Good quality hay should be free of mold, dust, and weeds and have a bright green color and a fresh smell. In some instances, placing too much emphasis on color may be misleading in hay selection. Although the bright green color indicates a high vitamin A (beta carotene) content, some hays might be somewhat pale due to bleaching and may still be of good quality. Bleaching is caused by the interaction of dew or other moisture, the rays of the sun, and high ambient temperatures. Brown hay, however, indicates a loss of nutrients due to excess water or heat damage and should be avoided.
Hay which is dusty, moldy, or musty smelling is not suitable for horses. Not only is it unpalatable, but it can contribute to respiratory diseases. Moldy hay can also be toxic to horses and may cause colic or abortion. Bales should not contain undesirable objects or noxious weeds. Check for sticks, wire, blister beetles, poisonous plants, thistle, or plants with barbed awns such as foxtail or cheat grass.
Making premium horse hay involves a valuable balance of knowledge and skill. From a horseman's standpoint, there's nothing like snipping the strings on a bale mid-winter and finding soft, green, leafy hay inside. Horses thrive on such hay and require little grain supplementation. Keep the hay-making process in mind as you make your hay selection this fall.