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Feeding Horses
First Posted Mar 16, 2008
Jul 25, 2010

Horse Hay Which Cutting?

Have you ever wondered what it means when you hear the terms first, second, or third cut hay? Just what does that mean? Is one better to feed your horse than another? I have wanted to know the answer to this question for quite awhile so here is my research information.

Fist Hay Cutting

  • Less legumes (red clover, alfalfa, or birdsfoot trefoil--Northeastern Ohio only) There are five kinds of clover hay: red, common white, crimson, alsike, and landino. White and landino clovers are usually grown for pasture. The other three contain 14 to 16 percent crude protein. Red clover causes "slobbers" in horses. Slobbers is excessive salivation that does not hurt the horse.
  • Tends to be coarse
  • Tends to have more Grasses (timothy, brome, orchard grass, bluegrass, bermuda grass, quack grass)
  • Tends to dry more quickly
  • Tends to have more weeds
First Cut Hay - When buying first cut hay (hay that is the first cut of the year for that field), be sure to check for excessive moisture and weeds. First cut hay can be the most nutritious if cut and cured properly; however, if it is not cut and cured properly it is likely to have excessive moisture and mold due to spring showers.

Second Hay Cutting

  • Tends to be richer in nutrients
  • Tends to be greener in color
  • Tends to have a sweeter smell
  • Tends to be heavier
  • Tends to be thicker
  • It must be completely dry before being baled
  • If baled wet tends to rot
  • If improperly baled may spontaneously combust
Third Hay Cutting

Sometimes the season will allow for a third cutting of hay, however, this is not always the case.

  • Very green in color
  • Very thick
  • Tends to have more legumes so it is very rich
  • Because of the richness can cause founder in horses
  • Tends to be really sweet smelling
  • Hard to dry properly
  • Contains less grasses
Look for Good Hay

Before purchasing hay from anyone, be sure to inspect a few bales. Buy a couple bales, cut them open and inspect them thoroughly. Check for mold, moisture, dirt, animal parts, insects, color, weeds, and texture. Find a reliable dealer in your area that will supply you with hay year-round from the same fields. This will help decrease the likelihood of sickness or colic in horses that are sensitive to feed switching. It will also help ensure that the nutrition you are giving your horse remains consistent. Problems may arise if you regularly switch hay types, hay fields, and hay quality.

  • Dark Green - Well grown alfalfa
  • Lime Green - Alfalfa treated with propionic acid. OK for horses.
  • Light/Medium Green - Grass hay has good nutrients, was carefully harvested and stored
  • Short, thin stems
  • Not stiff or brittle
  • More leaves less stems (more nutrients and easier to digest)
  • Light and easy to lift bales
Bad Hay

  • Light to medium brown in color (May indicate moisture)
  • Musty odor
  • Hay hard to separate
  • Baling strings have no elasticity
  • Heavy bales (may have dirt, mold, or rocks in them)
  • Dark brown or Black in color (Exposed to rain, heavy fog and dew)
  • Brittle
  • Lost lots of nutrition
  • Light Golden Yellow (Too much sun-bleached/or old hay)
  • Stiff, brittle, stems crack easily.
  • Bale hard to break into flakes
  • Bale excessively heavy
  • Gray tint or dusty
  • Bales contain dead animals and animal parts or fecal material
  • Weeds, thistles, burrs in bales
Hay Dealer Tricks

Some hay dealers will pull a trick on many customers by hiding the bad bales in the middle of the load, where it is almost impossible to inspect them. They will sometimes put the best-looking bales on the outside. To avoid getting stuck with a load of hay like this, be sure to get the dealer's name, address and phone number, and inform him that you expect a refund or replacement for any bale of less quality than the ones you have inspected. It is best to have this in writing.

Much of this information came from Choosing Good Quality Hay

Feeding Horses