University of Minnesota Extension
Menu Menu

Extension > Agriculture > Livestock > Horse > Ask an expert

Hay Soaking

Hay soaking should only be done if the horse has been diagnosed with laminitis, EMS, PSSM, and/or HYPP, and a hay analysis indicates specific nutrients are in excess of recommendations.

What is certified hay and how do you raise it?

Question: What is certified hay and how do you raise it?

Response: The invasion of noxious weeds causes substantial economic loss and ecological damage. Common sources for the introduction and spread of weed seed include the transportation and utilization of contaminated forages.

In Minnesota, the state agency in charge of certified hay is the MN Crop Improvement Association (MCIA). The Noxious Weed Seed Free Forage certification program is designed to assure that forage (hay, cubes and pellets) meets minimum standards designed to limit the spread of noxious weeds. Most public lands in the western U.S. require that hay transported into these areas be certified noxious weed free.

To grow Noxious Weed Seed Free Forage, famers must first submit an application for membership to MCIA and apply for field inspection stating the location of the field and expected harvest date. MCIA then inspects the field and intended storage site to determine conformance to standards for freedom from noxious and undesirable weeds. The farmer then harvests the eligible crop and submits a tag request for the bales harvested. Certification labels are then issued by MCIA for eligible bales. The labels must be attached to each bale prior to delivery.

The MCIA website has additional information at, or they can be contacted by phone at 1-800-510-MCIA.

How many small square-bales are in a round-bale?

It depends on the weight of both the large and small-square bales. For example, if the round-bale weighs 1,000 pounds, then 20 50-pound small-square bales would be equivalent to 1 round-bale. If the large round-bale weighs 1,200 pounds and the small-square bales weigh 40 pounds, then 30 small-square bales would be equivalent to 1 round-bale. It important to know the weight of hay bales both for feeding and economic efficiencies.

By: Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota

Legal options for horse carcass disposal in Minnesota include burial, composting, cremation, rendering, fur farm use and pet food. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Pollution Control Agency (PCA), and Board of Animal Health (BAH) regulate carcass disposal. Burial can be the most cost effective way of disposing of a carcass (if you own equipment to prepare the site), but may not be an available option in all areas of the state. The BAH states that the carcass must be five feet above the high water level, covered with three feet of soil, and not in soils that are within 10 feet of bedrock. If your burial site meets these requirements, then burial of a chemically euthanized horse is a legal option. These regulations are in place to prevent contamination of groundwater and to prevent exposure of the carcass to burrowing, digging, or scavenging animals, especially birds like bald eagles.

In some areas of the state (because of high water tables and the abundance of bedrock) it is not possible to meet the BAH criteria listed above. Therefore, in these areas of the state, burial of any equine carcass is not a legal option.

By: Krishona Martinson, PhD, Univ. of Minn.

Buying Hay

Question: What questions should I ask when buying horse hay?

Answer: Here are some questions horse owners should ask when purchasing hay:

1. Have you sold to horse owners before or do you specialize in horse hay?

2. What is the average weight of the bales? This is very important if buying hay by the bale.

3. What crop/cutting is the hay? Helps indicate maturity; good to know.

4. What species are present in the hay? Legumes and grasses have different nutrient values.

5. Where was the hay harvested? Rule out ditch hay.

6. Was the hay rained on? Rained on hay is a good choice for horses with metabolic problems; it tends to be lower in water soluble carbohydrates.

7. Was the hay stored inside or under cover after baling? Hay stored inside or under cover has less storage loss.

8. Was the hay field fertilized and/or sprayed for weeds? Show good management and likely a better quality product.

9. What are the payment options?

10. Is delivery available and if so, what is the cost?

11. What is the price? Is there a price break for volume or cash?

12. Is assistance available with onsite handling and stacking of hay, and if so, at what cost?

13. How much hay do you have/bale each year? Helps ensure a consistent supply of hay.

Author: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Mud Management in Horse Pens

Question:  I recently built three 14' x 65' drylots for my horses.  The soil in my area is heavy, mucky clay.  What do you recommend using as footing to ensure proper drainage and as little mud as possible?

Response:  Unfortunately, with heavy clay soil, drainage and mud is going to be a continued problem unless the drylot is renovated.   The below system, called a high traffic pad, has proven to work (tested at the Universities of Kentucky and  Vermont) and will dramatically decrease mud problems in drylots.  To install a high traffic pad:

· Remove the 8" of top soil

· Install drainpipe to direct water out of the pen.  The pipe must be sloped towards an outlet. 

· Roll out geotextile fabric.  The fabric comes in large rolls. 

· Add 4" of crushed limestone (usually 1 ½ to 1 ¾ in diameter).

· Add second layer of geotextile fabric.

· Add 4" of dirty pea stone (small gravel)

· Refresh the top layer as needed; usually once every year or two.


The estimated cost for installing a high traffic pad is about $0.80 per square foot.  In one of your 14' x 65' drylots, the cost to renovate the entire paddock will cost just under $800.  To lessen the investment, renovate one  drylot per year. 


The University of Kentucky has a factsheet further outlining the process.  It is available online at


By:  Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota 

Feeding Timothy Hay

Question: I heard the best time to harvest horse quality timothy hay is in the bolt phase (right before heading). The farmer has been trying to sell me hay with timothy heads; the hay is very coarse and has few leaves. Is it worth waiting until second cutting hay?

Answer: Unlike many other cool-season grasses (i.e. orchardgrass, bluegrass, fescue), timothy sends up seed heads after each cutting. Most other grasses will only send up seed heads once in spring, and once cut will remain vegetative with no seed heads. For example, it's common for first crop orchardgrass to include seeds heads, while subsequent cuttings will not. So, it is rare to find timothy hay without seed heads. More mature grasses will be lower in quality since maturity at the time of cutting dictates forage quality.

If you are concerned about the quality and coarseness of the hay, select a mixed cool-season grass hay as most cool-season grasses will remain vegetative after first cutting.

However, to lessen the chance of weather (i.e. too much or not enough rain) affecting your ability to secure hay, it is generally recommend to purchase 50% of your hay needs during first cutting and 50% during second cutting; assuming your hay supplier is operating on a two-cut system. If your hay supplier is operating on a three-cut system, purchase a third of your hay needs from each crop.

First cutting will likely be more mature (because of rapid growth in the spring) and less calorically dense compared to subsequent cuttings; however, use that to your advantage. Feed first cutting hay to maintenance horses or ponies and keep the better quality, later cut hay for horses in an exercise program or ones with greater caloric needs (i.e. growing horses, broodmares).

A forage analysis will provide the nutrient content of the hay; however, make sure to request an equine forage analysis.

By:  Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Feeding a Laminitic Horse

Diets of horses with a history of laminitis (founder) should be kept to less than 12% non-structural carbohydrates.

Would you recommend using treated wood?

Q: I want to install wood fence posts around my horse paddock. Would you recommend using treated wood?

A: Wood posts are a common and safe option for horse paddocks. However, wood has natural enemies including insects, mold, fungi, and bacteria. Some species have natural resistances, such as, cedars, junipers, locust, and redwood. Treated wood is more expensive than un-treated lumber, however, it will help extend the life of your wood fence, likely more than paying for the additional expenses. Current chemical treatments include copper cremated copper arsenate (CCA), ammoniacal zinc copper arsenate (ACZA), copper amines (copper azole, CBA-A & CA-B; alkaline copper quat, ACQ-B, ACQ-C, ACQ-D), and copper naphthenate (CU-Nap).

Pressure treated wood should last 30 to 35 years in Minnesota, compared to untreated wood, which generally lasts between 7 and 15 years. In drier climates, some posts can last longer. For example, cedar posts in western South Dakota can last longer than 100 years. In wet soils, filling the bottom 6 to 12 inches of the hole with a builders grade sand will increase the life of the post. Setting posts in concrete is not recommended because of the expensive and difficultly in replacing or moving the post.

Although horses do commonly chew on wood, I am not aware of any health problems (not counting dental issues) related to horses chewing on treated wood. If a horse is known to crib or chew, CU-Nap treated wood is the best option as no known health risk have been determined if ingested (maybe difficult to find). Another option is to install a single strand of electrified barbless wire, which will help keep the horses from both pushing on the fence and chewing on the wood; further extending the life of the fence and reducing maintenance costs.

CCA and ACZA treated wood has limitations because of arsenic, and has been band in the residential construction market; but still can be purchased in the agricultural sector. If CCA or ACZA is used, recommendations are to not have the CCA treated wood come in direct contact with feed; not used for bunks (support legs are OK), feed storage boxes, etc. The arsenic treated wood is also not recommended for use in playground equipment.

By: Chuck Clanton, PhD, University of Minnesota

To cool a hot horse, should I spray the entire body?

Q: When cooling a hot horse after exercise, many people simply spray the horse all over with water and do not scrape away the excess. Does it really offer a benefit to spray the entire body as opposed to just the legs and belly?

A: Spraying water on a hot horse to cool it off promotes convection cooling and assists the horse in lowering its core temperature. The reason you spray the legs and belly is because the blood vessels are closer to the skin in those locations and it promotes faster cooling of the horse's core temperature by carrying the cooler blood to the heart.

Another important part of cooling out horses is evaporation. After the horse has been sprayed off, it is very important to scrape the water off, because once the horse is sprayed, the water absorbs the horse's heat and becomes warm. In order for evaporation to occur effectively, this warm water must be removed. This process can be repeated until the horse's temperature comes down (i.e., spray, scrape, spray, scrape). If the water is not scraped off, it could act as an insulating layer, and actually make the horse hotter than when you started.

In extreme circumstances, ice can be added to water buckets to increase the speed of cooling the core temperature. It is commonly thought that ice will be a shock to the horse's system and could cause tying up (muscle cramping); however, with extreme heat and internal body temperatures, this is not the case.

If a horse is prone to tying up, it may be recommended to not directly apply the ice to the large gluteal muscles in the hind end, but focus on those key areas where the blood vessels are more superficial.

By Carey Williams, PhD, Rutgers University

  • © 2014 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy