If you think a hay analysis is just something else unnecessary to waste your money on, please reconsider.
The dairy and beef industry has been utilizing hay analyses since the 1800s. Why? Because it saves them money through maximized milk production, peak reproductive efficiency, best growth rates, fewer infections, less diarrhea, better response to vaccinations, higher meat, hide and milk quality and strong, sound hooves.
Part of the analysis gives information on protein, calories, fiber, fat and simple carbohydrates. Equally, if not more, important is the mineral information.
Even if you don’t pay much attention to it, you probably wouldn’t feel comfortable buying a bagged feed for your horse that did not have an analysis. You trust something labeled for horses to be appropriate for horses. However, for most horses that bagged feed is no more than 25% of their diet. What about the rest of it? The hay is introducing a host of potential deficiencies, excesses and imbalances into the major portion of your horse’s diet.
Everyone has heard the precautions to not feed pets table food because it could upset the careful balance achieved in their pet food. Why then do you feel comfortable giving your horse a diet that is 75% nutritionally unknown?
Feeding a supplemented feed or using a “balancer” does not mean all problems are solved. These help bring the totals for individual minerals closer to their minimal requirements but more often than not are unable to correct significant mineral imbalances. Because minerals compete for absorption, even a mineral that is at its minimum requirement can be crowded out enough to cause a deficiency.
These widespread deficiencies are a major reason why there is a flourishing market for hoof and coat supplements. They’re not going to kill the horse but impact every aspect of health including fertility, tendon and ligament, immunity to infections and wound healing.
Throwing a lot of supplements at the horse without knowing what is actually needed for your specific diet won’t fix the problem. There is a widespread but very mistaken impression that all alfalfa needs one set of minerals and all “grass” hays can be balanced by one supplement formula. The fact is that while all alfalfa has excessively high calcium, calcium in grass hay is variable and levels of all other minerals varies tremendously between individual hays. Factors include type and strain of hay, soil type, geographical location, rainfall, organic matter in the soil, stage of growth, type and amount of fertilizer or soil treatments such as liming.
The solution is simple. Get a hay analysis. If hay changes too frequently for that, at least research the regional figures for where the hay was grown. You will save by supplementing only what your horse truly needs and in the correct amount. The health benefits are tremendous.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD