Can I Trust my Hay Analysis?

By Lynda M. Vanden Elzen & Tamara Wrayton

At Wrayton Transport Hay Sales, we have been testing the hay we sell for years.  In the old days before hay testing, hay quality was evaluated based on general appearance, texture, colour, what was in it, and how it smelled.  If you had a fat horse, you fed it grass hay.  If your horse needed weight, you fed it alfalfa.  Things were so simple back then — except when they weren’t.

Many conscientious horse owners are now making sure to feed tested hay to their equines.  From the thoroughbred who can never eat enough to keep weight on, to the paddock potato stock horse who looks at food and gets fat, every horse can benefit from eating a diet that is suitable for their unique metabolic and performance needs.  Forage testing takes the guess work out of choosing suitable hay for our horses, and for those equines who are sugar-sensitive, it can be the difference between life and death.  These days, what kind of hay it is, or what it looks like, are less important than how it tests.  But are all forage tests created equal?


How many bales would we have to sample to generate an accurate analysis of this stack?

Things to consider:

Was a representative sample taken?  A “representative sample” means exactly what it sounds like – a sample that as accurately as possible represents the larger pile of hay it came from.  Every bale from the same field is not the same.  Every flake in a single bale is not the same.  There are many factors that can influence how hay tests, and those factors are not always uniform throughout a whole field.  Examples are the amount of alfalfa (alfalfa tends to lower sugar values and raise protein values), whether that part of the field was shady or sunny (sunny areas may be higher in sugar if the grass was more stressed), to name a couple.  A hay analysis represents an average of whatever hay was sampled, so make sure the sample represents, as accurately as possible, the stack as a whole.  Generally, we core 10-15 bales per sample, but how many bales should be sampled to create an accurate test really depends on the size of the stack they came from.

Where was the hay sampled?  Was the sample taken at the farmer’s stack?  Or was it taken from a few bales in one person’s barn?  If the farmer’s stack contains 12,000 bales, how many do you have to sample to get an accurate test?  The answer is, it depends.  Different parts of the stack may represent different fields, or different parts of the same field.  Some people think sampling at the farmer’s stack is the most accurate option, but it depends on the make-up of that stack.  At Wrayton Transport, we sample the hay first at the farmer’s stack to get an idea of how it tests and if the hay is worth buying.  Once we have the hay in our barn, we will sample one or more random loads, depending on how much of that hay we have to sell for the year, and then we compare the tests.  If the tests are relatively similar (values within a variance of +/- 2%) then we can be as confident as possible that the tests we have represent the hay we are selling.  If the tests are wildly different, then we know we need to test each load as it comes in so that we can be confident that the test we hand you represents the bales you are buying as accurately as possible.

Who took the sample? Was the hay sampled by the farmer who grew it, or by a hay dealer who sold it?  How many people were a part of the chain of custody of that test, and are you sure that test belongs to the hay in question?  No reputable hay dealer would purposely hand you a test that doesn’t belong to the hay you’re buying, but every time a test changes hands, there is always a margin for error. Theoretically, someone could hand you a test for grass clippings from their lawn and claim it belongs to a stack of timothy!  It is important to do your due diligence to ensure that you  are looking at a test that represents the hay you are buying as accurately as possible.

At the end of the day, a hay test is only as good as the sample that was taken, and all a test can give you is an average of whatever was sampled.  Hopefully this article will empower you to ask the questions you need to so that you can purchase the right hay for your horses with full confidence that the test in your hand represents the hay in your barn 🙂

How Much Does My Horse Eat?

by Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

Whether we own one pleasure horse or a barn of fifty performance horses, it is important that all of us know how much our horses eat.  We need to be able to budget for the cost of feeding and be aware of how long our hay will last.  Also, knowing how much our horses tend to eat can be helpful so we will notice changes in their intake, enabling us to catch colics and other health problems quickly. On a day to day basis, if we pay attention to our horse’s body condition and do some simple math, we can figure out if we might need to adjust the type of hay we are feeding in order to provide the right amount of energy and nutrients.

977320_610145955672862_800881093_oThe cost of hay – per bale or per pound?

One of the most common questions we get is “How much is your hay per bale?” The answer is that we sell by the short ton (2000 lbs), not by the bale, because how much does a bale weigh? 30 lbs? 60 lbs? 100 lbs? 800 lbs? 1800 lbs? Bales vary a LOT, as you can see, so how much a bale costs depends on how much it weighs, and comparing hay prices based on bale prices is extremely misleading.

In the Fraser Valley, local hay bales can be very light. The size of the bale in no way tells you how much it weighs, as it depends on how tightly packed the bale is, and what kind of hay it is as well. Often, people think they’re getting a deal by purchasing local small square bales off the field for $7/bale, say. Well, if that $7 bale weighs 30 lbs, that’s not really a good deal, is it? In that case, you’re paying $0.23/lb for your hay. Most of the hay we sell is somewhere around 30 bales per ton. That means an average bale weighs about 67 lbs. If the hay is $470/ton, for example, and it’s 30 bales per ton, then you’re paying $15.67 per bale, but by the pound you’re still paying $0.23. Even though these bales have vastly different prices on the surface, ultimately they are costing you the same amount of money by weight. The important information to take away from this is that if you want to compare apples to apples, you need a consistent basis for comparison!

How many flakes of hay should I feed?

Another question we get sometimes is, “How many flakes should I feed?” Square bales are sectioned into flakes, so many horse owners feed by the flake. Flakes are not a standard size or weight – different balers create different sized flakes, and depending on the tightness of the baler’s tensioner, the flakes will be looser or tighter packed. Combined with the fact that different bales weigh different amounts, this means that we cannot tell you how many flakes you should feed. All we can advise is that if you want to know how much your horse is eating, you should weigh your hay as you feed it, or at least be aware of the average bale weight and how many days it takes to use a bale.

How much do horses eat?

An average sized horse such as a 16hh, 1,100 lb thoroughbred, for example, will tend to eat about a half ton (1,000 lbs) of hay per month if fed an appropriate hay free choice. Given there are an average of 30.4 days in a month, that comes out to about 33 lbs of hay per day, or about 3% of bodyweight.

A smaller horse, like a 15hh, 800 lb stock horse might eat more like a third of a ton (667 lbs) of hay per month if fed free choice. Using the same math, that comes out to about 22 lbs of hay per day, or – again – close to 3% of bodyweight.  These are just loose guidelines, however, because how much a horse will eat depends what he is eating.

Many people talk about how much your horse should eat as a percentage of bodyweight, but the rate of consumption really depends what you are feeding. The quantity of feed is part of the equation, but the amount of energy in that feed is extremely important to consider! It is quite a different thing if my hard keeping thoroughbred eats 3% of her bodyweight in a high calorie 2nd cut orchard/alfalfa with an RFV (relative fed value) of 140%, vs if my easy keeping stock horse eats 3% of his bodyweight in a low calorie, high fibre, 1st cut timothy with an RFV of 75% and a texture like fire kindling. To put it in humans terms, eating a pound of cheese is a LOT different than eating a pound of celery! You can’t just say that a person should eat a certain percentage of bodyweight in food every day without considering the type of food. (Too bad, because the 2% of my bodyweight in bacon diet sounds pretty good!)

Also, if you want to reduce the amount your horse eats, instead of simply adjusting the quantity you feed, you can instead adjust the quality, just like in the example above comparing celery to cheese. That is, if you want your horse to eat fewer calories and lose some weight, why not feed a hay that is lower in calories and sugars, and higher in fibre? That way, he’ll eat less as a function of what you are feeding him, rather than having to stand around with no hay in between feedings. Again, if you want to compare apples to apples, basing how much you feed on a percentage of the horse’s ideal bodyweight does not take into account the vastly different nutrient and energy profiles of different types of hay.

Am I feeding the right hay?

You can use the feed percentage of bodyweight as a guideline to assess if you are feeding an appropriate forage. For example, if you do the math and discover that your overweight horse is consuming 5% of his bodyweight in hay every day, you can look at what type of hay you are feeding. Many people want to feed a soft, palatable hay that their horses love, but perhaps what their fat pony needs is a coarser, higher fibre, lower calorie hay to keep him busy without packing such a caloric punch. You might find that if you feed a hay that is higher in fibre, the pony will adjust the quantity he is eating as a natural result of what he is eating. In that way, you can use the feed percentage of bodyweight calculation as a guide to tell you whether you are feeding appropriate hay, rather than using it to restrict inappropriate hay.

Similarly, if your hard keeper is losing weight despite being fed free choice, you can look at what you are feeding and provide something higher in energy, and perhaps lower in fibre, to enable him to gain weight.

In Conclusion:

Ultimately, all of this is a general guideline, and every horse is an individual. It is important to avoid taking a cookie cutter approach to horses who are not the same, so if your horse has forage available all the time, and if he is healthy and happy and able to do his job, then don’t fix what isn’t broken! As long as you have an idea of how much he tends to eat, you can budget for when you will need hay, and how much to buy. If he is not going through an appropriate amount of hay and his body condition is not ideal, being aware of these guidelines can be a big help so you can adjust your feeding program as required. Make sure you are considering how much your hay costs, not by the bale, but by the pound, so you can make an accurate comparison between the vastly different prices you see advertised. It is also worth considering the nutritional value of what you are feeding, whether your horses will eat it, and how what they are eating is affecting their overall health and performance.

Propionic Acid-Treated Hay: Is it Safe?

By Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

IMG_1463As horse owners, we always want to find the highest quality hay available for our horses.  Opinions vary regarding which type of hay is ideal, and a hay that is ideal for one horse may be detrimental to another.  One consistent requirement, however, is that hay is free of detectable mould and dust.  What horse owners may not be aware of is how narrow the window is for farmers to bale hay successfully, not only at the optimal plant maturity level, but also at safe moisture levels, while contending with unpredictable weather at the same time.  Losses due to rain and insufficient drying time can cost a farmer a lot of money, and cause heating, loss of nutritional value, and even spontaneous combustion.

Ideally, farmers tend to want to bale when the plants have dried to moisture levels from 13-17%, so that the hay is dry enough to avoid heating and significant loss of nutritional value and bale weight, but not so dry that it shatters.  Ideally, this hay will then cure to contain 10-12% moisture or less (more…)

Hay Storage Safety

By Lynda M. Vanden Elzen
(Published originally in the Langley Times, June 29 2016, page 27)

Pages-from-i20160629054201873Did you know that hay can spontaneously combust, causing barn fires and loss of life, equipment, and structures? Hay is cut in the field, and then baled and stored. If the plants do not dry sufficiently before baling, the hay bales will go through a curing process in storage, sometimes called a “sweat.” This curing process produces heat, which can build up to over 200°F and ignite! When hay is baled before it is dried sufficiently, heat can build as a result of live plant tissue respiration coupled with bacteria and mold growth. Ambient moisture in the air surrounding stored hay can also be a factor.

In the Lower Mainland of BC, our wet climate can produce a perfect storm leading to hay combustion due to the high ambient moisture in our air, and the difficulty our local farmers can experience when trying to dry their hay sufficiently before baling. Hay should test at 10-12% moisture or less in order to avoid risk of heating. In dryer climates, (more…)

A Missing Link for the Metabolic Horse

By: Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

We spend a lot of time here talking to customers about how to feed their sugar-sensitive horses.  People call looking for low sugar hay, and inevitably we end up talking about their horses with them.  We like to get a wholistic picture of the horses we are helping to feed so that we can make the best recommendations to their owners.  More often than not, the horse is a mature, sedentary animal, and the owner admits with great guilt that they don’t ride him as often as they should.  More and more, horses are living sedentary lives in stalls and small paddocks, many with the best of everything….except what is one of the most crucial aspects of their welfare – exercise.

The reality is that we can feed a metabolic horse a diet that is low in sugars, but there is a great deal more to it in terms of creating a wholistic plan (more…)

What is “Quality Hay”?

Written by Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

IMG_9370Nearly every day, someone asks us, “What is quality hay?”  Is 2nd cut better than 1st cut?  Is timothy better than orchard grass?  Are alfalfa mixes better than grass hay?  Is soft hay better than coarse hay?  Is low sugar hay better than “regular” hay?  These are all good questions.  The answer is that it depends on the horse you’re feeding.

Many horse owners who come here to look at hay want pretty, dark green, soft second cut, and then when we ask them about their horse, they tell us they have an overweight, sedentary quarter horse.  The hay analysis notwithstanding, soft hay is usually lower in fibre, which means the horse can eat more of it more quickly.  This is great for a hard keeping thoroughbred, but not so great for a fat pony.  A hay that is dark green in colour can be high in protein and nutrients, but it can also be high in nitrates, especially when you’re talking about our local hay here in the Fraser Valley.  High nitrates can tend to cause diarrhea in many horses.  So, from this short introduction, I think you can see that an appraisal of hay quality is relative to the horse who will be eating it. (more…)

Timothy & Sugars

by Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

Timothy Grass, Langley BC

Recently, we posted here about some of the many misconceptions and some general information about Alfalfa & Protein, and the article got a big response.  Alfalfa is not the only type of hay that is misunderstood – we receive calls from customers all the time who have been told that timothy hay is always low in sugar, or that it is “too rich” for their horses.  We have even heard of vets and equine nutritionists, supplement companies, forum threads and websites etc, telling horse owners to feed timothy hay to their laminitic ponies because it’s always low sugar or always low in calories.  Well, we’re here to tell you it is just not anywhere near that simple.  Feeding any kind of untested hay to sugar-sensitive horses is very risky.  We have done tests ourselves on timothy we didn’t end up buying because the NSC (Non Structural Carbohydrate) values were up to 24%, when sugar-sensitive horses should not consume an NSC of more than 10-12% depending on whose research you’re following.  Even regular hardworking horses (more…)

Alfalfa & Protein

by Lynda M. Vanden Elzen

We get a LOT of questions and comments from customers about feeding alfalfa to horses. There are many myths circulated about alfalfa, which is unfortunate, because it can be an excellent horse feed. Alfalfa is a legume hay that is generally low in sugars, has no fructans (a type of sugar), is high in calcium and quality protein, and because of its very deep root systems – up to 49 feet into the ground – alfalfa plants are able to access nutrients deep in the soil that other plants cannot.  Alfalfa can be a big help to horses who suffer from gastric ulcers, it provides abundant minerals and amino acids, and horses love to eat it!  Many horse people are afraid to feed alfalfa, so we’d like to present some information here on alfalfa and protein to help people to make educated choices about both.

a close up of alfalfa hay

alfalfa hay

Protein is made up of essential and non-essential amino acids. The horse’s body can synthesize some amino acids on its own, so those ones are called “non-essential” because the horse does not need to consume them in his feed. Essential amino acids must come from the horse’s diet. These are: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Amino acids work together to form complete proteins, so if one is missing or in short supply, this limits the amount of protein available to the horse (more…)

Horseman’s Bazaar tomorrow March 13!

quarter horse bazaarDon’t forget to join us at Thunderbird Show Park for the LMQHA’s annual Horseman’s Bazaar. Kids had fun helping us set up today. Lynda will be there all day manning the booth. She has lots of good handouts about hay testing and nutrition as well as pens, bumper stickers and candy! I will be in and out as the littles are also involved in a demo with their vaulting club so make sure you find us! Vaulting demos are at 11:30 and 3:30.



Thermal images of hoof during laminitis

An interesting article about the temperature of a foundering horse’s feet. Observations included:

• Vasodilation (warm feet) promoted laminitis
• Vasoconstriction (cold feet) protected (cryotherapy?)

Thermal images of a hoof every hour 48 hours into laminitis:
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To read the full article please follow this link:

While we should of course endeavour to avoid triggering laminitis this study shows the importance of paying attention to heat in the feet and early diagnosis.

Welcome to our new website!

We have just launched our pretty awesome new website! We hope you enjoy it. Check back here for articles and thoughts from us – we are excited 🙂

Almost as excited as the mule.