Many consider it advantageous to give a quantity of green food to stall - fed horses during the summer months, and when used with judicious care it is a most agreeable and beneficial, as well as an economical food. Clover, rye-grass, meadow-grass, and vetches are usually employed, and whichever is used it may be given separately, or be cut up and mixed with the ordinary mixed food.
Care should be taken to secure a regular supply of the best quality, otherwise hard - worked, highly - fed horses will rather deteriorate than improve in condition when receiving it; but the loss of condition sometimes observed may be partly due to the great reduction in the corn allowance that is frequently made when horses are on green food.
In commencing its use it is advisable to begin with a small quantity for the first day or two, and at all times it is necessary to be very careful when the green food is very succulent and newly mown, or when it is wet with dew or rain, as it is then very liable to produce flatulence and purgation.
If very succulent grass, such as is grown on water-meadows or sewage land, is given to horses on hard food, many cases of " lymphangitis", or "weed", are observed to occur when the green food is first used; indeed, more cases of lymphangitis may be seen then than at any other time.
Hay is generally considered an essential constituent in the food of stable-fed horses. It is true, no doubt, that in certain districts, when hay is short and oat-straw plentiful, many farm-horses do hard work on corn and oat-straw, but these may be deemed exceptional cases, and it will generally be considered that hay is a staple article of horse food.
The general term hay embraces several varieties differing more or less from one another. Thus rye-grass differs from meadow-hay, meadow from clover, clover from alfalfa, and so on, but if each be good of its kind their difference in feeding value is not so great as is sometimes assumed. A curious illustration of the illusory character of local opinion respecting the feeding value of rye-grass and clover-hay and of meadow-hay is furnished in the subversive estimation of their values by Englishmen and Scotchmen. Some few years ago hay was scarce in Scotland, but plentiful in England, and in consequence a considerable quantity of meadow-hay was sent north. The Scottish owner, regarding the native rye-grass and clover as the hay par excellence, freely gave 20s. per ton more for it than he would give for the best transported meadow - hay. The following year hay was abundant in Scotland, but scarce in England, and a large quantity of rye-grass and clover-hay was sent south. The English horse-owner now had an opportunity of showing the converse view, and did so, for the rye-grass and clover-hay from the north never realized in the Midland markets within 20s. per ton of that obtained for best local meadow-hay.
Nevertheless horse-owners in general value rye-grass and clover more highly than meadow-hay, and the explanation given is that horses prefer rye-grass and clover, and do better upon it, and the point is sufficiently emphasized in the higher price usually paid. That horses eat good sound rye-grass with even a greater relish and avidity than meadow-hay is undisputed, but the reason why is probably because the former is less sustaining and satisfying than the latter. At all events, in practice we find that they consume a greater weight of rye-grass and clover than of meadow - hay to maintain a similar condition when doing the same amount of work. It has long been recognized that the value of the hay depends to a large extent upon the land on which it is grown, many farms possessing a noted reputation for the feeding properties of their produce, others having an unenviable notoriety for growing herbage of an unfeeding quality; but it is not so generally known that however much the hay grown on different soils may vary, that grown on the same soil, but cut and harvested at different stages of maturity, may vary as much - over-maturity being invariably attended by decreased nutritive value and digestibility. Again, hay exposed, during harvesting, to much rain and weather loses its natural aroma and much of its soluble matter, in which condition it is less valuable than hay made in good weather. Hay that is damp when ricked becomes mouldy, acquires a musty smell, and has injurious effects both on the digestive and respiratory system.
When succulent hay is ricked too soon, undue heat and fermentation supervene; it becomes mow-burnt, deteriorates in value, and tends to induce derangement of the digestive and urinary organs.
Good hay has a clean, bright appearance, a greenish tint, fragrant smell, crisp feel, and a tough though a flexible skin. The grasses when cut should be in the state of inflorescence, and any seeds that have formed still adherent to the spike; they should be mainly those which grow on good soils and be free from the inferior sorts which grow on poor and wet lands. Hay that is mouldy, or much mow-burnt, must always be looked upon as inferior, however good the grasses composing it may be, and in whatever stage of maturity it may have been harvested.
Eye-grass and clover-hay should be well mixed, free from weeds, have a pleasant perfume and bright appearance, and it should be tough and flexible, with leaves and seeds unshed.
All inferior hay, such as samples that contain a large mixture of those grasses which are characteristic of poor wet soils, or hay that is overripe, bleached, very brittle, mouldy, bad-smelling, and highly fermented, should be rejected. At the same time it may be remembered that a small admixture of mow-burnt hay is not only not detrimental, but is distinctly beneficial, in that in small proportions it has an appetizing effect, and it seems to give to the whole a more agreeable aroma and a more palatable flavour.
New hay, although equal in nutritive value, does not seem to possess the same conditioning property as old hay, and horses fed on it are " soft", perspire more profusely, and appear more liable to digestive derangements. Notwithstanding the opinion of some very good horsemen hay does not improve by being kept several years, and the only advantage the horse-owner derives by the opportunity of buying hay several years old is that he may continue to obtain the produce of a particularly good hay season. The real gainer is the hay owner. By keeping hay for several years, and carefully watching the course of the markets, a higher price can often be secured than by yearly disposing of each year's produce.
In all large studs, and in many small ones, it is now the custom to cut the whole of the hay into chaff, and this is undoubtedly the most economical plan. Many horsemen, however, prefer giving a portion of the hay in the rack; and, when care is taken to prevent waste, this is a capital plan, especially for sick and idle horses. Invalids will frequently nibble at rack hay when they refuse to look at chaff, and idle horses have their attention occupied for a greater length of time, owing to the longer period required for masticating the uncut hay. But for hard-working horses the best plan is to cut the whole into chaff; such animals do not need a stimulus to appetite, or their attention specially occupied. What they require is food prepared so as to aid thorough digestion, and to be allowed rest as soon as they have consumed their food. A marked benefit of chaffing hay is the opportunity it affords for extracting dust, and one has only to see the quantity of dust extracted from the best samples of hay to be thoroughly and permanently convinced of the benefits of dust-extraction.
Straw is sometimes used instead of hay, and wheat-straw is more frequently used in a chaffed condition than any other; but oat-straw is a far more nutritive fodder. The Scotch farmer knows his horses will do much better on oat-straw than wheat-straw, and the intelligent horse-owner ought to know that chaff from oat-straw is much more valuable than chaff from wheat-straw. Whenever hay is of a soft character, or is dear in price, an admixture with good bright oat-straw will be of benefit. The addition of one-quarter part oat-straw will improve the quality of the hay without appreciably lessening its nutritive value, and it will usually materially cheapen its cost.
A very good and not too expensive chaff will be secured by a mixture of two parts best meadow-hay, one part rye-grass and clover, and one part oat-straw.
Of late years a large quantity of hay has been imported, and much of the best imported hay is in practice found equal to home-grown produce.