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Hay

Hay quality is important. Poor quality hay can cause problems for the horse. Hay has to be free of mold which is toxic to the horse. Look for clean, fresh smelling hay that is green, not bleached blonde by the sun.

Most hay fields have been sprayed with herbacides to eliminate weeds and clover. This produces a straight grass hay which is easy to store and doesn't get moldy if baled dry. Clover is considered toxic but it is really the mold growing on the damp clover in a bale of hay.

However, in nature grass grows with clover so a horse grazing in natural pasture gets a combination of grass and clover. This combination of grass and clover supplies a complete protein with all the essential amino acids.

Since most hay is straight grass, veterinarians recommend also feeding a supplement which contains protein in the form of a legume. Legumes are clover, alfalfa, soy and others. The amino acids in legumes complement the amino acids in grass and supply a complete protein.

Many horse owners feed hay which is grass and alfalfa growing together in the same field. This is a complete protein and ideal for the horse. However, it is hard to tell how much alfalfa and how much grass is in each bale. So I feed grass hay along with a smaller amount of alfalfa.

I have seen horses fed straight alfalfa and it seems to me that those horses are craving some grass. And of course a horse fed straight grass will gobble up alfalfa first if offered alfalfa.

When I watch a horse grazing, I see them eat the grain off the tops of ripe grass first. Then they go for the short new growing grass which is packed with nutrition. Then they nibble some clover. Then they snatch a bite of healthy weed like dandelion or chickory. Then they eat the tall grass.

Horses don't eat mustard weed or bracken fern (which is toxic). But they do like yellow star thistle which can kill them. Their faces swell up and their breathing is blocked. So get rid of the yellow star thistle which is easy to pull up.

You see pastures which are overgrown with weeds with hardly a blade of grass left. These pastures have been overgrazed and have nothing a horse can eat. To keep the weeds down in pastures, mow the pastures. Grass can thrive at two inches tall but weeds can't survive.

In human nutrition people eat rice and beans (legume) together to get a complete protein. Horses also need the combination of a grass and legume.



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