To all of those who soak hay for their horses:
We all know the importance of feeding forage even to overweight horses and ponies.
But I learnt some astonishing information this week about soaking hay!
Many horse owners with overweight or laminitic horses/ponies tend to soak their hay to reduce the Water Soluble Carbohydrates (WSC). Great idea….right? The information I have learnt this week is that by doing this we can actually drastically increase the microbial (bacteria and mould) content and can actually cause more harm than good as we can, in some cases, increase the bacteria to a level beyond what our horses can cope with.
The different ways to feed hay:
Dry – You can test your hay to check the sugar content. Unless your hay is particularly dusty or your horse has a respiratory issue/dust allergy, most horses can deal with a low dust hay fed dry.
Soaked (for 9hrs)– Whilst this helps to reduce the sugar (Water Soluble Carbohydrate) content, it dramatically increases the bacteria content and could cause more problems with the increased bacteria. This is more apparent in the summer. The brown-coloured water left behind is also harbouring bacteria which we then often tip on the land.
Steamed – Steaming does not reduce the nutritional/sugar content in hay by much but could a little. It does drastically reduce the bacteria and dust content.
Soaked (9hrs) then steamed (must be in this order) – This method reduces sugar (WSC), bacteria and dust.
So if you need to limit the sugar content in your horses diet the best solution is to source low WSC content hay (send it off for forage analysis – you want hay with 10% sugar content or less) then you should be able to feed it dry from a small hole haynet which slows the consumption rate down. Or if you cannot source low WSC hay (or need it to be even lower) you could soak the hay followed by a high-temperature steam in a purpose-built steamer, such as Haygain, and dispose of the ‘soaking’ water responsibly.
The research is at the following address: