Know the Quality of your Hay


Hay is undoubtedly the ideal forage for horses. Here the experts at HAYGAIN hay steamers share their advice on purchasing hay, taking into consideration the quality of the hay and how to store it correctly to retain its nutritional content throughout the year.

The quality of hay depends on the value of the crop, determined by the weather and maintenance of the grass before harvest. Once cut, the grass must be given sufficient time to dry, to remove moisture before baling. The healthier and drier the crop, the better the hay.

What to look for?

When looking for high-quality hay, knowing what is inside counts. Before buying hay, open at least one bale up and look inside. Slight discolouration isn’t a problem; this often occurs with stacked hay.

Obvious signs of bad hay are warmth, extreme sun bleaching, mould, dust, fermentation or abnormal heaviness. Avoid hay that contains weeds, dirt, insects or rubbish.

Look at the texture of the hay; it should be fine-stemmed, green, leafy and soft.

Good hay should smell sweet; poor hay often smells musty.

Try to feed the hay within the year of its harvest, to ensure it still retains its nutritional value.


How to store hay?

Storage is vital to ensure hay remains top quality. Hay should be stored in hay sheds and barns that offer complete protection from wind, rain, snow and sun.

Store areas must be cleaned out before new hay is stacked in. If old hay dust is left, mouldy spores can mix with the new clean forage. Old hay should be kept separate from new bales. Unless the floor of the barn has a waterproof membrane (concrete), bales should be raised off the ground to avoid moisture rising through floor.

Once baled, the hay is still drying so it’s crucial to keep it well ventilated; leaving the bales out in the field to develop for a couple of days, if sunny, can be beneficial.

There are generally two main types of hay storage barns: fully enclosed, which can be open at one end for ease of filling, but are otherwise totally enclosed, and “roof only” structures, accessible from all sides.

When planning storage, ventilation is the key to good hay. The storage must allow for air exchange, either by natural ventilation, or a fan system. This is especially the case if the hay is not perfectly dry, so the air can get in to the hay and dry it out completely. Good ventilation will also remove excessive moisture; if the moisture is left, it can move from warmer to cooler areas of the stack, damaging more bales. Ventilation will also remove condensation which can form under steel.

‘Visitors’ to hay barns (chickens, foxes, rodents, etc.) can contaminate hay and will leave their ‘calling card’ – adding to the bacteria – as well as their smell, which horses notice far more acutely than humans. (Cats are great for killing rodents.)

Hay bales should be stacked with the newer ones at the back and the older at the front, so the older ones are used first, and allow narrow gaps between rows for extra air flow. Try to keep them off the ground to ensure maximum air flow; open lofts are ideal; another alternative is wooden pallets.

Steaming Hay

Even the best quality hay may contain levels of dust and spores, which can provoke coughing in horses, as well as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), amongst other respiratory diseases.

Soaking hay to eliminate dust is not only messy and laborious, but also reduces the nutritional content and produces a liquid waste that is classed as an environmental pollutant, eight times worse than human effluent.

Steaming hay with the HAYGAIN hay steamer has been scientifically proven to kill harmful spores found in hay and therefore effectively sterilise hay without nutritional loss.

The HAYGAIN hay steamer has been researched and extensively tested at The Royal Agricultural College, by Equine Nutritionist Dr Meriel Moore-Colyer.

HAYGAIN’s unique concept enables steam to penetrate the centre of the bale, releasing steam evenly which defuses outwards, ensuring the entire bale is steamed at the critically necessary temperatures (circa 100°C throughout).
Using the HAYGAIN hay steamer produces sweet-smelling, palatable, dust-free hay.
HAYGAIN is currently available in three models: the HG-1000, HG-600 and HG-GO. With all the units steamed hay is ready to feed immediately after steaming cycles of less than 50 minutes depending on model. Complete nutritional value and goodness are maintained with improved palatability and digestibility.

Proven by several leading research institutions and establishments, HAYGAIN is endorsed and prescribed by leading vets internationally, and used by professional riders throughout all disciplines.
The HG-1000 is designed to steam a full bale. It can process a fully strung bale and withstand the use and abused on the biggest, busiest of yards.

The HG-600 accommodates half a bale, hay nets or hay wedges and is ideal for smaller yards and for use away at competitions. The unit is extremely durable, compact and easy to move around, the stables.

The new HG-GO is a fully collapsible bag that will accommodate half a bale of hay or large hay net, ideal to take to shows. It is lightweight and easy to use.

All HAYGAIN steamers are exceptionally robust with only stainless steel and brass fittings so they can be used in all climatic conditions. They are uniquely thermally insulated for unmatched performance and energy efficiency and are the only hay steamers with a patented method which ensures even steaming.

Ongoing extensive research continues by HAYGAIN at universities, research centres and veterinary practices in several countries to investigate further the additional benefits of steamed hay with some imminent ground breaking developments.

For further information please contact Haygain hay steamers on (0333) 200 5233 or visit

Author: The Editor

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