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Discuss Which cut of hay is best? at the Horse Health forum - Horse Forums.

I live in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia and this year we managed to ...
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    Senior Member Chiko's Avatar
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    Which cut of hay is best?

    I live in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia and this year we managed to get a 3rd cut off some of the fields. I buy Timothy hay from the same farmer and usually only get a 1st and 2nd cut. The horses LOVE it, even the 1st cut. I haven't picked up the 3rd cut yet as it won't be baled until Sat or Sun. Which cut is best to feed my horses? I have a 25 year old Morgan that is only ridden occasionally, and an appaloosa that is ridden 2-4 times a week, sometimes more, but less in the winter. Should I mix the 3rd and 1st together? Is the 3rd cut too rich for them?

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    Ask Chester or Farmress they are from your area I believe. Farmress baled some nice hay herself!

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    1st cutting is usually weedier and coarser (giving it more fiber); second and third are typically softer. I just bought a second cutting grass hay and it's less "rich" than the first cutting (the first cutting has a really high sugar content). The nutritional content depends a lot on when its cut, what the weather was like, how it was cured, etc. Very often 3rd cutting will have less nutrients because it is cut later when the grass isn't growing as vigorously. I believe the general rule of thumb for grass hay is that second is typically "richer" than first or third. I've seen more than one hay producer selling timothy hay where the third cutting is heads and shoulders below the first or second in nutrients.

    The only way to know for sure is to test the hay.

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    Senior Member+ NorthernDust's Avatar
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    RHR is right -- testing the hay i the only way to know for SURE. Personally, second cutting is my favorite.
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    Well....if it is our second cut...it is not suitable as the only hay fed to horses due to the moisture/protien count....we do feed this hay in Jan/Feb when the Canadian weather hits -20 celcuis for the heat...we do not feed grain with this hay as that would be asking for founder.

    Your third cut....depending on the timothy/alfalfa count is safe as a only hay if it did not bud or start to flower....in first and second...flowering denotes age...but in third...the flowers tend to hold the late summer moisture....third cut tends to hold mold better than 1rst or 2nd in the flowers and if frost came by.....burns the ends....this tends to make this cut lesser in the protien...but the moisture count could be high...not always bad...but if the bales are even the slightest bit warm when you put a hand into the hay....thank the farmer and let him sell it to another.

    Testing the count is needed if you do not know the field/hay/soil and weather influences on the grasses....this will tell you what you have in the hay and whether it can be fed as the sole feed....or whether grain/supplements are needed.

    FYI....if your 28 year old is having a hard time with weight and teeth are a problem....take him off grain....find no less than an 18%/16% mix of alfalfa/timothy/brome...no higher in the % than 22/20....and I can almost guarentee....the boy will add/keep on weight if fed the correct weight of hay per day needed for his size.

    Alfalfa must be present but not the main grass....this could put the hay over from good...to foundering issues if the protien count is high and hot.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NorthernDust View Post
    RHR is right -- testing the hay i the only way to know for SURE. Personally, second cutting is my favorite.
    There not in the US our weather may vary from theres over there so I wouldn't suggest either way leaving it to someone in there neck of the woods is best.

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    Around SE US second cutting is considered the best. The last cutting always has seed heads... we use timothy too... I like the second cutting, but agree that if baled in warmer weather, it will produce mold. so, for us, third or last cutting is a better option for use over winter.
    I'd be cautious about the advice of removing grain from an older horse. I have seen a a lot of older horses nearly starved by doing this, even those who were fed an alflafa based hay. Each case is different depending on the horse, his teeth, his digestive system etc. What works for one may be hazardous to another.
    If you have hay from both cuttings, I would mix it to start with. I've never had the seedier hay cause them problems, but have had the greener hay do so, but that was due to a huge pasture bale with a very greedy pony!

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    Senior Member+ NorthernDust's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BettyBootsy View Post
    There not in the US our weather may vary from theres over there so I wouldn't suggest either way leaving it to someone in there neck of the woods is best.
    So true... I'm ignorant of location and such.
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    Making Hay

    by: Heather Smith Thomas
    August 01 2008, Article # 12785

    Learn what goes into growing and harvesting quality hay so you can recognize and select it for your horses.

    The difference between good hay and poor hay is often in the harvesting. Poor timing of harvest processes or bad harvesting conditions can render a good hay crop poor or unsafe for horses, as it might contain mold or dust. Hay must be baled at the proper stage of drying--if it is cured too long it can lose nutrients or be dusty, but it shouldn't have so much moisture that it molds. Other factors that affect hay's nutritional value include stage of maturity when cut, and whether it's the first or a later cutting (after regrowth).
    Stage of Maturity
    Glenn Shewmaker, MS, PhD, a forage specialist and extension assistant professor at the University of Idaho, says hay producers should try to look at the field at least a week prior to when they think it might be ready to cut. "This is the best time to control the quality in terms of plant maturity," he says. If it's alfalfa, you can see whether it's already blooming, which makes it more attractive to blister beetles--some species are deadly to horses if they are present during harvest and their bodies end up in the hay.
    When buying hay, talk with the producer and agree on the stage of maturity at which it should be cut. Plants cut in early- to mid-maturity have higher levels of protein and other nutrients and would be a good choice for lactating mares or young growing horses. Mature hay would be more ideal for an adult, idle horse. Sometimes hay is cut later than planned because harvest is delayed by rain. Some hay producers let hay grow longer, since mature hay produces more tonnage per acre than immature hay.
    "Hay prediction sticks measure stem length of the growing plant and have a scale (for bud and open flower stages) to give an index for estimating acid detergent fiber, neutral detergent fiber, and relative feed value, but most horsemen and hay producers just look at relative maturity," says Shewmaker. "If it's alfalfa, you look for buds or flowers. If it's grass, you look for boot stage (when the seed head has not emerged, but it has begun to swell the top of the plant) or seed heads to indicate maturity. With mixed hay (grass and alfalfa), one species is generally ahead of the other in maturity, so timing of cutting must be a compromise."
    Differences in Cutting
    The first cutting often grows slower in the cool spring weather. Later cuttings grow faster in the heat of summer. "First cutting, whether alfalfa, grass, or mixed, is often a nice all-purpose hay," says Shewmaker.
    First cutting hay usually has good yield, plenty of fiber, and adequate energy and protein. Although it might have a coarse stem (if it's alfalfa), most animals like it, and it's good feed because it grew slowly enough to accumulate nutrients.
    "Hot-season cuttings are often very clean (fewer weeds, since they did not regrow), leafy, and fine-stemmed," continues Shewmaker. "But generally the animals don't like it as well because it grew too fast. There's not a high concentration of sugars, for instance. But for a laminitic horse or any horse that's sensitive to sugars and needs to be on a diet with less nonstructural carbohydrates, the hot-season cuttings are generally safer for that animal.
    Other extension specialists have noted that many horses eat second-cut, fine-stemmed alfalfa hay in preference to first-cut hay, which is stemmy and less palatable.
    "The end-season cutting is richer in nutrients again because of slower growth when nights are cool," he continues. "Even if it's blooming, it still may be very nutrient-dense. That cutting seems to still maintain its quality after bloom stage."
    Time of Day Makes a Difference Hay cut in the late afternoon has higher nutrient content than hay cut in the morning. Plants accumulate sugars and starches during the day (through photosynthesis), then they use up nutrients at night as they grow, explains Shewmaker. For highest nutrient values, select hay cut in the late afternoon. "But a horse that is prone to insulin resistance problems or laminitis would do best with hay cut in early morning, when plants are lowest in sugars and starches," he says.
    Haying Equipment
    Most cutting machines now crimp and condition hay as it's cut, so it will dry faster and be ready to bale a day or two sooner than it would be with older methods. This reduces the risk of it getting rained on while drying and also improves quality, since less nutrients are lost. Prolonged heat and drying destroys some of the protein and vitamin A.
    Rain is less damaging if it comes soon after cutting, and it is most damaging if hay was nearly dry when it got wet. "There are 'tedders' that fluff the hay and help it dry faster, and windrow inverters that are better than a rake," says Glenn Shewmaker, a state forage specialist at the University of Idaho. "These pick up the hay and turn it upside down; it's more of a lifting action. With a rake, if hay is too wet, it twists into a rope. With the inverter, if the top is dry you can turn the hay clear over and it dries more thoroughly.
    "It's important to dry the hay as quickly as possible, so it helps to turn it over," he adds. "A common strategy is to spread the windrow out as wide as possible for fast drying." Then the hay can be turned with a rake a day or two later, making the windrow the proper width for the baler and ensuring that hay next to the ground is then uppermost for further drying.
    "Stem moisture is the issue," he adds. "The leaves on top dry quickly, so it helps to turn it at the proper moisture level, when moisture is about 40%."

    Even turning it just a short while ahead of baling can often allow you to bale it a day earlier than you could otherwise.
    --Heather Smith Thomas



    Moisture Considerations
    Time of day the hay is baled also makes a difference--the hay can be too moist (with risk for mold formation) or too dry, which leads to shattering and loss of leaves when going through the baler. In a dry climate hay producers try to bale hay with a little dew on it to minimize leaf loss, since most of the nutrients are in the leaves rather than the stems. In a humid climate it might be impossible for hay to dry out underneath (because of ground moisture) without the harvester turning it.
    There's tremendous variation in what's ideal for hay moisture at baling, according to Michael Thomas, who does custom hay harvesting on ranches near Salmon, Idaho. "A certain figure might be too dry in some situations and too wet in others," he says. "It depends on whether it's alfalfa or grass (and the type of grass), maturity of the hay when cut, whether the bales will be small or large, whether baling takes place soon after cutting or several days later, weather conditions, air moisture, ground moisture, etc.
    "In some situations, 8 to 15% moisture (the traditional rule of thumb used as a guideline for when to bale) is too dry; leaf quality will be lost," he explains. "Leaves shatter during baling and much of that material won't end up in the bales--especially small bales. You'll end up with 'stemmy' hay, few leaves, and lots of dust."
    There's a difference between mold dust (mold spores that become airborne when you break open a bale) and naturally occurring dust, such as plant particles, pollen, or soil dust. Hay baled too dry will always be dusty, due to tiny particles from leaf shattering. Road dust often drifts over nearby hay fields and plants will be dusty even before the hay is cut.
    "To ensure the hay won't be too dusty for horses, it often must be baled with some moisture on it, to settle the dust and bind it to the hay," explains Thomas. "This keeps the leaves together instead of shattering and gives the hay a softer, more palatable texture.
    Many extension agents and forage specialists say to avoid baling hay with a moisture content of more than 16.5% because it has the potential to mold, especially if the bale is tight. Thomas says he feels that in very dry conditions or on dry ground, the best-quality small grass bales might need to be baled at even higher moisture levels. Thomas says, "At the other extreme, if you're making big bales, with some types of hay you'd have to be very careful baling anything over 15% moisture because the bales are so dense. The mass per square inch is so much greater, and there's less surface area for continued drying."
    Stem moisture is the key factor. "In arid regions it's best to bale after sundown when hay is not quite so dry," says Shewmaker. "Usually in the early morning, if there's a lot of dew, the hay will be too wet to bale. You may have only half an hour of ideal baling conditions in early morning before hay becomes too wet."
    Sometimes hay is baled too soon, before it's adequately dry (especially if the producer is trying to get it baled before a predicted rainstorm). If it gets rained on after it's cut, it takes longer to dry out enough to bale. The extra drying time and "bleaching" reduces nutrient quality, and the hay also becomes dusty due to more shattering of the dried leaves when baled.
    Once hay is in a compact bale, a little rain won't hurt it as much as if it's still in the windrow. This is why producers generally try to bale hay before a storm, even if there isn't time to get the bales hauled. Moisture won't penetrate the bales very much unless it's a downpour or an all-day rain.
    "This is the tricky part," says Shewmaker. "Hay needs to get dry before baling, then hopefully baled in the evening when humidity rises a little, so leaves stay attached. This is especially important for alfalfa, since those leaves shatter worst when dry. For small bales, I prefer moisture content to be below 16% for horses, since you usually won't get any mold in these conditions."
    Some producers use moisture meters to check hay and determine when to bale a field, although some have an intuitive sense about moisture levels just by feeling and scratching the cuticle on the stems, or using various twisting and snap tests to check stem dryness.
    Thomas says one way to check stem moisture is to reach under the windrow for a small sample of hay near the ground. "Grab a small swatch about an inch in diameter that you can easily hold between your two hands to twist (one hand going one way and the other hand the opposite direction, see image) back and forth. If the hay stems do not break after a few twists/turns, it's not dry enough," says Thomas.
    Experience is the best teacher for getting a "feel" for how dry the stems should be.
    Take-Home Message There is and art and a science that goes into growing and harvesting hay, no matter the type of bales being produced or the animal the hay is intended to feed. All hays are not the same, and even hay from the same field can end up varying in quality depending on the time of day cut and baled. Work with a reputable hay producer or dealer to get the best-quality hay that suits your horses' needs.
    ejforrest-

    "A horse is the projection of peoples' dreams about themselves - strong, powerful, beautiful - and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence".

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    [quote=sorrell;4125643]
    I'd be cautious about the advice of removing grain from an older horse. I have seen a a lot of older horses nearly starved by doing this, even those who were fed an alflafa based hay. Each case is different depending on the horse, his teeth, his digestive system etc. What works for one may be hazardous to another.
    quote]


    If you are feeding our hay...with its protien count/moisture count.....you do not feed grain.....the amount of protien in the hay is too high/hot to work well even with pellets.

    It is not even a race horse hay....it is more for milkers....and perfect for the older horse without teeth for grain.

    Grain....not a natural diet for the older horse and the digestive system....no discussion from me on this...too many vets/university of Guelph studies to change my mind....and if the hay is high in all tested area including the magnisuim (lacks most in second cut)....imho....hay of this quality....is the best way...without grain to add too high of a count in p/m

    Note: I beleive hay can be fed to horses as the main food without grain and keeping weight on a horse...no matter the age...no matter the work load.....and I do...with all my horses...and not one is thin or lacking in energy/health.

    BUT......unlike our members here....hay is our business....and I have over 8 different hay seeds to chose from....and over 1200 acres of 1rst, 2nd, 3rd cut to mix up for a proper diet for each horse.

    It can be done...horses can live...age...and work hard on hay alone...mine have done it all their lives with summer grass paddocks for real grazing....and it has been this way for over 40 years.

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