The Importance of Proper Horse Feed & Hay Storage

Owning horses requires quite an investment on your part. A major portion of those expenses are costs associated with feeding them. Yet, often when we do not store our horse’s feed correctly or safely, it can spoil, leading to more costs for you. It also can be dangerous to your horses. The good news is, there are many ways to store your horse’s feed that will protect your investment in them and ensure they are receiving all the nutrition they need.

Why Proper Horse Feed & Hay Storage is Important

The single biggest reason you need to store your horse feed properly is to protect your animal’s health and wellbeing. Spoiled or moldy feedstuffs, whether it is hay or horse feed, can, in some circumstances, lead to colic and even death. Thus, it is always advisable before feeding your horses that you ensure their feed is fresh and of high quality.

When it comes to storing hay, the largest issue you may face is moisture content. Ideally, hay should be less than 15% moisture. Some of this is determined as the hay is cut, cured, and then baled. However, improperly stored hay can easily soak up moisture. This can occur when hay gets rained on, is stored outside, or is stored directly on the ground. When stored on the ground, it can pick up moisture from the soil, which usually results in the development of mold.

In the most extreme situations, hay put up with a high moisture content can spontaneously combust, leading to a fire. Therefore, it is highly recommended to store fresh cut hay in a separate building away from stalled horses. Many barn fires can be attributed to hay catching fire.

Improper storage of horse feed can lead to similar health issues with horses. Feed can become moldy or spoiled. This can be especially dangerous if feed is exposed to enough moisture or humidity for long periods of time. Under these conditions, mold proliferation leads to the development of mycotoxins, which are absorbed in the hindgut. Mycotoxins can be toxic to horses and lead to:

  • Respiratory distress
  • Subfertility
  • Neurological issues
  • Digestive upset
  • Organ damage

Another aspect to consider when it comes to the proper storage of horse feed is ensuring it is stored and secured properly to prevent horses getting into their feed and gorging themselves. There have been many instances of horses gorging themselves on feed when breaking into a feed room, which can lead to issues such as laminitis and death.

Finally, with regards to both hay and horse feed, improper storage of both can lead to nutrient degradation. Feed left exposed to the weather, humidity, or stored for too long can lose its nutritional value. Over time, oxidation can lead to the loss of many vitamins, and fats in bagged feed can become rancid.

It is NEVER advisable to feed a horse any moldy or spoiled feed. This is because horses cannot vomit and feeding spoiled or moldy feed can lead to bad cases of colic or worse, death. It is always advisable to throw bad feed away to protect your horse’s health.

How to Properly Store Your Horse’s Feed & Hay

Put it up dry and keep it dry is the rule of thumb when it comes to storing hay. Hay, if stored properly, can maintain most of its nutrient quality for up to a year. However, there are some important considerations when storing hay:

  • Check your hay’s moisture content. There are moisture probes on the market that are a worthwhile investment. Again, stacked hay should not be above 15% moisture for storage.
  • Hay should be monitored for heat. Hay thermometers are another important investment. You will want to ensure the stacked hay internal temperatures do not exceed 120°. Any bale of hay hotter than 120 °F needs to be separated out from the stack to dry and cool.
  • Store hay up off the ground to avoid moisture wicking. Pallets are usually a safe option, as they allow greater airflow under and around bales.
  • Ensure your hay storage area is free from leaks and your hay is away from any openings where rain/moisture can get to it.
  • Store hay in a separate building away from your horses in case of spontaneous combustion and fires.
  • If stored outdoors, hay should be covered with a tarp to protect it from the elements and stored off the ground. However, this is less than ideal, as it does not allow as much air movement to help dry the hay.

Compared to hay, horse feed storage is a bit easier. Generally, this is because horses are eating less of it, and it requires less space. Some general tips include:

  • Feed should always be kept in a cool and dry area. Humidity can lead to spoilage, mold, and development of mycotoxins.
  • Feed bags usually can repel a few water droplets, but not withstand rain or leaks. They are not waterproof.
  • Reduce exposure to pests and have a solid pest control plan in place.
  • Opened feed bags should be secured or the feed should be poured into a secure container. Ensure your horse feed storage area is secure and “horse proof.”
  • Unopened feed bags should be up off the ground like hay. Wooden pallets are ideal for storing bagged feed.
  • Ensure feed is unspoiled by smell. Rancid feed will have a bitter or unpleasant odor.
  • Never feed moldy or spoiled feeds to your horses.

If you have any questions related to how you are storing your feed or the storage life of your feed, please feel free to contact us for any help or advice.


Article By: Chris Mortensen, Ph.D.
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