how is your horse hay quality


Check on your horse’s hay quality before feeding.


  • There are lots of factors here to consider before you accept a shipment of hay. You will not be able to just take a peek, it’s important to bust open some bales and get your nose and eyes in there.


  • Upon first glance, hay should be a good bright green color, with little dust, no mold or moldy odor, and minimal “stuff” in the hay like wire, twigs, birds, bugs, etc. I have found squished birds and even a squished snake in hay. I have also found wire and nails.


  • Making hay is a tricky process and one that is really not regulated at all. Finding a good hay broker with solid relationships with a grower is your best bet in getting consistent, quality hay. I have even found junk hay and premium hay for the same price at the same feed store. Go figure.



very green timothy hay stacked in a barn



You will need to check the hay for leaf shattering.


  • This occurs when the leaves break away from the stems and is an indicator of rough handling during the cutting and baling process. It’s very obvious in legume hays, like alfalfa and clover.


You can also examine the leafiness of the hay, which is a fancy way of saying how many leaves are in the bale.


  • It’s a ratio of the stems to leaves, especially in legumes. A higher ratio is better, indicating a better energy value. This is typical of the first cuts of hay, which is younger.


  • More mature hay is high in stems and the stems get fatter as the hay grows. It’s not ideal, but better than some! Many picky horses don’t like super stemmy hay.


grass hay texture

You may want to pick through a flake or two and check it out! This is a blend of several kinds of grass, so the texture is different.


The color of your hay should be bright green with a fresh smell. While this is so wonderful to look at and smell, it’s not the end-all and be all of hay quality.


  • To be boring and technical, the degree of green indicates typical palatability and carotene content. Greener = yummier and more carotene – but this varies.


  • Sometimes hay will be bleached from the sun, you will see a golden yellow color on the sun-exposed side, and the inside will be unaffected.


  • A yellowing of the hay throughout the bale indicates a very mature cutting and is very common in grass hays.


  • If you find dark brown or black portions of the hay, it’s likely due to rain, dew, or fog damage. I’m likely to send this hay back.


  • If you find mold, it’s likely due to moist hay being baled. Mold will actually eat the nutrition out of the hay, and I’m definitely sending this stuff back. Be warned that mold is hard to see. Use your nose and know if a patch or portion of the hay is funky. Most horses won’t eat it, and why buy hay they won’t eat?




It’s SO MUCH fun to move hay!



You also need to watch for blister beetles.


  • These deadly little bugs can get stuck in hay (typically alfalfa) during the baling process. They contain a deadly toxin, cantharidin, that doesn’t go away when the bug dies.


  • Your horse can die from accidentally eating blister beetles. If you even think your horse ate one, please call your vet. You may see colic, diarrhea, blisters on the mouth (which also occur internally), abnormally frequent urination, and discolored urine.


  • Blister beetles only live in certain parts of the country. But, with so many droughts destroying local hay supplies, your hay may come halfway across the country. Inspect your hay to be safe!


blister beetle dangerous for horses

This inch-long dude is a massive jerk and can kill your horse.