It’s spring and where are your horses? Probably heads down, buried in a field of gorgeous spring grass. That grass helps them put on weight after a hard winter, and in no time they are fat, shiny, and covered in dapples.
By Ann Jamieson courtesy Eastern Hay
Those spring grasses become the first hay of the season, and that gorgeous spring hay will soon be delivered to our hay lofts. What makes spring hay so special? Why are hay men excited to harvest it and horses licking their lips at the sight of it?
Early season hay is the most nutritious hay. We at Eastern Hay love cutting it and delivering it to our customers. And what makes this hay special? Lignin…or more precisely, the lack of it.
A compound of cell walls in dry-land plants, lignin lends rigidity to those walls and cements the plant fibers together, reinforcing them. It works similarly to the way polyester resin strengthens the fiberglass webbing in boat hulls or car bodies.
There are two types of lignin: supporting tissue which holds the plant upright and conducting tissue which transports water throughout the plant and allows waste to be removed from it. Lignin is a vital factor in the metabolism of growing plants.
Spring grass, however, contains very little lignin. When you have a one-inch headed small, succulent green timothy, still in the sheath, it is low in lignin and bursting with nutrition. Versus a big four-inch headed timothy stalk, the ratio of forage eaten to forage absorbed is dramatic.
Lignin is a structural carb, a fiber compound that is more difficult for the horse to digest. Structural carbs have to be digested in the hindgut, are digested slowly, and provide sustained energy. Non-structural carbs (starches and sugars, abundant in spring grass) are digested rapidly and energy is released quickly for a short burst of energy.
When you see the hay truck laden with spring hay motoring down your barn driveway, know that superior nutrition and happy horses are about to coalesce in your barn.
For more information, visit www.easternhay.com.