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Hay is Coarse & Stemmy

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Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

    Your hay appears coarse and stemmy and you wonder about its suitability as a feed for your horse. The coarseness of hay relates to its type and maturity at harvest. Usually, grasses lose nutritional value and become harder to digest as they mature.

    Generally, healthy horses can eat a wide variety of feeds without any problems. Coarse hays may not be palatable to horses that are accustomed to more tender feeds, but they usually do adjust in time.

    However the nutritional value of coarse or stemmy hay may be low, leading to weight loss or nutritional deficiencies. Very coarse hays and straws can increase the risk of abdominal pain (colic) and intestinal impaction. For this reason, coarse hays should not be fed to older horses or horses with dental problems.


    You can roughly determine how well your horse is utilizing this feed by evaluating their manure. Is the hay broken down into very small fragments, or are there numerous large fibers present? If there is large coarse dry plant material in the manure? If so, this is evidence that this feed is not well digested or it may be indicative of a dental problem.

    Have your hay analyzed for nutritional value or at least visually assessed by an expert. Stemmy coarse hays can sometimes be fed as a filler. The “right” coarse hay may be beneficial if consumed gradually through the day. In any case, make all feed changes slowly and monitor the results carefully.


    Talk to your vet about whether they can evaluate the hay, or recommend an analytical laboratory that can perform a nutritional analysis.

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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