Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Term “ORGANIC HAY” Defined

  By Tom Heshion

The difference between “organic hay” and “USDA certified organic hay” can be expensive and not necessarily better. One hay farmer may be more experienced as an “organic grower” and benefit from years of organic fertilization over a second farmer, but not be USDA certified. All the while, the second farmer charges lots of extra money for his USDA certification, while growing weeds throughout his average hay and not applying any fertilization. USDA certification only states that the ground that the hay was grown in shows no signs of chemicals, and hasn’t for 36 months or longer. It doesn’t mean that the hay is any better or more nutritious.

The point is that there is no legal definition of “organic hay” and that USDA certification means nothing about quality, other than that there are no chemicals. There is a description used by the USDA, but that definition is not the only one. It is unfair to say that a hay producer who only uses non-GMO seeds is the same as one who uses GMO seeds. Either could be USDA certified. The first is more organic than the second, and yet may not be USDA certified. In that case, they need to be defined as USDA certified and non-GMO. Quality ratings should be a third, and the most important, rating.

Far more importantly, there is a sequence that should be followed when determining the importance of harmful chemicals. In my view, the most harmful chemicals to horses that are used on hay have not gained recognition. Most mass producers of hay have begun using hay preservatives. It’s no secret that Universities get grants form manufacturers and donors who support their initiatives, so most studies stay away from anything that may critique their large donors. For instance, don’t expect any agricultural college to stand against a tractor manufacturer or agricultural chemical producers. I openly and publically challenge the manufacturers of hay preservatives to fund a study performed by the extensions of the University of Missouri Veterinarian College, the Kansas State University and/or the University of Kentucky. Google “hay preservatives” yourself at:

Anyone can read what these preservatives are made of and who manufactures these preservatives. Basically, they are 70% acid and 30% ammonia and dyes. Don’t expect them to get specific. What is shocking is the amount that is required to do the job. They suggest 16 pounds per ton. That is 16 pounds on just 20 bales of hay. I would not drink one cup of that stuff, much less subject my horses to a steady diet of 4/5ths of a pound, per bale of hay. This is a picture of what preservatives can do to a hay baler. They eat right through the finish and into the steel. 

After numerous complaints, the manufacturers added more chemicals and now call it “buffered” Propionic Acid. They won’t mention what chemicals they used to “buffer” the acids. Still, my problem is the volume. To be fair to them, here is their sales pitch:
The only benefits to using preservatives are to be a more profitable mass producer, while fooling buyers about the quality and, in my humble opinion, destroying the digestive system of horses. I believe that horses can live while digesting some small level of these chemicals. My problem is the high levels needed to do the job on hay that slowly eat away at the horses’ digestive system causing colic, ulcers and cancer, which lead to death. I have not found one person, other than the President of the manufacturing company who makes them, who even suggests that they may be safe for horses. He improperly uses excerpts from studies done at the University of Illinois and Cornell University where he implies that the studies are about his product. After looking closer, the studies were not about his products, at all. They were actually a side note from a study about respiration. He then states his own conclusion, implying that it is the conclusion of these Universities. See for yourself. 

In fact, I found numerous veterinary colleges who determined that organic hay was preferred by the horses over preservative-sprayed hay in all cases. There has not been one thorough study done that I can find, and why would there be? There is no money to be made by staying neutral. The only money to be made is by selling the preservatives through tractor magazines and hay farmer newspapers and online periodicals. You will never see them advertised in a horse magazine. I suspect they don’t want horse owners to know that they exist. Currently, there is no law that requires hay growers to disclose the use of preservatives. I think that there should be. There has to be at least one politician reading this. I’m waiting for your call. ;)

In my research of over 400 feed stores and horse stables in California, I discovered that over 94% had “preservative sprayed” hay, and what was shocking was, they didn’t even know it. Only 1 in 400 actually knew the farmer who grew their hay. It’s a brokers’ business to keep that information confident from the buyer, where he found the hay. (In full disclosure, I am both a grower and manager of a sales cooperative overseeing the sale of hay from 62 various hay growers.) Green hay is pretty to look at, but naturally cured hay will typically be (approximately 20% or more) brown hay. Later, I discovered that numerous horse farm owners, when given the chance to convert to organic hay, changed back to green looking, preservative-sprayed hay when customers complained about color, rather than teach their customers the difference, even though (after my visit) they knew the difference. They were all too afraid of losing an unknowledgeable, paying client. That is so sad.

The benefits of preservative-sprayed hay, compared to organic hays, are look, feel, color and protection against mold. To understand why the mass producers use them, there are more reasons beyond the look, feel and mold guard. Here is why; when hay is cut, it is typically around 60% moisture (water in the hay). At the end of a hot day of drying in the field it can be down to 30% moisture. In northern climates, this process can take four days. Hay needs to be around 15% moisture, in order to organically bale it. Rather, at the end of the first day, they bring it into a windrow and bale it at 30% or less, and spray it with preservatives. This allows them to operate faster and more profitably than to allow time to do it naturally, which also requires them to tedder their hay.
Organic hay producers turn their hay over using a hay tedder. See:

This means that they drive their tractors over every inch of their fields one to three times more than a mass producer who uses preservatives. Organic farmers allow all of the hay to cure naturally and reduce the entire field down to 15% moisture before bringing it in. This is the only way to bale hay correctly, without using chemicals, and costs about twice as much money. The downfall to using organic hay is that there is a higher possibility of mold than in “preservative sprayed” hay. In the last 100 truckloads of hay I sent to California, we have had two instances of mold. When buying organic hay, there is a 2% chance of finding mold. Preservative-sprayed hay is no guaranty against mold, but it is likely to have less. As a horse owner, I make it my responsibility to watch over the hay, hire people who do also, and I refuse to use preservative-sprayed hay. NONE of our 62 growers use preservatives.

I think it is sad that the cattle market dominates the hay market and basically doesn’t consider a long life for the animal a priority. In fact, for beef cattle, the shorter the life the better. Our horses pay the price because of the mass production habits of farmers who make hay for both markets. I think it’s worse that the industry doesn’t want to rock the boat and therefore doesn’t hold these hay producers accountable. What seems hopeless is that it takes more than an act of Congress to make a change. Hopefully the internet can actually help us all to spread the word of preservatives.
Hay can be grown through high levels of organic fertilization where the high growth of grass actually overtakes the weeds and weed killers are not needed. That takes out the necessity for herbicides. Growing without pesticides is risky for a farmer, but completely possible. Grass hay farmers use them reluctantly, whereas pesticides are more common in alfalfa. USDA certification guarantees those chemicals aren’t used, but many farmers have already realized that by tending to their hay fields using organic growing priciples they save money by not needing to purchase expensive chemicals. That fact makes a good argument that buying non-USDA certified hay is a fairly safe bet as long as it has not been sprayed with preservatives. Getting to know your grower is the best overall answer.

Buying organic hay for horses is important. However, because the really harmful chemicals are applied while the hay is entering the baler, and the ground that has been tested by the USDA was never touched by these chemicals, it is possible for a farmer to get away with being USDA certified while spraying his hay with preservatives.

This does not sway my position against herbicides and pesticides. But, if given the choice between microscopic levels of herbicides and pesticides that have gone through years of testing, compared to 16 pounds of acid and ammonia per ton that has not been studied (7 pounds per month, per average weight horse), I’d reluctantly choose the microscopic levels that have proven over the years to be risk tolerable, than to knowingly feed my horses a hay supply that had harmful levels of acid and ammonia. I don’t care what the manufacturers are claiming; they have not been diligent by funding research which proves their claim. They should not even make the claim.

In summary, at we have everything from old fashioned hay farmers that simply use Nitrogen, Calcium and Phosphorous to organic growers, some of which are USDA Certified, to
Bio-Dynamic farms at the leading edge of organic research. The difference in production costs from our least expensive hay to our leading edge organic hay is only 34%. When looking at the overall cost of keeping a horse, that 34% difference in the hay category is as little 5% difference in the overall cost. For that reason, owners and caretakers should not ignore at least the dangers of preservativs in their horses’ feed. If nothing else, buying our less expensive hay (which is actually cheaper than California standard preservative-sprayed hay) should be considered.

Defining the words “Organic Hay” is simple. Organic hay has had no herbicides, no pesticides, and no preservative use, whatsoever. It’s defining quality organic hay that is a little more difficult. Realize and accept the fact that no herbicides means occasional weeds, and horses have done just fine for millions of years digesting an occasional weed. They know what to push aside and what to eat. Just demand to know the facts in the same way that many of my customers have demanded of me. If you are a good paying and steady customer, we will gladly go back to any of our farms and ask for fertilization verification and sworn statements. We openly challenge our competitors by posting our hay test results on our website under each farm’s photos. We do more than anyone to be open and honest about what “Organic Hay” is, and what is not.

At you’ll always know what you are buying.
- Tom Heshion

Monday, December 14, 2015

For a smooth transition in serving your horse the new organic, preservative & dye free hay

For a smooth transition in serving your horse the new organic, preservative & dye free hay, we suggest a 30-90 day process whenever possible. Adding 25% new hay 1st week with 75% current hay. 2nd week mix in 50% new hay with 50% current hay. 3rd week mix in 75% new hay with 25% current hay. 4th week & after serve 100% new hay. Congratulations!

Depending on the overall health & immune system of your horse, when switching your horse over to new hay, it is predictable that the microbes in the stomach of the horse can react, or “act-up”. This is typically caused by two things. First, the hay is different and second, the parasites (worms) are different. The more different the hay is, the bigger the reaction. The more different the parasites are, the more possible weight loss. Some horses may experience a detoxification process. This does not mean that the hay is not good. In fact, a horse might get a negative reaction and push away hay that is actually twice as healthy as his/her current hay. Keep it in front of them and force the change. They will get hungry enough, soon enough.

Some horses will be fine on shorter transition time, other sensitive horse might take a little longer. In either case, the parasites will usually be a new variety and will be one that the horse is not yet immune to. At this time you may see some weight loss. Therefore, please be generous with the hay because you are also feeding the parasites. Somewhere between 30 and 45 days, it would be a good idea to deworm your horse with something organic like Omni Guard ( http://www.theholistichorse. com/shop/all-natural-wormers-horses/omni-wormguard-plus/ )

For those seeking more resources on natural chemical free, deworming options & methods, please see these links. ~ Wonderful information.~ archive/volume2/issue2/ article_10.php

Be careful to watch the annual worming schedule as parasites are active at different times of the year. This process will take about 90 days. Many times a feed store will stock wormer that is from the last season, until it is sold out. You can find a schedule and variety of the traditional wormers, here; wormerrotation.html

You should see a good result after that first worming and even a better result after the second. It may take a year before your horse becomes immune to the parasites of our hay. After that, if you stay with our hay, you should be able to use far less wormer, because we are purposely shipping the same hay to the same distribution points in California. Most California feed stores buy from dealers or brokers and there is no proof that the hay comes from the same farm. I worm my horses only once a year because I feed them from the same farm, consistently.

If you have any questions, I can always be reached at .

Thank you for all your patience & dedication in improving your horse's health, by selecting organic, preservative & dye free hay! Thank you for letting us know in advance when we can delivery your next order.

Tom Heshion

Mis-Understanding of Crude Protein in a Hay Test

Protein may be the most misunderstood and inaccurate % in a hay analysis test. Most horse owners and caretakers determine the hay protein level by looking at the percentage value on a hay test in the line item labeled, “Crude Protein”. This crude protein % does not accurately reflect the true percentage of the amount of protein from that feed. Crude Protein (CP) % is actually an estimate determined by measuring the total amount of nitrogen in that sample of feed. This outdated calculated formula was developed in 1883 and is still in use today. That was long before synthetic nitrogen was developed in the 1940’s, and since its development, there has been no new testing formula, which takes that into consideration. In the 1880’s, Danish chemist Johan Kjeldahl, discovered that all proteins contain “about” the same % of nitrogen and based on that, determining the % of nitrogen and multiplying it by 6.25 you can fairly accurately account for the protein. That is the basis of the test, laboratories still use today.

Newer and deeper science determined that nitrogen is a partial ingredient of amino acids. Those amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Just because there are excessive amounts of nitrogen, does not mean that the nitrogen is actually part of an amino acid that in turn is part of a protein. Lots of nitrogen does not mean that the DNA of the plant is going to call them up for duty, and become protein. Thus, it is possible to have an accurate test result of a hay sample showing 18% crude protein (CP) and the digestible protein actually only be 7%, and of the amino acids contained within that protein, none may be the “essential” amino acids.

Further, synthetic nitrogen is used in amounts that compare to 20x the amount naturally found in organic fertilizer. Imagine that. It makes perfect sense. A farmer puts down 20x the amount as nature provided and “bam” he gets a plant grown to its maximum capability. The nitrogen seeps into the earth, feeds the roots and is absorbed into the roots, goes up to be called to duty; the grass is cut and tested and it shows a high level of nitrogen. In 1883, when there was no synthetic nitrogen, that comparison was “about” accurate.

Just because a farmer chooses to use five, ten, or twenty times the amount of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer as would be provided by Mother Nature, doesn’t mean that the resulting hay will make any difference in the results of the subject horse being fed. Not one of the thirty plus Universities or reputable laboratories we work with, knows of a test that determines a true analysis of digestible protein. Nor have they given us any evidence of research that they are going to develop such a test. We are currently doing that, ourselves. In fact, this information only supports our position, which is;  we do not know the actual amount of digestible protein in grass hay by using this outdated industry standard. We provide you with the hay test results but feel it is important to disclaim what we know and believe.

It is a fact that in hay testing today, the % of crude protein is truly just a test of nitrogen levels in a hay sample, and not the actual digestible protein level of the hay. All the while, horse caretakers have been concentrating on crude protein levels and failing to learn the importance of the mineral content elements of the hay.

In conclusion, we’ll make the “protein” section of the hay test very simple; a horse needs 22 amino acids. Horses cannot produce 9 of those amino acids and is required to get them from their diet. When you are concerned with the protein found in your hay, have an amino acid profile test done, not a general hay mineral test. The amino acid profile test of hay will provide you with the more important information, which is; of the protein provided in the hay, what percentage of it is in the form of the “essential” amino acids (the ones the horse cannot develop on its own).

For more information on this and many other considerations of hay importance, contact

….Where you always know what you are buying.

Benefits of Organic Hay

10  PVPHA DISPATCH                                                NOVEMBER 2015 

Benefits of Organic Hay

by Tiffany Chiu

What co-op members don't do is spray dyes or preservatives on their hays; most California hays are sprayed at rates of 3 gallons per ton of hay, which mean greener hay that lasts for 2 years without mold spoilage, according to Heshion. Search "hay preservatives" on Google for a list of 16 chemicals and read a Purdue article comparing organic to sprayed hay.

The co-op does add customized fertilizers as needed to each farm's soil. If members spray for an insect outbreak, that hay goes to the cows.

If your horse has health problems, Heshion recommends taking a monthly photo from the same angle and with the same lighting and background, as well as doing a hair analysis. The results tell you what the horse was eating 3 months prior. This way, you can see if the horse is losing fat or muscle weight. The hair analysis will tell you which nutrients your horse needs so you can properly supplement with vitamins.

Heshion also discussed hay testing methods-the results depend on many factors, including the time of day and when in the cycle the hay is cut during the month of harvesting season. The co-op shares the hay testing results so buyers know what the results are and can adjust their supplements accordingly.

Heshion also talked about the importance of protein and nitrogen content, and how growers use organic and synthetic versions of fertilizers to increase hay productivity for a higher rate of return. Cow hay farmers feed lower- quality hays that are cut closer to the ground, where there are more parasites.

Why get your hay from the same farm instead of from hay brokers, auctions and country markets across the country? Hay consistency, and decreased parasite load, said Heshion. In 18 months, horses adjust to parasites present in the hay pastures' soil and develop immunity; different pastures have different parasites. Consistency means fewer enhances for adverse reactions-including diarrhea, digestive upset and refusing to eat new hay-to hay load changes because you feed the same hay from the same fields all year.

Why sell hay from Missouri and surrounding areas to California? Heshion said that railroad cars arrive full of merchandise at the Walmart Distribution Center Back hauling to California from Kansas City, but many return empty to California. Why not fill them with hay?

The co-op's horse hay is transported by using two steel bands to compress 21 two-string bales weighing about 67 pounds each. The bands are 4 feet tall, 3 feet deep and 8 feet wide; they cost $280. The bands are unloaded in Long Beach, where an independent contractor hauls it to a barn for a fee. Customers can pick it up at the dock too.

To switch from one hay to another source of your hay, mix 25 percent co-op hay with 75 percent of your regular hay the first week. The second week feed your horse half co-op hay and half regular hay. The third week, use 75 percent co-op hay and 25 percent of your old hay. During the fourth week and beyond, serve your horse 100 percent co-op hay. Give the horse two months on the co-op hay before retesting to see what the horse needs next.

For more information, contact Heshion at 816-728-2933 or They are also available on Facebook by searching for

The PVPHA hosts monthly general meetings for educational purposes; it does not necessarily endorse the views of its speakers. We encourage consulting veterinarian before making changes to a horse's feeding regimen.