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Equine hay analysis

Martinson, PhD and Peterson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Most Universities and equine nutritionists are encouraging horse owners to have their hay analyzed, especially if the quality of hay is a concern, or the horse is having nutritional problems. However, most horse owners need help interpreting the results of their analysis.

When your sample is returned, there will be two columns of numbers; As Sampled and Dry Matter. As sampled reports nutrient in their natural state, including water. Dry matter reports nutrients with the water (moisture) removed (water can have a diluting effect on the results). Either can be used for ration balancing, but be consistent. Below is a list of some (not all) common components analyzed for in hay.

Moisture: the optimum horse hay moisture ranges from 10 to 17%. Hay under 10% may be too dry, leading to brittle and dusty hay. Hays over 18% moisture have a high probability of molding (unless propionic acid is used), and hays over 25% moisture poses the threat of severe heat damage and serve as a potential fire hazard.

Crude Protein (CP): a measure of the protein concentration of the hay. CP can range from 8 to 14% in grass hays (depending on nitrogen fertilization), 14 to 17% in mixed hays, and 15 to >20% in legume hays. Since most horses require approximately 10% crude protein, CP not likely to be limiting, except in lactating mares and foals.

Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF): ADF is composed of cellulose, lignin, and other poorly digested components. The lower the ADF value, the more digestible the nutrients in the hay are. Vales of 30 to 35% are good and values above 45% maybe of little nutritional value.

Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF): NDF is a measurement of the insoluble fiber. In theory, the higher the NDF, the less a horse will consume. NDF levels between 40 and 50 are good, and those above 65 will likely not be consumed by most horses.

Relative Feed Value (RFV): RFV is commonly used when selecting dairy quality hay. The utility of RFV in selection of horse hay is unknown, but can be used as a guideline. A RFV of 100 is considered the average. An equine nutritionist will not use RFV to balance a horses ration.

Equine Digestible energy (DE): Measure of the digestible energy in the hay, and used to balance the energy portion of the equine diet. For a light working horse, DE should be about 20 Mcal/day, and most hays range from 0.76 to 0.94 Mcal/lb of DE.

Equine Total Digestible Nutrients (Equine TDN): This is a measure of the total digestible nutrients in the hay or its energy value, which may range from 40 to 55%. TDN is rarely used in evaluating horse hay.

Calcium (Ca) and Phosphorus (P): These two macro-minerals are required in the diet by all horses in specific amounts, and vary among different types of hay. For the adult, maintenance horse, the CA:P ration should be between 3:1 to 1:1. Once your hay has been analyzed, work with an equine nutritionists to balance your horses ration. Generally speaking, a horses ration is balanced in the following order: energy (fiber), protein, minerals, and vitamins.

DHIA (320-352-2028), Dairyland (320- 240-1737), and Equi-Analytical (877-819- 4110) can test hay for nutrients. Be sure to request an equine analysis, and remember that each type of hay (cutting, field, etc..) will need a separate analysis. A basic hay analysis cost about $20. Next month, testing your hay for sugar and carbohydrate content will be discusses.

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