We all know that there are two cuttings of hay (although sometimes a third squeaks in in a particularly good year). But is one superior to another? Or does one suit a particular type of horse better?
First cutting is hay that is the first cut of the year for that field. First cutting tends to be coarse, contain more grasses (timothy, brome, orchard grass and bluegrass), dries more quickly and often has more weeds in it.
When buying first cutting be sure to check for excessive moisture and weeds. If it is not cut and cured properly it is likely to have excessive moisture and mold due to spring showers. However, if it is properly produced it can be the most nutritious cutting.
Second hay cutting tends to be richer in nutrients, greener in color, have a sweeter smell and is generally heavier and thicker. It must be completely dry before being baled as it often will rot if baled wet. Second cutting contains fewer grasses and more legumes (red clover, alfalfa or birdsfoot trefoil which is found only in northeastern Ohio). White and landino clovers are usually grown for pasture, while the other three, which contain 14 to 16 percent crude protein are used to make hay. Red clover causes “slobbers,” excessive salivation which doesn’t hurt horses.
Whichever cutting you choose, always be sure that you are buying good hay. Before you purchase any, make sure to inspect a few bales. Buy a couple of bales, cut them open and inspect them thoroughly. Check for mold, moisture, dirt, animal parts, insects, color, weeds and texture. Find a reliable dealer in your area that will supply you with hay year-round from the same fields. This will help decrease the likelihood of sickness or colic in horses that are sensitive to having their feed switched. It will also help ensure that the nutrition you are giving your horse remains consistent. Problems may arise if you regularly switch hay types, hay fields and hay quality.
Bad hay may be detected through any of the following signs:
Light to medium brown (indicating moisture) or dark brown or black (exposed to rain, heavy fog and dew) or light golden yellow (sun-bleached or old hay) Musty odor Hay is hard to separate Bales are heavy (may contain dirt, mold or rocks) Weeds thistles or burrs in bales Gray tint or dusty Bales contain dead animals, animal parts or fecal material Hay is stiff or brittle or stems crack easily Now that you know how to recognize good and bad hay, and the difference between first and second cutting, what about your horse? What is the best hay to choose for an individual horse?