Long Stem vs Short Stem Hay for Horses

Date Published: 06/01/2020

You have probably heard about feeding long stem or short stem hay to your horses but may not be familiar with the meaning.  Emily Smith with Platinum Performance wants to remind horse owners that forage is the cornerstone of all equine diets. Forage is usually in the form of grass or hay.  Fresh grass is ideal as it contains about 80% water, which helps with intestinal function as a lot of colic cases may be related to the horse not drinking enough water.  Fresh grass generally provides an excellent blend of protein, fat, fiber, minerals and vitamins for your horse’s health.  Several nutrients including beta carotene, which is needed to make vitamin A as well as vitamins C, D, E and omega 3 fatty acids are lost in the baling process. 

With appropriate supplementation, long stem hay is the next best forage when fresh grass is not available.  Baled long stem hay is the most common form of hay and long stem refers to hay that is 2 inches or more in length. This long hay helps to keep the GI tract functioning properly.  Hay cubes and hay pellets are also available. Hay cubes are compressed cubes of chopped hay that may contain some long stems, but mostly is considered short stem hay.  Hay pellets are considered short stem hay and short stem hay requires less time chewing than long stem hay, and chewing time is important because chewing increases saliva production.  Saliva contains high levels of calcium and sodium bicarbonate to buffer gastric acid in the stomach and help prevent stomach ulcers.  Long stem hay takes longer to chew, which is similar to eating grass in the pasture, compared to short stem hay, which is eaten more rapidly. So unless your horse has a problem eating long stem hay, in most cases it is the best option for forage.

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