Wellness Wednesday - Relative Feed Value of Hay and Your Supplements
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
The table below shows the composition of some common forages used for horses in Kentucky. The RFV is calculated from the equations developed for cattle (no equations currently exist for horses). Ideally, you would like to know that the second hay provides 25% more value than the first hay, but RFV estimates are not that accurate for horses. Nonetheless, if the two hays are the same price, the one with the higher RFV will usually provide more nutrition for the dollar. RFV does not exactly apply to horses, but it can provide a basis of comparison between different hays, particularly of the same type. For example, if you had a choice between a full-bloom alfalfa hay with an RFV of 100 or a mid-bloom alfalfa hay with an RFV of 125, you could be pretty certain the latter hay would have a higher feeding value.
So what RFV of hay should you purchase?
The answer to this question depends on the type of horse being fed, as well as the price of the hay. Hay with high RFV is most appropriate for horses with high nutrient requirements, such as lactating mares, growing horses, and some performance horses. The higher a hay's RFV, the less you will need to feed. In addition, as the RFV of the hay increases, the amount of concentrate (sweet feed, grain, or pelletized feeds) needed will decrease. So, when choosing between two similarly priced hays, the one with the higher RFV might reduce total feed costs by reducing the amount of concentrate that is fed.
However, hay with a very high RFV isn't necessarily the "best" hay for every horse. If a mature idle horse with low nutrient requirements is given unrestricted access to hay with high RFV, he will probably become very fat. At a normal rate of intake, hay with a moderate RFV might be best for idle, mature horses. Hay with moderate or low RFV value might be desirable for horses with low nutrient requirements, because they can eat enough to satisfy their hunger without gaining too much weight.
Although RFV can provide a general idea about forage quality, it does not give an estimate of how closely the hay will satisfy an animal's nutrient requirements. RFV is calculated only from the amount of fiber in the hay and does not address the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, or other important nutrients horses need.
RFV is a calculated value from a laboratory analysis of fiber concentrations in a hay sample. It does not provide any information about the hay's cleanliness. Regardless of RFV, horse hay should be free of dust and mold. Horses are susceptible to respiratory irritation from moldy and dusty hay, and this irritation can affect exercise performance. Therefore, when purchasing hay, both a visual inspection and a laboratory analysis of the composition should be considered in evaluating its value.
RFV OF COMMON FORAGES
Grass* Hay; very mature, large seed heads
Timothy Hay; early maturity, few small seed heads
Grass Hay-Alfalfa Hay Mix; mid maturity
Alfalfa Hay; full bloom, some leaves, large stems
Alfalfa Hay; mid-bloom, leafy, medium stems
Alfalfa Hay; early bloom, leafy, small stems
Alfalfa Cubes (bagged)
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