Question: I’m so confused. I’m not sure if I should soak or steam my hay. Is there even a difference between soaked and steamed hay?
Response: I think it is best to first talk about when to use each method. Soaking hay is a common strategy used to manage horses diagnosed with laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), Equine Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM), and Equine Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis Disease (HYPP). Hay is commonly soaked for horses diagnosed with these diseases to remove some of the nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) from the forage. NSC are water soluble and it is recommended for horses diagnosed with PSSM to have diets ≤10% while diets ≤12% are recommended for horses diagnosed with EMS, laminitis and PPID. For horses diagnosed with HYPP, soaking removes potassium from the hay and these horses should have diets with ≤1.1% potassium. Although forage (hay and pasture) makes up the largest component of the diet for most horses, these recommendations must include the total diet (forage, grain, supplements, etc.). For more information on hay soaking, visit https://bit.ly/2zSNo6v.
Hay steaming is often used for horses diagnosed with respiratory disease (e.g. heaves). The steam helps “weigh down” mold and dust particles and therefore reduces the amount of particles horses breath in.
In the absence of a streamer, simply wetting the hay with water (not soaking) should achieve a similar result. For horses with respiratory disease, soaking is not needed, unless they have additional disorders that require a reduction in NSC or potassium. Fortunately, wetting the hay will have a minimal impact on leaching of essential nutrients. Steaming should not replace the main goal of feeding good quality (e.g. low in dust and mold) hay. For more information on hay steaming, visit https://bit.ly/2QH00Yi.
Based on these common uses, owners would use hay soaking and steaming in different management scenarios. Both hay soaking and steaming should not be done, and are not necessary, for healthy horses because essential nutrient are leached during both methods. Both can be challenging during the winter months and must be fed quickly post soaking and steaming to avoid mold formation, especially during the summer.