7 things you might find in your horse’s hay


Hay – horses love it, but it’s hard to get absolutely perfect. The hay farmer has a lot to think about besides the weather and his machines, and there are seven things that can end up in a bale of hay that you should be aware of. Please don’t read this and think your horse will die of a botulism blister beetle. Just be smart about inspecting the hay before you feed it!


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  • Mold – Often you will smell this before you see it. Toss it. There are countless types of mold that can form on hay, some create a colic situation, some create respiratory problems, some create neurotoxins that can kill your horse.


blister beetle dangerous for horses


  • Blister beetles – These guys are common in alfalfa, but have been found in other types of hay, also. Blister beetles will kill your horse if eaten. It doesn’t take many. More details here. These jerky bugs are small and will cause massive harm even if the bugs are dead.


  • Tent caterpillars – In the spring, tent caterpillars hatch. If eaten in the pasture or in hay, their hairy little caterpillar bodies penetrate the horse’s intestinal lining. There the stabby hair gets into the bloodstream, and in the case of pregnant mares, the little hairs find their way into the placenta. Once there, there’s no defense for the resulting infection and the foal is lost before it’s born.


  • Dead animals – I’ve seen snakes and birds get trapped and baled into hay. Sure it’s flat and easy to separate from the hay, but dead creatures harbor botulism. Removing the animal is not enough, you have to toss the bale (or more). The same goes for animals that die near hay storage. Botulism is a horrible way for your horse to die. It’s rare, but the chance is there. More on botulism here.


flakes of hay

Check it all before you feed.


  • Weeds – Some weeds, like dandelions, are high in sugar and therefore not suitable for all horses. Some weeds are downright annoying and affect the quantity and quality of hay grown. Some weeds are just toxic. You can get all sorts of weed info from your local ag extension service in your area – but in case your hay isn’t grown there, call the ag office where your hay is grown. Foxtails aren’t toxic, but their barbs can create massive damage to your horse’s mouth and digestive system. Buttercups are ok if they are dried. Fresh buttercups are toxic – but fine once they have dried.


  • Objects – I’ve found metal and a sock. No idea where either came from, just grateful the sock didn’t have a foot in it.


metal found in horse paddocks

Somehow, stuff like this ends up in hay fields.


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04/12/2024 12:59 pm GMT



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