I have gotten a huge response from the horse market when I put my oat hay up for sale.  In fact, my oat hay has been outselling my orchard grass so far this summer, which I suspect is because of the lower price   I found that many people are inexperienced in using oat hay for their horse feed, I would like to devote this post in answering some of the questions I have been asked.

Farmers usually grow oat hay as a cover crop for new seeding grass or alfalfa.  oats grow quicker than the grass and provide a sheltering layer and protect the grass from wind, as well as choke out the weeds.  Farmers rarely grow a straight oat hay crop, and some mix peas in for extra protein. Oats can grow to be as much as 5 feet tall, and when they mature, they have large grain heads that are great feed for horses. Because oat hay is usually priced much lower than orchard grass, it can be difficult to find.   

The hay is usually cut during the milk stage, this is when the heads are forming, and during this stage the nutrients are still primarily in the stem of the plant, rather than inside the head.  If the crop is cut too mature, the heads will contain all the nutrients and the stem of the plant will be much more course and offer fewer nutrients to the animal.  When it is cut in the milk stage, the stems will be thicker than grass hay, but should not be brittle or hard.  The bales will not be as green as grass or alfalfa hay, but should have some color inside the bale, oats bleach quickly in the sun, and if the farmer let the bales sit for a day in the field, they will look yellow in the stack. If the oats are cut before the milk stage, there will be no heads on the plant and this is the most nutritious stage.  The hay will also be softer and have more color, but because the farmer loses valuable tonnage, it is rare to find oat hay cut before the milk stage.  Also heavily fertilized oat hay cut before the milk stage can have a high nitrate content which can seriously harm horses or cattle. If you do consider purchasing immature oat hay, I would recommend getting the hay tested for nitrates.

Most horse owners use oat hay as a “filler” and to stretch more expensive orchard grass or alfalfa hay. Oat hay usually tests around 8-9% protein, and depending on when it was cut in the maturity stage, is more coarse and stalky than grass hay.  Because of its low nutrients, most horse owners use a 50-50 mix with grass to ensure their horses get the proper nutrients.  Your horse may take a few days to adjust to the new taste, and they will not eat the oat hay as quickly as the grass hay, and that is one of the main advantages of the hay.  Because they take longer to eat it, your horses will have something to keep their stomach full all day rather than gulping down the grass hay and being hungry again in two hours.

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