Choosing the Best Hay Type to Feed Your Horse| Right Selection Criteria

Feeding your horse the appropriate hay for its overall health and performance is crucial. Hay including Timothy and Alfalfa is a primary source of roughage, providing necessary fiber and nutrients to prevent many digestive issues. Selection criteria for the ideal hay type for your horse depend highly on age, activity level, and any current medical issues.

Nutritionists recommend that at least half of a mature horse’s daily intake, 2 to 2.5 percent of its body weight, should come from forage like hay for optimal health.

Types of Hay for Horses:

Horses rely heavily on hay during their growing age, making it essential to choose a high-quality option that meets their specific dietary needs. Hay is generally classified into two categories: legumes and grass which mostly people feed their horses.

Timothy Hay as Horse Feed:

Timothy hay is the most popular choice for adult horses due to its 30% to 40% high-fiber content. It grows well in various weather conditions, especially in cool seasons.  If you’re feeding horses having metabolic issues, opt for more mature cuts with visible seed heads that have dropped their seeds.

Timothy hay offers sufficient protein for most horses but may lack essential minerals like zinc, copper, iodine, and selenium, which are crucial for healthy joints and strong hooves. For the best nutritional value, choose premium quality bulk timothy hay before it blooms, as it will be higher in protein and lower in fiber compared to later stages. 

It is best suited for adult horses, horses with dental and digestive issues, and those needing moderate energy. 

Alfalfa Hay for Feeding Equine:

Recognized for its rich protein content, Alfalfa hay is an ideal option for young, growing horses, pregnant mares, and horses with high energy demands. 

Due to the presence of calcium, iron, and zinc, it is considered the best type of hay for heavily exercised horses.

Alfalfa contains higher protein levels around 15% to 22%, depending on the cutting time. Opt for second or third cuttings of Alfalfa to avoid weeds. However, it should be fed moderately to prevent obesity and other health issues.

Additionally, alfalfa legumes can reduce or eliminate the need for supplements, which often have a laxative effect. 

Bermuda Grass Hay:

Bermuda grass offers a good balance of nutrients and is best for horses with moderate energy requirements. It is often a cost-effective choice while still providing essential dietary components. Bermuda hay is low in protein but high in fiber around 28%, which benefits horses with metabolic issues.

Orchard Grass Hay:

With a texture similar to Timothy hay, Orchard grass hay is a palatable option that appeals to picky eaters. It is a valuable choice for horses with dental and respiratory issues or those requiring softer forage.

Criteria for Choose the Quality Hay for Horses:

Here are some key considerations for selecting the best hay type for horses:

Nutritional Content:

Regularly assess your horse’s age, weight, and activity level to determine its nutritional requirements. Consider the nutrition profile of legumes and grass before selecting any type for forage. It ensures an appropriate balance of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Forage Quality:

When choosing, consider the hay’s texture, color, appearance, and smell. Select grass that shows very little evidence of mold, dust, or discoloration. Strong musty or sour smells should be avoided because they point to bacterial growth and mold and can lead to respiratory and digestive problems in horses.

Choose hay with plenty of green leaves and fine stems, making it easier for horses to chew. Although horses may eat scratchy hay, for optimal palatability, steer clear of stalky kinds.

Cut and Harvest Timing:

Consider the cut and harvest timing of hay. Early-cut hay tends to be more nutritious, while late-cut hay may be coarser and less appealing to horses. Legume hays, such as alfalfa, become less palatable as they mature. Opt for young legumes with nutritious leaves and no seed pods from trusted hay suppliers.

For grasshays, thicker-stalked forage with seeds will generally have lower protein content. Later cuts likely have reduced sugar and starch levels. If the hay is green and fresh-smelling, it may suit horses with metabolic issues.

Health Conditions:

Adjust the hay type and quantity based on the activity level of your horses. Performance horses may require more energy-dense hays, while idle horses may benefit from lower-calorie options.

Softer hays may be suitable for horses with dental issues while coarser hays can aid in maintaining dental health.

Consider any existing health conditions, such as metabolic issues or respiratory concerns. High-fiber grass can be valuable for digestive problems.

Check for Toxic Elements:

Inspect hay bales for foreign objects, weeds or toxic plants that could harm your horse. Ensure alfalfa is clear of blister beetles. The hay should be free from contaminants to prevent health issues.


Maple Gems ensure the optimal health and growth of your horses. By understanding the distinct characteristics of hay varieties and adhering to specific selection criteria, you can tailor your horse’s diet to meet its individual needs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *