There are few equine ownership responsibilities fraught with less anxiety than sourcing and stacking hay for the year. I know the feeling all too well. When you’re shopping for “low carb” hay that anxiety can be even more intense due to the increased number of factors to consider!  If you’re new to sourcing “low carb” hay this article is for you.

First, you need to know if the forage analysis results are reliable (The DO’S). Secondly, you will need to communicate your needs to your hay suppliers in the best way (The DON’TS). Of course, these two needs are related. Let’s tackle the DO’S first…

As “low carb” lots become available across the country, it’s VERY important to be know what to look for in a forage analysis BEFORE YOU READ THE NUMBERS. Unfortunately, the “low carb” forage interpretation is not consistent in part due to different labs, different testings, and different reporting structures. This is not only dangerous for the carb-sensitive equine, but a major headache for the poor soul trying to source low carb hay. That’s why LCHH was created- to draw clear lines as to what is considered “low carb” in the marketplace and help everyone to weed through the jargon. LCHH wants you, the horse owner, to be able to fairly compare Apples-to-Apples across multiple forage (and feed) products.  Here are the 10 Do’s and Don’t of sourcing “low carb” hay.

  1. First, how many cores or samples were taken? What you’re really asking here is “are the results representative of the hay I’m purchasing. Trust me, grabbing a handful of hay from one bale is NOT representative and certainly not worthy of basing a diseased animals’ diet on. Hay can vary within one bale much less an entire stack. It’s ok to ask the grower how many samples they took from the particular field and cutting that you are purchasing- LCHH sure does. LCHH wants to be sure that the forage analysis you look at is representative of the average bale in the lot.
  2. What lab received the analysis? Not all laboratories are created equal. Labs are rated by an organization called the National Forage Testing Association (NFTA). LCHH only uses A rated forage laborites with proven records of accurate test results. 
  3. Did they use Near Infrared Reflective Spectroscopy (NIRS) or Wet Chemistry to test the forage? This is important, so pay attention. You should ONLY trust wet chemistry results when looking at a forage analysis for carbohydrate values. First of all, NIRS tests don’t exist for starch so you won’t be able to get the full picture. Secondly, wet chemistry is more accurate. Is wet chemistry more expensive? Yes, but we require it at LCHH.
  4. Are the carb values being reported on an “as sampled” or “dry matter” basis. As sampled results are with water, and dry matter results are reported without water. It’s important to get in the habit of comparing the Dry Matter results, because the amount of water in hay and pasture can vary. You may not be comparing Apples-to-Apples every time if you only look at As Sampled results. Obviously, the As Sampled percentage will always be lower than the dry matter percentage, but don’t fall into the trap! All research that produces the recommendations for “low carb” diets are using Dry Matter- FYI.
  5. What is the WSC percentage and the Starch percentage separately? All forage sample results come back with WSC, ESC, and Starch percentages. Make sure that you ask for the WSC% and Starch% separately so that you can do your own math to add them together and get the total NSC%.

Now the DON’TS. In order to create a healthy relationship between yourself and your potential hay supplier, you need to understand a little bit about their business. LCHH wants to bridge the communication gap between the equestrian community and the forage industry. LCHH wants to ensure that MORE “low carb” forages become available in the future, so being mindful when you contact your LCHH grower is extremely helpful. A relationship built on mutual respect will encourage the hay grower to continue to supply high-quality, low carb hay. Here are some things to avoid when speaking with your hay supplier. 

  1. Do not assume that the grower will sell in small quantities. Many growers in our region speak truckloads not bales. It will really put you in the right light if you ask them if they are willing to sell in smaller quantities first. i.e. “Are you willing to sell by the bale or less than 10 ton? How about quantities less than 5 ton?” If they are not able to accommodate small purchases, talk to your local hay supplier ore feed store about being LCHH Certified.
  2. Do not assume that you will get a free sample bale to check palatability. I would suggest that you offer to pay for the bale and make arrangements to pick it up yourself. Growers are very, very busy artisans and they will appreciate your efforts.
  3. Do not forget to ask your hay grower for their preferred form of communication. It’s very polite to ask them if email, text, phone, Messenger,…x, y, z form is the best way to get a hold of them.
  4. Once you have decided to purchase a particular lot, do not assume that they will load it for you. Ask the grower what kind of loading equipment that they have available at the stack. If they have a squeeze shoot or other loader, you may need to borrow a flat bed trailer to help speed up the loading. If you only have an enclosed trailer to move hay, get a strong friend to help you load so that the grower doesn’t have to do it for you. 
  5. Do NOT forget to THANK your LCHH grower for all their hard work and to acknowledge their contribution to your horse’s health!!!

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