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We have had two years now of really bad weather for growing hay. This has meant that our lovely reliable hay man has run out of last year’s hay and with most decent hay suppliers in the area having the same issue, we have no choice but to feed this year’s hay. Many of us grew up with the phrase “don’t feed new hay until there’s an R in the month” we have felt very torn about it. So I have done some research into how long you should wait before feeding this year’s hay.
What are the risks of feeding new hay too soon?
The biggest risk to your horse from feeding this year’s hay too soon is colic, which can be deadly. This is because freshly cut hay, like grass, will ferment for a while after being cut. However, this is usually very soon after being cut. For most horses there will be no side effects from eating freshly bailed hay. But they may have excess energy from what is probably the first and more nutritional hay of the year and this could also cause runny poo.
So how soon can you feed new hay?
If the hay is cut and bailed in perfect conditions with less than 12% moisture in the bale, it should be safe to feed straight away. But due to how hard this is to get accurate; it is recommended to wait 2-8 weeks before feeding. This should be plenty of time for curing to take place, which is basically the process of the sugars settling and fermentation.
If hay is safe to feed so soon, why is there so much worry about feeding hay early in the year?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where this practice and belief came from. But we can only assume it came from horses reacting badly to eating new hay too early. This could be because hay cut in time for summer feeding is likely to be higher in sugar and protein than hay cut later in the year. While these sugars won’t decrease much over time, it could cause a problem when combined with rich summer grazing. So maybe the practice came from trying to save the new hay for when the quality of grazing dips in Autumn and winter.
If in doubt about feeding this year’s hay, find out when the hay was cut and bailed and talk to your vet. They will be able to give you the best opinion on whether it is safe for your horse. Sometimes you have no choice but to feed new hay. In these cases, you are best soaking the hay to remove many of the soluble sugars, taking some of the extra energy out of the hay.