large amounts of hay to drought-stricken Oklahoma and
Texas and into Arkansas and Louisiana. "Texas took a lot of hay through
the winter and is now getting by week to week," Hessman relates.
"They're getting a little rain in some areas and not doing as much
supplemental feeding right now. But if it doesn't keep raining, they
could wean early again this year and ship those cattle to feedyards
early, and that could have implications for the hay supply. I think
feedyards are going to use the hay as it is grown through the summer."
Low milk prices have slowed hay buys from dairies. "Dairy producers
don't have the money to come out and make big offers," Hessman says. "A
lot of our Kansas dairies contracted first-cutting haylage. We don't see
big tonnages of dry hay traded going into this first cutting. The offers
now are around $115/ton for 170- to 180-RFV (relative feed value) hay. I
haven't seen a lot of hay traded there because I think producers are
waiting to see how their first cuttings will turn out. Dairies are
waiting too -- to see if there is any chance of finding something
cheaper." He anticipates that dairies and feedlots will chop a lot of
corn silage for next fall to get through the winter. "One year ago we
had a big surplus of hay coming out of winter and into the summer of
2005, and this year we have shortages."
Northwestern Kansas and some western counties experienced a hard freeze
at the end of April. "There was probably some damage to the wheat, and
some to the hay, but I think the drought was the main source of damage
in those areas," Hessman says.
Pastures in the eastern Kansas Flint Hills were short on water early in
the season, but recent good rains mean normal grazing conditions. "We
need to keep those cattle on pasture there and grow them as big as we
can before we bring them to the feedyards," Hessman states. "Plus, it
should help baled hay production in the area." Brome production is
looking short because conditions were dry early when brome should have
been growing. Alfalfa production is looking a bit more positive.
Contact Hessman at 620-227-8881.
In southeastern Michigan, growers may be taking first
cuttings next week to get high-quality, feed-value hay, according to
Michigan State University (MSU) reports. Although producers haven't seen
alfalfa weevils, they're urged to scout fields and consider making first
cuttings partly based on weevil feeding. Weather conditions have been
near normal recently, compared to a much drier and warmer-than-normal
April. Much of southeastern Michigan did have up to about 1" of rain on
May 3. A 26-degree hard frost was reported on April 26 there.
Southwestern Michigan's alfalfa growth has been good despite frost on
April 26. Alfalfa weevils have been over threshold in a few fields, and
sweep net sampling in St. Joseph has revealed fairly high numbers of
very small larvae and adults. Mike Staton, Van Buren County extension
educator, reports that weevil levels have been highly variable in fields
near Paw Paw and Niles. Some fields were above threshold; others showed
no weevils or weevil damage. Timely cutting kills most larvae, pupae and
some adults. Area producers may want to cut early rather than spray so
natural enemies are preserved, MSU entomologists suggest. Look for
damage and larvae in five different field locations before first
cutting. After first cutting, check stubble or regrowth for larvae.
Economic thresholds are as follows: Before first cutting, treat when 40%
of stems are damaged and live larvae are present; after first cutting,
treat when 25% or more of new tips are damaged, or 6-8 larvae are found
per square foot of regrowth.
In west-central and central Michigan, alfalfa is at 8-10" with little
weevil injury. Yet producers should still scout for weevils. They have
been reported over threshold in southern counties. Newly planted
seedings have benefited from light rains over the past few weeks. New
growth looks good on established alfalfa stands in Michigan's Thumb
Washington hay producers are about two weeks behind
schedule, reports Jim Eckenberg of Eckenberg Farms, Inc., Mattawa. Some
hay is being cut now, and Eckenberg expects first cutting to really get
under way around May 15. Much of the state had an extremely cold and wet
winter. "There was some winterkill, but not too much," he says. "All in
all, we had a good winter and hay supplies cleaned up well." However,
Washington hay growers are nervous about low milk prices and what they
could mean for hay prices and demand. "Usually what happens when we get
into this type of scenario, is dairies start buying on a load-by-load
basis instead of buying their year's supply," Eckenberg states. "They
may tie up half of the supply they need and then play the rest on the
Ninety-five percent of the product Eckenberg handles is exported to the
Asian dairy market. "Roundup Ready alfalfa is making us very nervous,"
he says. "The Asian market wants nothing to do with it. We are afraid
once we have Roundup Ready alfalfa here we are going to have to test to
prove to export clients that our hay is not Roundup Ready. That adds
costs when fuel and everything else is going up. Take the cost of the
test and multiply it by 3,000 loads per year, and that is not pocket
change. We exporters are working with our grower clientele to emphasize
that we don't want Roundup Ready alfalfa planted in the area." Eckenberg
says exporters are working hard to assure customers in Japan and Asia
that they are not processing the transgenic crop. They are keeping
customers up-to-speed on how much is planted and where. "It would be
extremely devastating to the state of Washington if we lost our Asian
hay market," he states. "We are walking a real tight line out here.
Roundup Ready alfalfa may have government approval, but it doesn't
always have buyers' approval. In time, it may be more accepted."
Eckenberg says 500,000-600,000 tons of hay enter the export market from
Washington state each year. "Roughly 65% of the alfalfa that goes into
Asia comes from the Pacific Northwest," he explains. Eckenberg grows
3,000 acres of alfalfa and timothy hay, which amount to about 10% of the
hay his business exports annually. Contract growers produce the rest.
Eckenberg Farms exports 120,000-150,000 tons of alfalfa, timothy, grass
hay and straw each year. It produces compressed hay, hay cubes and a
variety of other forage products.
Vist the farm's Web site at: www.eckenbergfarms.com. Contact Eckenberg at
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**May 25 -- University of Florida Corn Silage and
Forage Field Day, Plant Science Unit, Citra. Contact Jerry Wasdin at
352-392-1120 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or
visit www.animal.ufl.edu. Under "Dairy Cattle," click on
"Corn Silage Field Day."
**June 14-15 -- Four-State Dairy Nutrition and Management
Conference, Grand River Center, Dubuque, IA. Call Dave Fischer,
618-692-9434 or Leo Timms, 515-294-4522.
**June 21 -- Intergenerational Transfer, New Swing 10 Parlor and
Freestall Tour and Intensive Grazing Pasture Walk, Chris and Angie Neis
Farm, 12433 Loran Road, Mt. Carroll, IL. Jim Morrison, University of
Illinois Extension, will discuss pasture species renovation and
fertility management. Contact Kevin Bernhardt, 608-342-1365 for more
**July 6-8 -- Missouri Dairy Grazing Conference, University of
Missouri Southwest Research Center, Mt. Vernon, MO. Learn more about the
conference and tours at agebb.missouri.edu/dairy/grazing/index.htm. Mail
registration to Missouri Dairy Grazing Conference, University of
Missouri Extension, 700 Main Street, Suite 4, Cassville, MO 65625 or
**Sept. 7-9 -- National Hay Association 111th Annual Convention,
Snow King Resort, Jackson Hole, WY. Call 800-707-0014 or visit www.nationalhay.org.
**Sept. 12 -- Kentucky Forage And Grassland Council Field Day,
Dobbs Shady Meadow Farm, Campbell County. Learn more at www.uky.edu/Ag/Forage.
**Oct. 3-7 -- World Dairy Expo, Alliant Energy Center, Madison,
WI. Learn more at www.worlddairyexpo.com.
**Nov. 21 -- Kentucky Grazing Conference, Fayette County
Extension Office, Lexington. Learn more at www.uky.edu/Ag/Forage.
**Dec. 11-13 -- Western Alfalfa & Forage Conference, Reno, NV.
For more information, contact Dan Putnam at 530-752-8982 or email@example.com, or Glenn
Shewmaker at 208-736-3608 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
** Jan. 18-19 -- Southwest Hay Conference, Ruidoso Convention
Center, Ruidoso, New Mexico. For more info, contact Doug Whitney at email@example.com, or call Gina
Sterrett at 505-626-5677.
**Jan. 24-25 -- Heart of America Grazing Conference, Holiday Inn,
Mount Vernon, IL. Learn more from Garry Lacefield at 270-365-7541, ext.
202, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
**Feb. 27 -- Kentucky Alfalfa Conference, Cave City Convention
Center. Learn more at www.uky.edu/Ag/Forage.
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