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Advice on Feeding Hay

To soak or not to soak, and for how long, is the question.

For many years, horse owners have been wetting or soaking hay for the ‘good-doer’. We should look to provide these horses and ponies with hay of less than 10% water-soluble carbohydrates. We would recommend having your regular source of hay, be it home grown or bought in, analysed so that you know exactly what you are feeding your horse or pony.

Soaking hay provides us with the ability to alter some of the nutrient content of the hay if you are unsure of the WSC and have been unable to have the hay analysed.  Previously we have always believed that soaking hay overnight for six or more hours has the most benefit to horses who need a low sugar and low starch diet to reduce the amount of water-soluble carbohydrates (sugars) in the hay.

Soaking for longer is not always a better choice and can result in the loss of important nutrients, less palatable and poorer quality. Research now shows that soaking hay in clean fresh water for 60 minutes before consumption will effectively reduce the content of water soluble carbohydrates by 30 to 40 percent without removing significant amounts of other nutrients such as phosphorous, magnesium, and potassium. Soaking for longer than one hour removes more WSC, but also removes more of the other nutrients we feed hay to provide.

All soaked hay will, however, start to degrade when wet. Make sure that you:

  1. Choose your container wisely, do not use drums that have been previously used to store chemicals. A new black dustbin for example would make a great choice.
  2. Only use clean fresh water to soak your hay.
  3. Clean your container every time you use this to reduce a build-up of residue and possible bacterial contamination.

References:

Longland A. C., Barfoot C., Harris P. A. (2011)  Effects of soaking on the water-soluble carbohydrate and crude protein content of hay. Veterinary Record. 168: 618 Martinson KL, Hathaway M, Jung H, Sheaffer C. (2012) The effect of soaking on protein and mineral loss in orchard grass and alfalfa hay. Journal