Types of Hay: Feeding Options and Minimizing Storage Losses

Choosing the right hay for your animals’ feed program can be challenging due to the various types available. Each type of hay comes with its unique benefits. For instance, alfalfa hay is rich in protein, making it an excellent choice for boosting nutritional intake.

On the other hand, timothy hay is highly palatable, making it a favorite among livestock. Understanding the distinct characteristics of different hays will empower you to confidently select the best diet for your animals, ensuring their health and well-being.

Types of Hay

Different types of hay are described below:

1.      Alfalfa Hay

Alfalfa is a type of legume hay. It is nutrient-dense and retains substantial protein, energy, vitamins, and nutrients like calcium. It’s especially beneficial in the feed programs of animals requiring a nutrient-rich diet, such as pregnant or lactating mares, competition or working horses, and sometimes young foals.

2.      Orchard Grass

Orchardgrass is a popular cool-season hay, widely used in pasture and hay settings due to its well-balanced nutrition and high palatability. It is favoured by many farmers for these qualities. Ideal orchardgrass should be leafy and soft, and it typically exhibits a beautiful blue-green hue.

3.      Timothy Hay

Timothy hay grass stands out for its balanced nutritional profile. It’s highly palatable and contains essential nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus, making it easily digestible. Additionally, this cool-season grass is popular for feeding small animals like rabbits. It has an appealing taste and high nutritional benefits. If you have cattle or a farm with horses and cows, buying timothy hay in bulk can be a cost-effective way to ensure a steady and nutritious food source for your livestock.

4.      Orchardgrass Alfalfa Mix (O/A Hay)

The orchardgrass/alfalfa mix is an excellent choice for livestock diets that require high energy and protein levels, without relying solely on alfalfa. This blend is particularly beneficial for pregnant or lactating mares and underdeveloped animals needing extra protein. It effectively combines the nutritional benefits of both orchardgrass and alfalfa, making it a balanced and nourishing feed option.

5.      Smooth Bromegrass

Smooth bromegrass, commonly referred to as brome, stands as a top choice for hay among livestock and horse owners. Brome is not only tasteful but also rich in essential proteins and minerals. Horses particularly enjoy its taste, and due to its high digestibility, it serves as an ideal primary feed or a valuable addition to various feed programs. Additionally, brome is often the preferred choice of feed for goats and sheep, owing to its nutritional qualities and taste.

Feeding Options of Different Hay Types

Some important facts about which type of hay should be fed to which animals are listed below:

  • Feeding lactating animals, such as nursing mothers, with alfalfa hay is crucial to prevent them from losing health during milk production. It’s essential to transition from grass hay to legume hay gradually, as the type of feed significantly affects the acid balance in the digestive tract. Abrupt changes can lead to bloat or acidosis.
  • Young animals that are growing quickly and have sensitive mouths may benefit from the softer, leafier alfalfa. If they struggle to chew tougher stems, their nutritional requirements won’t be met, affecting their physical condition.
  • To ensure the quality of the hay you’re feeding, inspect it by cutting open the bale. Avoid mouldy hay, as it’s unsuitable for most animals. While beef cattle can tolerate it, except when pregnant or very young, it can make horses sick.
  • Moldy hay has a distinct odour. Good hay, like from Maple Gems or any reputable supplier, should look fresh, with a mix of leafy material and stems.
  • Weeds in the hay are generally fine and even preferred by goats, but make sure they are not from toxic plants.

Storing Hay

Hay is a crucial component in feeding livestock during times when natural forage isn’t growing. Most hay is made into large round bales, which are popular due to their low labor demands and minimal infrastructure needs for feeding. However, a significant drawback of these big round bales is the weathering they undergo when stored outdoors.

The round structure of these bales presents a large surface area exposed to the elements, making them particularly susceptible to weathering.

Storing Hay Inside

Storing hay in a well-ventilated barn minimizes loss, especially in humid regions where inside bale storage is beneficial. However, humid areas often have issues with bales being overly wet at harvest. High-moisture bales are a fire risk, as they can combust spontaneously. Therefore, tightly packing these bales in a barn can be dangerous, as a single bale catching fire could lead to the loss of the entire shed.

Storing Hay Outside

Storing round hay bales outdoors can significantly reduce their nutrient value and taste. This results in increased shrinkage during storage and greater waste at feeding time. The deterioration of the hay, combined with feeding losses, substantially increases its cost when it is stored outside.

Ways to Improve Hay Storage

When storing hay, it’s important to consider different strategies for indoor and outdoor storage to minimize risks and losses:

Indoor Storage

  • Invest in a Hay Moisture Probe: This tool is vital for preventing combustion and fire risks. It helps monitor the moisture content in the hay, ensuring it stays within safe limits.

Outdoor Storage

  • Improve Drainage: Enhance the drainage of the area where hay is stored. This prevents water accumulation that can damage the hay.
  • Orientation of Bale Rows: Arrange bale rows to run up and down a slope. This helps with water run-off, reducing the risk of moisture damage.
  • Avoid Direct Contact Between Bales: Ensure bales are not touching each other to allow air circulation and reduce moisture build-up.
  • Use Tarps for Protection: Covering bales with tarps is a cost-effective method compared to building sheds. Tarps protect the hay from rain and moisture.


The above information is comprehensive and detailed regarding types of hay, feeding options, and ways to improve hay storage to prevent losses. This information will help you to choose the correct hay type for your animal and how you can store it better to avoid any harmful effects.

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