The Stables

Something To Chew Over: The Signs Of A Bad Hay Bale

Hay (forage) makes up the majority of your horse feed and finding bales of hay that are not only high quality, but affordable too can be a challenging feat, especially if you’re unsure what you are looking for.  With several factors contributing to quality such as the weather conditions when the hay is harvested and the condition of the storage facility, hay making is not easy. Getting it wrong can result in high levels of dust and mould which can have significant implications for your horse’s respiratory health. In this article, we are going to look at how you can spot the signs of bad hay. 


When choosing the right hay it is essential that you pay attention to the smell – if it’s musty it should be avoided. Bad hay often tends to be lower in nutritional value and as horses are very sensitive to mould, they often avoid eating it – the last thing you want after you have purchased your stock for the whole winter! If it’s a bale of good hay, you will notice that the smell is fresh and can often smell sweet depending on how old it is. 

Storing your hay correctly 

It is important to store your hay in a cool dry place without any form of damp or excess heat. This will help to preserve the hay until you need it, ensuring that your horse gets all the benefits. Ensuring there is good ventilation in your barn is ideal for helping to keep them cool and if you sit the bales of hay on pallets it will help to reduce the risk of the bottom bales getting wet and going mouldy. Mouldy hay isn’t always obvious from the outside of the bale, in some cases the hay may have random patches of it deeper into the bale. Therefore, it’s vital that you thoroughly check the hay each time you feed it to your horse. 

Never Feed A Horse Dusty Hay

If the hay bale is extremely dusty, don’t feed it to you horse. There are a number of things you can do to reduce levels of dust especially if your horse is particularly sensitive to it. Soaking and steaming hay help to reduce the dust content but bear in mind that steaming doesn’t reduce sugar levels. Therefore if you want to reduce sugar intake you need to soak. 

Bad Grasses and Poisonous Plants 

When looking at a bale of hay, it is crucial that you’re aware of any poisonous plants that may have got caught up in the bale. Ragwort is one of the most dangerous – farmers producing hay for horses are usually very aware of the dangers of ragwort but it is always worth checking with your supplier to be sure they are aware of what it is and what it looks like. 

With hay being such a huge part of your horses’ diet, it is worth knowing what you are feeding. Most feed companies will analyse your hay for you for a small fee – this is a worthwhile investment so you can be sure of what you are buying.

Working in partnership with Dengie