It has probably happened to every backyard-horse keeper at least once. You obtain a load of hay, only to have your horses turn up their noses at it. Or maybe they were eating the load just fine at the start of Winter but now that it is almost Spring, your horses seem less interested.
When this happens in my backyard, I first ask myself some questions. Why is this happening? Why now? Before I encourage the horses to eat their hay, I want to determine if I have a sick horse(s) or if the hay itself is bad.
Tooth problems. Colic. Moldy hay. Thorny hay full of weeds. Foreign objects mixed in. I want to try to rule out those types of possibilities.
If I think a horse is not eating due to illness, I call the vet.
If I determine the hay bale I just starting feeding is bad, I ideally already have some different hay available to feed or can quickly obtain some new bales. Horses need a steady supply of forage to keep their digestive systems running smoothly. Health problems can easily occur due to lack of forage.
In the real world, though, I may not have access to more hay. When the snow storm hits. When my usual supplier runs out. When it is a bad year for growing any kind of hay. There are certain situations where I may be stuck feeding hay that is safe to eat but not particularly palatable.
Side note here- If you determine your hay is actually unsafe, like when your remaining bales have all gone moldy, I suggest talking to your veterinarian about forage alternatives. You might be able to turn your horse out on grass, switch to a pelleted/cubed hay or transfer to a complete feed. Remember, feed changes can sometimes prove problematic for horse’s sensitive digestive systems. That is why I suggest consulting your veterinarian for guidance on how to make the switch.
In the case of “safe yet unpalatable hay,” I use a little trick that seems to perk up my horses’ appetite. I add a light layer of the Standlee Premium Western Forage compressed-bale alfalfa to the top of a regular hay flake. I might wrap it up inside my hay carrier or sprinkle some inside one of my horse’s pre-filled hay bags. It especially works well if I “marinate” their usual portion of hay overnight with the Standlee sprinkles to let the aroma linger over the less palatable hay.
I purchase a Standlee bale or two at my local Tractor Supply at the start of Winter so I always have one on hand just in case. Standlee’s line of compressed hays come in many varieties, but their alfalfa has the best aroma.
The compressed bales are small but heavy and need to be opened to give them time to expand a little bit. The compressed bales are expensive (around $18 USD) so I look for store sales and discount coupons to help offset the cost (the Standlee company periodically offers coupons on their website).
I keep the bales covered and up off the ground. Usually my horses’ not eating their hay is only limited to a hay bale here or there. I only use a little bit of the compressed hay at a time so one or two Standlee bales will last me all Winter.
If I end up with left-over compressed hay at the start of Spring, I usually find that the hay is still quite fragrant. I use it inside my horse trailer by putting regular hay flakes in the horses’ traveling hay bags along with a top dressing of the Standlee compressed hay. If I put the hay bags in the trailer the night before we travel, the trailer will smell like the delicious hay. I like to think it sets up a more pleasant trailer-loading experience for the horse.
If you are not already familiar with the Standlee line of products, check them out at https://standleeforage.com/. On their website, you can sign up for their email newsletter to receive those all important coupons too.
Hopefully my horses will happily eat their hay all Winter long, but if not, I like knowing I have a back up plan at the ready.
Please note this post is unsolicited and uncompensated by Standlee.