Caution: Rainy Weather Hay - Beware!

Hay for your horse.
Hay for your horse.

From the Midwest to the Northeast, this has been a bad year for hay, and rain is the culprit. Rain is always the question mark: it seems either there is not enough of it, or too much.

Rich hay color - Better for our horse

Rich hay color - Better for our horse

This season’s weather makes it particularly important for you as a horse owner to be very particularly picky about the hay you buy.

From the drought we’ve experienced the past few years we’ve now gone to rain that appears every day or two. And while rain makes the grass grow, it also ruins the hay.

Some farmers have not managed a single crop of hay yet (in July). In Vermont there are areas that had rain for 25 out of 30 days in May. How do you make hay under those conditions?

Even if you start on a beautiful, sunny day. by the time you are half way through cutting the hay, rain may be drenching the newly cut stalks. Or you get it all cut, but by the time you get home it is pouring.

In our area (the Northeast), although it varies, it generally takes about three days to cure hay. That would be in normal weather. If you luck into blistering hot days and high winds, the hay can be baled after two days.

After the hay is cut, it’s time to ‘ted’ it. A tedder lifts the hay and spreads it out to allow it to dry faster and more evenly. At Eastern Hay, we ted our hay three times after it is cut.

On the final day, the hay is raked into a “windrow” so that the baler can come through and bale and process it. A windrow is piled high so that the wind can blow through it and complete the drying process. Within an hour after the hay is raked into windrows, the baler comes through, creating bales of hay.

On the West Coast, the process is a lot simpler. The dry climate eliminates worries about rain, with irrigation keeping the grass watered until it is time to cut it. This system produces hay with a lot more color in it. On the west coast it isn’t even necessary to ted the hay. After raking and baling, it is good to go. This allows the hay to be cut and baled in only two days..

East Coast hay often is a lot less green in color because moisture in the form of rain degrades plants, knocking down its nutritional value. When you cut your lawn, it turns brown. So when you cut hay you ted it, in order to get the moisture off the stalks by letting the wind go through it.

Because of the crucial timing required to cut hay and let it cure properly, farmers on the East Coast become very dependent on weatherman, and are constantly consulting weather reports. Our favorite here at Eastern Hay is Joe Bastardi at Weatherbell Analytics.

This season’s weather makes it particularly important for you as a horse owner to be very particularly picky about the hay you buy.

If you go to your local guy who grows hay, you need to do some detective work as the hay may be compromised. With rain every other day (or every day!), it’s hard to find hay that hasn’t been compromised. Be sure to ask the grower, “Was the hay rained on?”

And rely on those all-important barometers of good or bad hay: your senses.

Does the hay look good, fresh and green? Or is it brown inside (the outside of the bale may be yellow or brownish due to sun bleaching), or do you see tell-tale white puffs when you open a bale?

Stick your nose in it (not if you see the puffs of mold of course!). How does it smell? Like a dirty, wet basement? That’s mold. Fresh hay smells, fresh…like grass.

Feel it. Is it stalky, are there prickers, dust, or other extraneous material? If it feels rough in your hands, how will it feel in your horse’s mouth?

Good hay has a fine texture, feeling soft in your hands. In addition, it has a high leaf to stem ratio, as the majority of the digestible nutrients are found in the leaves.

By Ann Jamieson - Eastern Hay

Brought to you by Eastern Hay, Pawling, NY,; 845-855-3291

About the Author

Flossie Sellers

As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.

She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.

Staying  up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere..