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I opened a new round bale recently and the hay was so dry it had a straw-like texture and quality to it. It was also very dusty and I found myself frequently coughing/sneezing while filling the hay nets.

It sounds silly as I imagine it will but does anyone know if this will definitely have a negative affect on my horses? Respiratory issues maybe? Higher risk of choke?

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The quality of your hay and a lot of dust in general can have a negative effect on your horse.

In my stable we have a horse who starts coughing excessively if we feed him dusty hay. Dust will generally have an effect on the respiratory organs of your horse, especially if it is exposed over a longer time. Article on Dust Management and respiratory diseases

If you can, you should not buy dusty hay (duh).

But if you already bought it and don't want to waste it there are still things you can do.

  1. In our stable the horses prone to coughing get their hay wet. So we soak it in water a few minutes before feeding to make it less dusty. (The article states that merely dipping it in water can already improve the dustiness.)
  2. Feeding outside (if possible) can help since the dust will spread more and be less focused on just one place.
  3. The article above mentions to spread the hay out on the stable floor to lessen the concentration of dust particles in one place.
  4. One more thing from the article is to generally keep the barn open at places if possible to allow for air circulation and reduce the amount of dust.
  5. Another alternative is of course to not feed hay but this might not always be an option.
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I would imagine that the nutrients in the hay would be quite poor in dried up, dusty, moldy hay. Generally speaking, the more color a plant has, the more nutrients it has. From the perspective of nutrients, yes, hay quality can affect a horse. I used to have to call several feed stores to get the best hay for my horses. Colic in a horse is very serious; it's cheaper to buy quality hay than the vet bills from colic.

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