How do I select good hay?

We’ve been in the hay business long enough to know everyone has their individual preferences. We’ve even had customers select what we have labeled as our “Number Two” alfalfa over what we think is the top quality hay.

But just in case you’re new to feeding, or need a few tips, these three selection criteria should give you a good start.

Color should be considered when selecting hay, but not relied upon as the main factor in your selection.

  • Green – Can signal high protein and vitamin content, but also might mean the hay is low in nitrates and has decreased palatability.
  • Yellow/Beige – Might simply be bleached from the sun on the outside, but could also be from a light rain prior to baling.
  • Dark brown – Signifies heat damage due to extremely high moisture content when baled, or from rain after baling; also a good chance it contains mold. Not a good choice for horses, but works for cattle.

The leaves of a plant are where most of the energy is stored. Therefore, the more leafy the hay, the higher quality and better source of energy.

Stems that are softer and more flexible are ideal. There is nothing wrong with the tougher, thicker stems. This just usually means the alfalfa was more mature at harvest (more days passed between cuttings), and it might have slightly lower nutrient quality.

The most important factor in your hay selection is the type of animal you’re feeding. Horses need higher quality feed, and have a difficult time with dust and mold. Cattle, sheep and goats get by just fine on lower quality feed.

Happy hay hunting!

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