Low Carb - Low Sugar Hay

Low Carb - Low Sugar Hay

For Metabolic Horses & Foundering Ponies

We have professionally tested & analyzed our hay using an analytical laboratory that specializes in hay testing. We have a lot of hay between 5-10% NSC (sugars & starches combined), whereas Metabolic Syndrome horses should be between 10-12% (or lower) as recommended by veterinarians and research laboratories.

The best way to determine the NSC in a bale of hay is to get it tested. When you test your hay, you get not only the NSC value but other nutrient levels as well.

There are several laboratories that specialize in hay analysis. Equi-analytical Laboratories has a 6-step procedure in diagram form on their website. You can also check with your local extension office to see if they offer testing services.

To collect your sample of hay, you will need a hay probe, a drill, and a zip lock sealable plastic bag to put the hay sample in. You can either purchase a hay probe or you can check with your local extension office to see if they can loan you one, or ask your farmer/producer/supplier.

To sample your hay, pick 12 to 20 random bales from throughout the lot. Probe each bale in the center of the strings on the small end of the bale so you are probing the length of the bale. Put each sample in the bag and mix well. Fill out the paperwork required by the testing facility and drop it in the mail.

Once you receive your results, if you have any problems understanding them don’t hesitate to contact the lab or your local extension office or farmer/producer/supplier for help.

At some point, most of us will have to manage a starch/sugar sensitive horse or pony with laminitis/founder or weight control. Understanding the need to tailor a diet to meet his or her needs will make your life easier and your horse or pony happier.

How to pick hay for low sugar/starch content for sensitive horses:

  • Get your own test results or ask your farmer/producer/supplier for their results, if available.
  • All horses need fiber in their diet and some of it must be in the form of long hay. Horses challenged by Metabolic Syndrome should be offered hays that are low in non-structural carbohydrates (NSC). This class of carbohydrates are ... starch, fructan and sugar (water-soluble type sugar).
  • Normal horses can tolerate NSC levels of 20% and more. It is recommended that horses with Metabolic Syndrome be fed hay with NSC levels of around 10% to 12%.
  • In order to know the true NSC value of your hay, you will have to test it (analyze it by a laboratory), but understanding the factors that affect NSC levels will help you pick a hay that is more likely to meet your horse’s needs. Here are several farming factors that affect the NSC levels found in a cutting of hay.

Farming factors:

1. Multiple cuttings from the same field can yield hay with different levels of NSC,
2. The type of plant,
3. The maturity when cut,
4. The time of the cutting,
5. The time spent drying/curing in the field, and
6. Environmental conditions during harvest.

These 6 farming practices/factors all contribute to the amount of NSC found in the hay. When producing hay for a starch/sugar sensitive horse, the farmer has to consider all these factors. Ask your hay supplier, producer/farmer or ask us at Galusha Farm by calling 630-777-6179 extension #3 for Steve Berning.

Environmental conditions at harvest time:

1. Grasses stressed from drought conditions or freezing temps will contain higher percentages of NSC.
2. Stressed-out warm season grasses, such as crabgrass or costal Bermuda grass, tend to be lower in NSC.
3. Stressed-out cool season grasses, such as fescue, orchard grass, and timothy, tend to be higher in NSC.

Maturity of plant:

1. Young plants are higher in sugar.
2. Mid-bloom and mature grass is lower in sugar.
3. Very mature plants tend to contain large amounts of indigestible fiber and can be unpalatable. The timing of harvest and curing conditions, grasses harvested in the morning, following evenings when temperatures are 40°F or above will be lower in NSC.
4. The longer hay is dried in the field, the lower the NSC Western hays tend to be harvested later in the day and baled more quickly than Eastern hays, so they can be higher in NSC.
5. Hay that has been lightly rained on will be lower in NSC; however, it must be completely dry when baled or it will become moldy or dusty.

Typical NSC levels in different types of hay are:

1. Grass hays: average 12% (range 7%-18%)
2. Legume hays (alfalfas and clovers): average 15%
3. Oat hay: average 22%

These values come from Equi-analytical Laboratories.