Soaking It Up!

Soaking forage is a popular method to decrease dust, allergens, mites, spores, and other respiratory irritants. The longer the hay soaks, the more harmful particles inflaming a horse’s respiratory airways disappear. If dust is your primary culprit, a ten-minute soak might the job.

Low-starch or low-sugar diets benefit from soaking hay by reducing water-soluble carbohydrates for horses with metabolic issues, insulin resistance, laminitis, and Cushing’s Disease. Dr. Krishona Martinson, Professor and Equine Extension Specialist with the University of Minnesota Department of Animal Science, confirms the effectiveness of hay soaking for horses with diet challenges.

“Based on research conducted by the University of Minnesota, soaking most grass hays for 15 to 30 minutes removed enough non-structural carbohydrates for most horses diagnosed with PSSM, EMS, PPID, and laminitis. Legumes like alfalfa tend to be lower in NSC compared to cool-season grasses,” reasons Martinson.

Weight loss and diet restrictions are not the only reasons to submerge a horse’s hay in water. Veterinarians often recommend a hay soaking protocol following a colic episode to combat dehydration and stabilize a horse’s system.

Soaking is labor-intensive and messy and is a daily commitment for an already over-scheduled horse owner. Soaking hay also incurs financial and environmental challenges. Nearly fifteen to twenty-five gallons of water per feed can drive anyone’s water bill through the roof. The liquid that results from the soak may be nine times more toxic than raw sewage, which isn’t palatable for the horse.

Weather is a discouraging factor. Hot days cause bacterial levels to spike, compromising hygienic quality. When the temperature hovers below 0 degrees dealing with buckets of wet hay and racing to prevent ice crystals from forming are discouraging.

Martinson acknowledges that soaking or steaming hay pose difficulties during the winter months. “Hay soaking is less costly compared to purchasing a hay steamer; however, both are challenging during the winter months and must be fed quickly post soaking and steaming to avoid mold formation.”

Both sprinkling a flake of hay or soaking it can be time-intensive for busy horse owners, so what’s the solution?