Oat hay is extremely nutritious and primarily consumed by horses and other animals. The Kentucky College of Agriculture says oat hay is especially recommended for older horses because it is high in protein and energy content, making it a good choice for mature horses and pregnant mares. People can and do eat oat hay, but whole oats are more commonly consumed by people, usually for breakfast.
Oat hay is a favored food because animals like the taste and it is rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Good-quality oat hay contains a lot of fully intact seed heads. Horses and other animals like to crunch and chew the seed heads in their mouths, which makes the meal more pleasant for them. Most of the nutrients are also found in the seed heads.
Oat hay is a very well-rounded, beneficial feed for animals. This type of hay contains crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, calcium, phosphorous, trace minerals, B vitamins and sodium. Some oat hay producers also add zinc, cobalt, mixed grains, rice bran, other types of hays, salt, vitamin D3, vitamin A and other vitamins to their oat hay to make it even more nutritious and marketable. Sometimes other ingredients such as molasses are added to oat hay for additional flavor. When buying oat hay, be sure to get a peek at the ingredient list so you know exactly what you are getting. The cost may vary greatly depending on what has been added, but even plain oat hay is rich in vitamins.
Oat hay can be harvested as early as mid-May, which leaves farmers more time to plant other crops. It can also be seeded earlier, from mid-February to mid-March in some areas of the country, such as Kansas. Sometimes the demand is very high and more is planted, so the earlier in the season farmers get started, the better. Oat hay can be severely affected by drought.
The main function of oat hay is to sustain animals nutritionally and help them gain weight. Oat hay is nutrient-dense, so it provides them with everything they need even in plain varieties. Oat hay is more bulky than other types of feed grains because the hull is typically intact. Higher-quality bushels generally weigh more because the husk is large and tightly packed. Oat hay is also a widely used feed for cows and weaning cattle.
While oat hay is a nutrient-dense food, it can also contain high levels of nitrates, which is not good for animals. Nitrites, also called sodium nitrate, are used as a preservative or flavoring for meats, but it has also been linked to cancer in people and animals. You can have oat hay tested by an independent lab to be sure it's safe to eat. You can also buy the oat hay from a trusted source based on recommendations from other people. Oat hay should be handled with care to preserve the structure of the seed heads. Sometimes additional ingredients such as alfalfa or other vitamins are added for extra nutrition.