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Moldy hay

From: Adelaide

Hi, I just boarded my horse at the new facility. There were a lot of bales of hay outside of the barn. They all were moldy. We did not feed these hay to our horses. The owner decided to spread the moldy hay all over the pastures. I started to concern about my horse's health since there were moldy hay all over his pasture. The owner said it would not hurt the horses as long as the flakes of hay were tear apart, not together. Is it still threatening the horses' health? Adelaide

Hi Adelaide! You are right to be concerned for the horses's health. This seems like a very odd thing for any barn owner to do. Not feeding the moldy hay was a good decision, but spreading the hay all over the pastures was not. There are better, safer, and more responsible ways to dispose of moldy hay. If it's so bad that cattle farmers won't take it, it can be composted along with the manure pile.

First of all, horses WILL occasionally eat some moldy hay, out of hunger if there isn't a sufficiency of good foraage available, and sometimes out of sheer curiosity. This is not a good idea. Cattle and other ruminants are better-equipped to cope with poor-quality hay or hay with a slight amount of mold, but horses have only one stomach, and it's a delicate organ. It makes no sense to take hay with visible mold and feed it to horses - the money "saved" by using the moldy hay may have to be spent hundreds of times over, on vet bills. You don't want a sick horse, a dead horse, or a horse with chronic lung damage, and those are all risks of exposure to quantities of mold.

What the manager meant is that when you open a bale of hay, it should be very easy to remove individual flakes. If you have to work to separate flakes from the main bale, there's a good chance that they are clinging together because mold is sticking them together - which means that hay should NOT be fed to horses.

Spreading moldy hay in pastures that horses are actively grazing means putting the moldy hay directly on top of the horse's food source, and what kind of sense does that make? Horses that would otherwise avoid the moldy hay will be consuming mold along with their pasture grass. This makes no sense at all. If you discover any problem with your hay, whether it's mold, blister beetles, or foreign objects, the hay should be kept well away from the horses and disposed of, NOT put out where the horses will be exposed to it, may consume some of it, and will in all probability end up consuming some of what's IN the hay as it contaminates the air and the forage in the field.

You wouldn't accept a delivery of hay that contained red maple or yew or sand burrs or cactus or blister beetles in it, and you wouldn't accept a delivery of moldy hay. If you accidentally got some with the rest of the (good) hay, you would separate it and hide it behind (or inside) the manure pile, where the horses couldn't possibly get at it.

But since moldy hay has already been spread on your pastures, here are some things to consider.

How the hay in the pasture affects the horses will depend on how much of it - if any - they consume. If the pastures are still full of good grass, and if the horses can avoid the moldy hay, most of them (all of them, I hope!) may avoid it completely. Although some horses will try it, most horses will not eat moldy hay unless there is nothing else available. As long as the pasture forage is nutritious and plentiful, most horses will avoid the moldy hay, and once the pasture forage is no longer enough to keep the horses at a good weight, they may still ignore the moldy hay as long as the barn management takes care to provide them with good-quality hay. But I'm still wondering what the barn manager was thinking... If you found something toxic in your kitchen, like a bowl of food gone bad, would you dispose of it by spreading it over the rest of your family's dinner? I doubt it. You may need to ask the barn manager the same question - and if this is the typical practice at this barn, you might want to consider taking your horse elsewhere.


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