What???s Lurking in Your Hay?


Bale of Hay
Sometimes you get more than you expected inside a bale of hay. Anything that happens to be in the wrong place when the baler machine comes along will get compressed into flakes right along with the forage that’s being harvested. Examples include crushed soda cans, crumpled tin signs, paper bags and the carcasses of small wild animals. Rodents and rabbits are often common victims. Such decomposing remains are the biggest concern to horse owners because they can contain the deadly bacteria Clostridium botulinum.

There are 7 types of botulism toxin, labeled A-G, and all of them are commonly found in soil where they can produce toxins when mixed with decaying plant or animal debris. Type C is known as “carrion botulism” because it’s the strain that can be found in the decomposition of a carcass. Though there is a vaccine for one type of botulism toxin (Type B), there is not one currently for Type C. Instead, veterinarians rely on expensive anti-serum and supportive therapy in attempts to save an afflicted horse. Unfortunately, by the time botulism poisoning is diagnosed through definitive lab tests, the horse may already have succumbed to the symptoms.

A horse infected with botulism Type C can show signs of the disease anywhere from a few hours to up to 10 days of ingesting toxic feed. Because the bacteria affect the nervous system, the horse develops a wobbly gait, loses the ability to raise his head and has difficulty standing. Without the ability to swallow, the horse begins to drool. The ultimate cause of death is respiratory arrest: The horse stops breathing.

To protect your horse from this poisoning, be sure to inspect each bale of hay. Observe flakes of hay before tossing it into your horse’s corral or stall and check for any foreign objects. If your horse refuses to eat what appears to be perfectly good hay, check for unusual or foul odors. By being observant, you could save your horse from consuming a potentially deadly meal.


  1. I’ve seen everything from lumber, porcupine, pocket gopher, a sweatshirt, and pipe(irrigation).
    Doesn’t say anything good about the grower!!!

  2. this is a good article about hay I found a dead snake in one of my bales about a month ago.It’s really gross and can be harmfull to horses that just eat like there is no tommorrow.

  3. Not long ago I found a paper bag, plastic cup including the lid and hamburger wrappers in a bale of hay. Thank goodness there wasn’t any leftover food! But someone must have been eating lunch in the alfalfa field.

  4. Very timely reminder given that the new spring hay is coming in to feed stores and brokers. The dead animals are the worst, no doubt, but there are so many other hazards to watch out for, including mold in hay that isn’t cured correctly.

  5. Those idiots had better get their packaging straight, or they’ll be sued by some protester, or even me if they kill my beloved mare, Dandy.


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