Steaming hay vs. soaking hay for horses

Both methods might work for your horse, and each has many benefits. There are also a few differences between the methods that might affect your choice, which largely boils down to sugars. Let’s break it down:  steaming hay vs. soaking hay. 


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  • Steaming and soaking hay reduces the number of particulates your horse can breathe in and reduce the “sugar” levels in the hay. Both methods vary a little bit also.


stacks of hay in a hay loft

Not all hay is best fed without a little steam or water.


What does steaming hay do?


  • Reduces the mold and fungal spores.
  • Reduces bacteria.
  • Reduces dust.


steamed hay inside the barrel

Steamed hay smells sweet


  • Steaming is great for the horse with heaves or other respiratory issues, as there’s barely anything left to inhale.


  • The Water-Soluble Content (water-soluble content, aka “sugars” to be simple about things) is only slightly reduced with steaming. This may not be enough for the metabolically compromised horse.


  • It’s also difficult to steam your hay without the help of a hay-steaming machine that does the work for you. I have a hard enough time steaming vegetables at home, I can’t imagine trying to rig up a steamer at the barn for a few flakes of hay.


  • Depending on the steaming machine/method, the process can take about 45 minutes. The sugar content is not reduced more if you let the hay steam longer.


  • Steaming hay leaves the nutritional values of hay as they are.


temperature gauge on a hay steamer

The temp gauge of a steamer.


What does soaking hay do?


  • Soaking hay is also super at reducing mold spores, fungal spores, and dust.
  • Questionable results about the bacterial levels, as wet hay may create an environment for bacteria to thrive.


  • Significant reduction in the sugar levels of the hay being soaked, therefore a good option for the metabolically challenged horse.


soaking hay in a trough of water

Soaking is fairly uncomplicated. Trough, water, hay.


  • Soaking hay also reduces some vitamin and mineral levels, such as phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. For the horse with HYPP, reduced potassium levels are a benefit.


  • A high-quality vitamin and mineral supplement is key to replacing those lost vitamins and minerals if you are soaking your horse’s hay.


  • The dust and other particles are removed in about 10 minutes, making this process easy for a respiratory-challenged horse. The longer you soak the hay, the more “sugar” is removed, which greatly benefits the metabolically challenged horse.


  • You can purchase automatic soakers that fill and drain on a timer (YES!) or create your own soaking rig. It may be as simple as a tub of water. For ideas on soaking hay, this article can get you started.


  • The weather may be an issue with soaking hay. The hot days of summer can leave soaked hay rancid, and the cold days of winter can freeze your soaking tub. There will be more hands-on monitoring of hay soaking during weather extremes.



What works best for your horse – steaming or soaking hay?




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