What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Hay is Coarse & Stemmy


Your hay appears coarse and stemmy and you wonder about its suitability as horse feed. 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.

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your role


What To Do

You can roughly determine how well your horse is utilizing this feed by evaluating its palatability, your horse's ability to chew it effectively, and 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.

What Not To Do

Do not feed very coarse or stemmy hay to older horses or horses with dental problems. Do not assume that a coarse, straw-like hay is a good staple for horses.

your vet's role

Talk to your vet about whether they can evaluate the hay, or recommend an analytical laboratory that can perform a nutritional analysis.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What type of hay does the horse eat?
  • Describe the type and quality of the hay?
  • When did you begin feeding the horse this new feed?
  • Is the horse consuming all of its hay or leaving some?
  • Is the horse also spilling or dropping feed, or quidding?
  • Has your horse lost weight?
  • How is the horse's weight or body condition score (BCS)?
  • Does the horse have diarrhea or loose manure?
  • When was the horse's last dental exam by a vet or dental tech working with a vet?
  • Does the manure currently look different than usual for your horse?
  • Does the manure have large plant fibers in it?
  • Can I see a sample of the hay?

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP