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Hay Quality: The Value of Non Structural Carbohydrates

by Pennwoods Founder, Chris Cole

If you have watched any of the Pennwoods videos, attended a webinar, or listened to audio journals I’ve made in the past, I’m sure you are well aware I am an avid horse owner, just like you.

Over the last several years, I have struggled getting my horses to eat a very good quality 2nd and 3rd cut grass hay. I thought, how can that be, as the hay quality is super good, well made, no dust, and green as green can be? To try to get to the bottom of this, I forage tested my 2 cuttings of hay, made from the same field, both made very well (again nice and green, no dust!).

The 2 hay samples tested very similarly to each-other, in most categories except one. The first cut hay, which the horses do very well on, had a NSC (non structural carbohydrates) level of 28.5%. The 3rd cut hay had a NSC level of 8.9%. The first cut NSC level is 200% higher than average and the 3rd cut is about 50% lower than everage (12% NSC).

As NSC is a measure of the sugar content in the sample, it now makes perfect sense why a horse is reluctant to consume 3rd cut grass, no matter how green it looks to us.

So, what to do?

  1. Use a fertilizer schedule that includes a fall application that has higher levels of Phosphorous & Potassium 10 – 20 – 20 or
    0 – 10 – 40 at 250# to 400# per acre.
  2. Split apply nitrogen in spring and summer rather than a single spring application
  3. A hay stand that has multiple grasses and a legume (I prefer Alfalfa) will balance your cuttings in average and dryer growing seasons. By doing this, you will be able to supply protein to your horse in the forage rather than buying it at the feed store.

Thanks for reading, and please let us know if you have any questions or comments!