There are two reasons for hay left by horses. The first is that you are feeding too much hay. The solution is to reduce the amount you provide to them.
The second reason horses leave hay is that they don’t like it. Several causes are behind this. The hay could be too coarse, spoiled, or low in sugar content. Let me explain why sugar content varies. Hay is a seasonal crop usually harvested in summer or late autumn in 1, 2 or 3 cuttings. Then the plant becomes dormant through the winter. Harvesting is tricky based on the weather. Good conditions allow for an earlier cutting of the hay, which is higher in sugar content than later-cut hay. A week or more between optimal and actual cutting can have the sugar content drop very low and the stalkiness (from cellulose or structural carbohydrate/SC) high.
As winter becomes spring, the hay delivered to barns may be of poor quality, low in sugar and high in SC. However, compared to the new grass growth in the fields, the horse will always prefer the pasture over the hay and leave it on the barn floor.
It is a good time to emphasize that all hay is LAST SUMMER’s grass. Feeding this in the winter doesn’t allow for a low-sugar winter’s natural ebb and flow. Continuous feeding of sugar through the winter, above need, increases obesity, metabolic syndrome and protein loss. It is NORMAL for horses to lose body fat in the winter, and it is a sign of better health in horses. The purpose of hay is to feed horses when winter weather is bad. It is a survival supplement. When the horses prefer green grass in the spring, stop feeding hay. They don’t need it. And if they have lost body fat, they will not be metabolic and will not get sick from the new grass.
Remember that this idea is a concept, and your horse may need more attention to avoid laminitis on the new spring grass. Please consult your veterinarian if you have questions. It would be best if you prepared for the spring starting in the autumn months, closely monitoring the body fat through the winter. Each horse is unique in its metabolism; however, a good rule of thumb is to let them lose body fat through the winter. Working horses do well with reduced hay in winter too. If horses lose body fat, they cannot be insulin resistant and will not resorb their proteins. If done correctly, you should stop seeing wasted hay.
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