Hay selection is critical when feeding any animal. The hay you select determines the protein, vitamins and digestible energy the animal will get from the hay. Hay selection also determines how much grain supplementation you will have to feed the animal as well. Proper nutrition is important for all stages of animal life: growth, heath, reproduction, lactation and maintenance.
You should choose hay bales that are easy for you to move around. For instance, you don’t want to purchase round bales or big square bales if you don’t have a way to get
them home. Sometimes it takes some ingenuity to move them around if you are not equipped to handle them.
Hay Selection – Looking At The Bale
Round and square hay bales work well for animal consumption if you practice good hay selection. When shopping for round or square bales you want to look at the outside of the bale. How the bale is tied is very important. The bale should be tied very tight in order to shed moisture.
Above: The face of a nice round bale.You do not want to purchase a soggy, spongy hay bale. Hay bales can be tied with baling twine, plastic hay netting or even baling wire.
The hay bales can be a year or two old and still be just fine for consumption if the bales were tied tight and stayed tight. (Although nutrition will decrease the older the bale.) Look at the face of the hay bale like a target with rings. The outside ring or “rind” should be the protective ring of the bale. It should have shed all the moisture and contain no mold. Moisture and light effect the nutritional value of the hay and also the way the hay looks.
The inner rings should be a nice yellowish color moving to more green than yellow as you look toward the very middle bulls eye of the bale. Hay should be cut during its growing season and look very well preserved in the middle of the bale. This is also true for square bales.
Mowing, raking and baling hay is like dehydrating food. You want the food to look the same color as it did when you started dehydrating it. The same principles apply, if the hay was too wet when it was baled then it will be moldy on the inside. The hay bale should smell good on the inside. Just as poorly dehydrated food, mold can sicken your animals and in some cases be fatal. Moldy wet hay can also cause the hay to catch on fire.
Hay Selection – The Harvest
Below: A hay meadow during harvest.
The harvest should be considered during hay selection. The time of harvest of the hay determines the nutritional value of the hay. You want to ask when the hay was baled. When feeding alfalfa, the nutrition is in the leaves, so it should be baled mid bloom when the leaves are at their best. Hay that is very coarse and stemmy will not be as readily consumed and much will be wasted during feeding. The animals will pick through the hay for the tender more tasty parts first, then result to eating the stems.
You also want to be careful regarding insects in the hay
selection. If the hay meadow was effected by blister beetles, then you certainly don’t want that hay. A blister beetle or even a piece of one blister beetle can lead to colic in a horse. If these are baled up in the hay, you may have trouble.
Hay Selection – The Hay Meadow
Also, hay selection is important for your pasture or pen. If you can, pick up the hay from the field it was baled in or at least get a look at the hay meadow. This way you can see the weeds or lack of them in the hay meadow. Those same weeds will also be baled up in the hay. As the hay is consumed, the animals may or may not eat the weeds also.
Some of the weed seeds will come out and end up in you pen or pasture. Some weeds are very hard to get rid of once they get started like: cockleburs, thistles, iron weeds and briars. Spraying these weeds when the first come on and pasture burning are effective ways to get rid of these weeds. Some weeds spread rapidly as well.