Tips for baling hay for lower NSC

The best practices for making hay for sugar sensitive horses

If you’ve got a horse that is needing hay with lower sugar content you might be ready to till under your current hay field and start over with different seed. Pump the brakes! The type of hay your growing is not the only thing determining the NSC levels in your hay.
There are a few changes you can make to the way you cut and bale your hay that can make a world of difference in the amount of sugar that is retained in the finished product.

Baling hay for lower sugar content

1. Make sure your soil is not deficient

Nitrogen and phosphorus deficiency will cause grasses to store more sugar and have stunted growth, essentially creating more potent hay. Take a soil sample and be sure you are applying the right products in the right amounts. This article covers more on online resources for soil testing.

2. Cut in cool (but not too cold) weather

Cool weather will decrease sugars so cutting earlier in the day before 10 am, if possible, will result in lower NSC in the finished product. How cool is too cold? Sugars start to jump when night time temps dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You want to be sure to avoid cutting on days when the previous evening temps took a dive.

3. Aim for slow curing times

Cutting when the weather is predicted to be cloudy and cool will increase the time it takes for the hay to cure. Higher humidity will also increase dry time. The longer hay takes to dry the lower the sugar levels will be.

4. Light rain has an upside

I certainly wouldn’t aim to have freshly cut hay get rained on but if yours happens to get a light sprinkle right after it has been cut it will actually decrease the sugars without losing much protein content. For those that have had to soak hay for acute laminitis cases, you know what a difference leaching out the excess sugar with a bit of water can make in the NSC content of the hay. Obviously you want to be sure that if your hay did get rained on that is dries adequately before baling to avoid mold. 

5. Let it grow up

Waiting until the grass is mature will result in lower sugars. For fields that have a mix of grass and alfalfa, most people cut based off the stage of the alfalfa but if you are looking to keep NSC down your much better off to let the maturity of the grass be the deciding factor.

6. Balance The Soil

Regularly testing and balancing soil can prevent grasses from becoming stressed. Stressed grass tends to spike in sugars. If you aren’t sure what your soil is missing this DIY test kit can help give you an idea of what to add to improve conditions.

These tips are not intended to replace the advice of your equine nutritionist or your veterinarian. I highly recommend getting your hay tested to know the exact levels of NSC and to create a balanced ration for your horse.

Info for these tips were gathered from the incredible work of Katy Watts. For those looking to dig deeper into the research behind these practices and dive into more info on laminitis and sugar related issues in horses I would highly recommend checking out her website here.



Time, temperature, and conditions make a huge difference in how much sugar content hay has. Use these tips to bale lower NSC hay for your sugar sensitive horses.

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