Hay for Easy Keepers
Q: I was told to feed my easy keeper mature, lower quality grass hay. Why, and how do I tell if the hay I purchase is too low quality?
A: As hay matures the level of indigestible components increase so the hay contains more fiber and less energy, which is why mature hay is recommended for easy keepers. Mature, moderate quality hay provides the fiber your easy keeper needs to remain healthy without a bunch of extra calories. You can assess the maturity and quality level of hay by looking at it, but the best way is to test it.
As hay matures, the ratio of stems to leaves increases (more stems, fewer leaves) as does the number of mature seed heads. The plant’s stems get thicker and less digestible. Thick stems, lots of seed heads, and fewer leaves are a good clue to maturity levels.
Avoid hay that contains a large number of weeds and is weathered or bleached in color. Regardless of maturity level, this is poor feed for horses. Hay fed to horses should always be free of dust and mold.
Testing your hay for ADF (acid detergent fiber), is a great way to predict quality. The ADF test tells you what part of your hay is indigestible.
ADF level of 40% or higher indicates poor quality
ADF level of 35% to 40% indicates moderate quality
ADF level of 34% or lower indicates high quality
Along with ADF, a hay test will also provide the level of crude protein and a list of the vitamins and minerals found in the hay sample. This is very helpful information to have on hand.
Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for the hay-testing service closest to your farm or stable. They can also help you interpret the sample results when you get them.