I just received the first edition of their Nutrition e-newsletter, which links to an article called Nutritional Value of Forages . This hit one of my hot-buttons - perpetuating the myth that what we need for our horses is poor quality hay.
The article quotes
High quality horse forage
- Should provide adequate but not excessive DE (digestible energy/calories expressed in Mcal per pound) and protein levels (by grams consumed, not “percent”) suitable for the horse’s age, reproductive status and level of work
- The DE needs to be low enough that the horse can consume sufficient forage to ensure good gut function without taking in too many calories.
- Should provide major minerals at least at the levels known to be required by horses (or have levels that are easily corrected)
- Should smell good, be free of dust, mold or toxins and be palatable to the horse
- Hays from species that are known nitrate accumulators or were grown in stressful conditions should be tested for safe nitrate levels
- Horses may need time to adjust to the taste/smell of a new variety of forage
- Should be tested for “safe” sugar/starch levels for horses who might be prone to IR (insulin resistance) or laminitis
- Not all “fat” horses are IR; not all IR horses are fat
- IR is not a “disease” – it is a metabolic evolution that allowed horses to develop and thrive in harsh conditions
Forage testing (even if only done as "spot checks" for an idea of what you're feeding if you can't store large quantities of hay) is cheap insurance - at $30 to $50, a lot less than a vet bill. "Correcting" excesses and deficiencies by targeted mineral balancing can be done economically - often for a lot less than buying an "off the shelf" standard supplement which may or may not provide what's needed (and often adds a lot of "stuff" that's not needed).
So - when looking at forage for your horse, think in terms of the "best" quality you can afford. Take words like "rich" out of your vocabulary; they tell you nothing about your hay. Forget "old", "last year's", "poor quality" and "straw" when trying to find low sugar/starch hay.
Think in terms of how many Mcal your horse needs per day, how many grams of protein he needs, and calcium/phosphorus balance based on test results, not on whether it's "grass" or "alfalfa". Look and test for sugar plus starch equal to 10% or less for an IR or laminitic horse - low sugar/starch does not mean compromising on energy, protein or quality. Avoid excessively high iron levels in forage if you can - it may be an indication of poorly maintained fields or high surface contamination, and has been shown to be "pro-inflammatory".
You can figure your horse's requirements in many places (see the Analyzing Hay and Feeds article), find out what your forage supplies from the test results, then the rest is just addition and subtraction. (Well, maybe not "just" but not rocket science either. You might want to try on Dr. Kellon's basic nutrition class - NRC Plus - for starters.)
And use the straw for bedding your cows and goats.