Evaluating the quality of oaten hay is essential to ensure that the animals being fed receive the necessary nutrients and to ensure value for money. Here are key factors and indicators to assess the quality of oaten hay:
- High-quality oaten hay should have a bright green color, indicating it was harvested at the right time and stored correctly.
- Yellow, brown, or pale hay may suggest over-maturity, exposure to excessive sunlight, or rain damage post-harvest.
Texture & Leafiness:
- Good quality hay should be soft to touch and have a good proportion of leaves to stems. Leaves contain most of the nutrients.
- Stiff or coarse hay might indicate that it was cut too late, reducing its nutritional content.
- Fresh, sweet-smelling hay is a good indicator of quality.
- Musty, moldy, or off smells indicate poor storage conditions or that the hay was baled with too much moisture content, leading to mold growth.
Foreign Matter & Purity:
- Check the hay for contaminants like weeds, foreign grasses, or other plants. Some weeds can be toxic to animals.
- Presence of dust can indicate mold or poor handling.
- Fine stems indicate that the hay was harvested at an earlier stage, which often means higher nutrient content.
- Thick, large stems suggest the hay was more mature when cut, potentially reducing its digestibility and nutrient levels.
Maturity at Harvest:
- Ideally, oaten hay should be harvested before or at the early stages of seed head development.
- If the seeds are fully formed and mature, it can indicate reduced nutritional value.
- Hay baled with too much moisture can lead to mold growth and reduced quality.
- Hay should be dry to the touch, but not so dry that it's brittle.
Absence of Mold & Fungus:
- Inspect the internal parts of a bale, not just the exterior. Moldy hay can be harmful or even fatal to animals.
- For a precise measure of quality, especially if the hay is being purchased for high-performance animals or breeding livestock, a laboratory analysis can be done. This will provide exact figures on protein, fiber, moisture, and mineral content.
Origin & Storage:
- Knowing where the hay originates from can give insights into its quality, especially if it's from a trusted or reputed source.
- Proper storage, in a cool, dry place and off the ground, can help maintain hay quality.
When purchasing oaten hay, especially in large quantities, it's beneficial to buy from a reputable source or dealer. If possible, inspect the hay personally or ask for a recent analysis to ascertain its quality. Remember that even if the hay looks good, the true measure of its quality lies in its nutrient content and digestibility, which can sometimes best be assessed with a lab analysis.