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Ep. 037: Navigating When to Soak, Steam, Wet or Leave Hay Dry with Dr. Krishona Martinson

Co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr chat with guest, Dr. Krishona Martinson, Equine Extension Specialist at the University of Minnesota, to discuss her background and experiences with horses, and more in-depth details about her research.

Episode Notes

On this episode, co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr chat with guest, Dr. Krishona Martinson, Equine Extension Specialist at the University of Minnesota, to discuss her background and experiences with horses, and more in-depth details about her research including:


• What type of horses need soaked, steamed or wet hay?

• What can happen if hay is soaked for too long

• Does water temperature matter when soaking?


Have any topics you want to hear more about? Let us know at


Keep up with Dr. Krishona Martinson and the University of Minnesota Equine Extension Program on:


Episode Topic Research Summary:


Scientific References:

~ 19:45 – Discussion about the research from Dr. Longland on hot vs. cold or warm vs. cold water for soaking and if the temperature matters – 


A.C. Longland, C. Barfoot, P.A. Harris, The Loss of Water-Soluble Carbohydrate and Soluble Protein from Nine Different Hays Soaked in Water for up to 16 Hours, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, Volume 29, Issue 5, 2009, Pages 383-384, ISSN 0737-0806,






  • Views and opinions expressed by guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Standlee Premium Products, LLC.

Katy Starr (00:01):

Hi, I'm Katy.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:02):

And I'm Dr. Cubitt. We're going beyond the barn. Come join us on this journey as we bust equine and livestock nutrition myths and interview some of the most intriguing experts in the country.


Katy Starr (00:15):

We'll go behind the scenes of how premium Western quality forage is grown and brought to your favorite farm and ranch retail store. We're so glad you're here. Welcome back to another episode of Beyond the Barn. Dr. Cubitt, it's good to have you on today.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:34):

I am excited to be back Katy as always, and I'm very excited about our guest today.


Katy Starr (00:39):

I know we have a very special guest that will be joining us. And our guest today holds a Bachelor's Degree in Agronomy from UW River Falls and a Master's in PhD in Agronomy from the University of Minnesota, since 2008, she has been the Equine Extension Specialist in the University of Minnesota Animal Science Department. She leads the University of Minnesota Extension Horse Program, which has reached over 5.5 million horse owners and professionals in 2021, as a result of her successful efforts to incorporate technology and social media into research and extension programming. She has secured over 1.9 million for her applied research program, which focuses on improving equine forage utilization and has published 60 journal articles, 135 abstracts in proceedings and has advised 13 graduate students and two post-doctoral research associates in 2019. She was named the Outstanding Educator from the Equine Science society, where she currently serves as secretary. Welcome Dr. Krishona Martinson to the Beyond the Barn podcast.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (01:54):

Well, thank you. I'm so excited to be here.


Katy Starr (01:58):

We're very excited to have you on today and we get to discuss our main topic for today will be some research that you have put a lot of time and effort into on navigating when to soak steam wet or just to leave hay be. So this is going to be a really interesting topic that we get to share with our listeners today.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (02:21):

Yes. And is one of probably the biggest, some of the biggest groups of questions that we get from horse owners around the world is trying to distinguish between those different management methods with hay,


Katy Starr (02:35):

Right? Because I mean, it's taking extra effort, right?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (02:40):

And it's really important because I, in my practical job, also get asked all the time, the difference between you know, should I soak it, should I buy one of these steaming things? And depending on where you look on the internet, you can find all kinds of different research, not even research, but just opinions. So I'm excited to have the real research available to our listeners today.


Katy Starr (03:06):

Yes. And so just before we get started, we want to remind our listeners that any of the topics that we cover on the Beyond the barn podcast, they're more generalized and not specific to any individual horse or any specific situation. So be sure to always work with your veterinarian and nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your horse's feed program, or you can reach out to us and talk directly with Dr. Cubitt or Dr. Duren on specifics. You like to know, and we will also give out Dr. Martinson's way that you can kind of reach out and connect with her at the end of the episode as well. So let's get started. First of all, I think it would be great to ask you just a few questions to help us get to know you a little bit, but when did you get your first start and interest in horses and how has that evolved over the years?


Dr. Krishona Martinson (03:57):

Yeah, so I think like a lot of people, I think it's genetic. I came into this world and one of my first words was horse. I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, a very Midwestern traditional upbringing. And I was fortunate that my dad allowed me to have horses and ponies. And I think my grandpa bought me a pony when I was two and my first horse when I was seven as a negotiation tactic by my parents to keep me in second grade. And I had that horse for 32 years. So I was very fortunate and I rode her offspring, but now my daughters and I have kind of transitioned from more of an all-around horse to more of a speed event or timed event type horse. So I guess it has been, you know, my quote unquote, entire life I've been a horse owner.


Katy Starr (04:47):

That's awesome. That is so cool. And you've passed it down to your daughters, which is awesome as well. So you obviously you share this love of horses with them and kind of with all the unfortunate things that did happen with COVID, there was a little bit of a silver lining for you guys in 2021, you changed up kind of your competition routine and in what you normally do fairly significantly. Can you share with our listeners a little bit more about what you guys did in 2021?


Dr. Krishona Martinson (05:15):

Yes. I still can't believe I did this . So when we show horses, I have a very strict within and hour radius of where we live, because there's a lot of options for events and races, but when COVID kept lingering and my kids were remote in school and I was remote in school, and obviously the Minnesota winters were coming at us. I was like, you know, why are we living in this cold environment and sitting in our offices on our computers? So I convinced my poor husband to drive us to Buckeye, Arizona for the winter. He took a round trip flight back from Arizona and left myself, my two daughters and three horses and we lived out of our horse trailer in the Arizona desert and rode horses every day, we brought three horses with us and also was able to spend time with some Minnesota horsewomen, who we look up to down there, and then also some elite barrel racers and ride their horses and just spend the winter, you know, in the Arizona sunshine, riding horses, which will forever ruin my children because now they think this is the, you know, perfect way of life, but it is not a standard reality.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (06:28):

Yes, it is not a standard for my family, but a silver lining, if there are any of COVID, was that flexibility to truly do school and work from anywhere in the country, including a horse trailer in the middle of the desert.


Katy Starr (06:41):



Dr. Tania Cubitt (06:42):

Your girls will never forget, never forget that. And that is something that I think is so special about Krishona is not only does she, this is her area of expertise for her job, but she's a vested interest because the things that she researches she uses on a day to day basis, because she is so actively involved as a horse owner and a parent of children involved in the horse industry. So it's not just from an academic standpoint, she's definitely vested in this community.


Katy Starr (07:16):

That's awesome. Probably best winter you guys have ever had.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (07:19):

Yeah. You know, absolutely. And if I could figure out how to do it again, I would make it an annual thing, but obviously now we're back, you know, everybody's kind of back to a pre pandemic type mentality. So, but like I said, it was a wonderful once in a lifetime opportunity,


Katy Starr (07:35):

Kudos to you for taking that and just running with it. Like that was awesome. So awesome. What other interesting things. So when I was kind of like researching and preparing for the episode, I noticed that your focus has been on agronomy, which I find fascinating. And it's a huge part if you think about any kind of livestock and, you know, the fact that they consume what we grow. Right. And so it's really important that we understand that. Where did that stem from, your interest in agronomy?


Dr. Krishona Martinson (08:10):

Yeah. So, you know, that's a great question. So I think growing up on a farm, I was always really interested in plants and how things grew. But, you know, I went to a really small rural high school, right. It was a wonderful upbringing. I wouldn't change it for the world, but I graduated with 38 kids. And three of them were my cousins, just to have a point of reference. So I, you know, I didn't really know that this kind of job existed in the horse industry. I thought you had to be a veterinarian, a farrier or a trainer. And I did not want to be any three of those things. So what you do, what you both do, and what I do, I didn't even know was an option, but I knew through 4-H that there was agronomy, and through our agronomist who had helped my parents with the crops, I knew that was an option.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (08:56):

So as I went through graduate school and started working in extension, I actually started working in horticulture, which I know nothing about flowers, but I knew plants. And during that time, I met an individual who had a strong interest in horse. Although she kind of had a background in small ruminant, so kind of sheep and goats and things of that nature. But as we started building the horse program at Minnesota, it became evident because a lot of horses can get all of their energy requirements from forages alone there was a huge need for somebody with an expertise in forages, hay and pasture. And my Masters and PhD is actually in weed science, so poisonous plants and how animals interact with that. And honestly, it just sort of naturally evolved into me becoming a more involved and a more prominent player on our university's horse team.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (09:48):

And then eventually to my faculty. And what I have found is a lot of my colleagues who came up on the equine science part had to really dig deep and learn agronomy. I came up on the agronomy part and just really had to dig deep and learn more about horses. For example, the first research project I did, you know, I designed incorrectly because I was used to designing research projects that focused on plants and yield and quality and not necessarily the horse's interaction with the plants. So, you know, I guess it all, it all just works, but it, it is kind of an interesting path that is sometimes best explained further over happy hour.


Katy Starr (10:27):



Dr. Tania Cubitt (10:29):



Katy Starr (10:31):

No, but that's like, it's a very important balance. I think sometimes people feel like, you know, if you only understand, you know, the makeup of the horse and their digestive system good. Right. But it really is twofold, especially when you're thinking about how often they're out on pasture and the plants that they're consuming. And like you said, how it's interacting with the animal themselves. And so I think it's, it's like finding that perfect balance of understanding both of those areas is really, really important when you own animals.


Dr. Krishona Martinson(11:01):

Yeah, absolutely.


Katy Starr (11:03):

So it was a natural progression. Then you graduated from the University of Minnesota and you just happened to be able to take on a position there that worked out quite well for you.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (11:12):

Yes. It really did work out quite well. And, you know, for those of you who are listening, who maybe want to get into academia, honestly, it was a little bit of luck, but also sometimes you have to interview, right? So at that time, the University of Minnesota had never had a horse specialist before me. And I don't know if they were really keen on it, but I had established a fairly decent research program and extension program as a regional educator. And I applied for a job in a different state and was offered that job. And when I was offered that job, Minnesota was like, huh, so maybe you should stay here and do the things that you're doing, but as a faculty member and have some graduate students. And at that time, you know, when your kids start school, it's harder to move. And my husband was well established in his career. So it worked out very, very well, but you know, sometimes you have to take that risk and apply elsewhere. And sometimes it works in ways. You never could have imagined. I mean, again, I didn't even know this type of job existed when I was growing up and it is just a great fit for me.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (12:19):

I recently gave a talk for a, a professor at University of Tennessee, and she has a equine careers class. And we were just talking about all of the different types of jobs. It was stock horse based this year, but still now there, there's certainly a lot more professors that are opening the eyes of their students to all that is available, but there are so many things that we can do. And it's hard to kind of, as you're going through grad school, or even going through undergrad to think about all these different opportunities that we may have, but I was also given similar advice. It's like the job may not always be there and sometimes you ask whether there's a job or you create a job yourself. And I think it just, again, proves Krishona’s worth at her program. Nobody wants to let her go. We are constantly sharing the infographics that your team puts out. I think every man and his dog does, because they're fantastic. So thank you for making our job easier. They're timely and useful. So yeah. Awesome.


Katy Starr (13:28):

Yes. We're a big fan of your program.


Dr. Krishona Martinson(13:32):

Well, that's very, very nice to hear and, you know, Tania, you and I have been friends and colleagues for a number of years, and I think the other piece of advice and not that okay, right. Like this is not our topic, but you know, my first job was in horticulture, but it got my foot in the door and there is so important to just get your foot in the door and rarely is your first job job, your dream job, but it could lead to a dream job for you.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (13:58):

Absolutely. Yep.


Katy Starr (13:59):

Well, I didn't go to school for marketing and look at me now. So. Or for podcasting.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (14:07):

I started my undergraduate degree in the forestry department. So there you go.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (14:12):

I learn something new every day. Fascinating.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (14:16):

I did not want to cut down the trees. And so here we are,


Katy Starr (14:21):

This is awesome. I love this. Geez. We might have to make this into two episodes. You guys, I don't know. I just feel like we could talk for a long time but let's go ahead and get into our topic today because this is a really, really interesting topic. So first off, let's start with soaking, because there's a number of things we want to talk about soaking, steaming, wetting, or just feeding hay dry as it is. So Dr. Martinson what is the purpose of soaking hay and what horses can benefit from it?


Dr. Krishona Martinson (14:51):

Yeah. So that is a great question. And I first want to start off by, you know, there's a lot of trends in the horse industry, right? And sometimes people jump on trends because their friend or their trainer or whomever they look up to is doing it. But I can tell you being in a Minnesota and a Northern climate where it freezes, you do not want to soak hay unless you have to, especially during the winter months. So soaking hay is a method primarily in my opinion, and you two can definitely join in here, where if you have a horse that needs a lower nonstructural carbohydrate diet, and you have tested other hays that you have available to you and you cannot find a hay that is an appropriate fit. We know that soaking can reduce nonstructural carbohydrates very effectively, but again, it is a mess. It takes extra time and effort. And when you're living in Minnesota in January and is negative 30, the last thing you wanna do is schlepping soaked hay through your kitchen, from your bathtub out to your barn where it's gonna freeze in 20 minutes. So again, soaking is when you have looked at all other options available to you and you can't find an appropriate hay soaking is a wonderful method to give that horse a lower non-structural carbohydrate diet.


Katy Starr (16:14):

Yeah. And that that's thinking about, especially if you have more than one horse, right? if you have multiple horses, especially that struggle with that, that creates a lot of extra work. And then, so when we do go to soak, is there a certain time length that we should maybe consider is there, especially when you're thinking about the whole purpose for why you're soaking to release those non-structural carbohydrates, is there such a thing as soaking it for too short of time or too long of time?


Dr. Krishona Martinson (16:43):

Yeah. So that's a great question. And of course I'm gonna give you the best university answer. It depends. Right. That's what we say, but I will clarify. So, you know, I think across most of the US, a lot of horse owners feed cool season grass hay. So things like, you know, Orchard Grass and Timothy and, you know, Bromegrass, those are all examples of cool season grass hays. Those hays tend to be a little higher in nonstructural carbohydrates. Legumes like alfalfa or warm season grasses like Teff and Bermuda grass tend to be lower. Not always - tends to be. So if you have a horse that needs a lower nonstructural carbohydrate diet and the hay is the majority of their diet, we know that soaking for up, you know, 15 to 30 minutes usually does the trick, sometimes up to an hour.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (17:38):

And again, you know, I would like, this is a discussion, right? I'm interested in hearing what you all have to offer. And I realize that I don't have all the answers and certain situations may, may dictate different responses, but traditionally, if you soak for about 30 minutes, our research has found, you can bring down that non-structural carbohydrate content in the hay to usually less than about 12%. And that is the current very general guideline for horses who suffer from things like metabolic syndrome or laminitis or even obesity, and a little bit more now going, you know, towards PPID as we learn more about that disease as well. And again, we're going to focus on the hay because that tends to be the majority of the diet for these horses. So that is why we're focusing on reducing the nonstructural carbohydrate of the hay component.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (18:31):

So again, if you are feeding a cool season, grass hay, you've tested it. It's not uncommon for these hays to be 15, 16, 17% nonstructural carbohydrates. So soaking for about 30 minutes tends to get us below that mark. Now we don't want to soak for more than an hour and definitely not overnight because our research shows that you really lose a lot of dry matter and you end up with some really inverted minerals, but we'll talk about that, you know, coming up, but I just want to pause there and also get your feedback or any follow ups that you have on just that general guideline of start with 30 minutes. It's probably best to test your hay before and test your hay after to see where you're at to get a general feel. And our research has found that warm water or cold water doesn't really matter. Although some disagree with me on that and that's okay. Right. It could depend on just where you are at regionally and what your hay looks at and what you're starting with. But we have found about 30 minutes for sure. Less than an hour warm or cool water. It's about the same.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (19:37):

I think I go back to the original work that Dr. Longman did with all of those hays, the hot versus the cold or the warm versus cold or whatever it was. And I certainly also recommend if we're not familiar with that hay to test it first, because I would say nine times out of 10, it's not super high. I, I don't, I rarely see really, really high NSC these days, unless we're in Minnesota and we're trying to feed dairy cows. But that way, then we know that through soaking, we may be able to soak that out. So I do recommend if a horse is actively sick, that we, we do a test first and most of my clients will offer, offer testing, or I can help them do that test. It's relatively inexpensive. And then to test it afterwards as well, just so that we know exactly where we're at.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (20:28):

And I have also found that in a research setting, you can tweak anything, right? You can make it hot, you can make it a certain degree. You can do it for exactly a 30 minutes or exactly an hour. But when you get into the barn, you realize that, oh, shoot, my daughter forgot to go back and dump the water out. And it's been soaking for two hours or we are running late to go to school and it actually only soaked for 15 minutes. So then there's the real world that comes in. So I try to make sure that within normal bounds they're gonna be able to do it. And so I, I agree hot versus cold. Most people don't have hot water in their barn and I have the same, my clients in Vermont that there's no way in God’s green earth. They're gonna soak hay. I, they think I'm crazy. So then we just have to find a hay that's lower, which is why then I'm very interested to hear about the steaming because I've kind of heard two different sides. And steaming seems to me, if you can afford the contraption that might overcome some of that winter challenges, but, but yes, I a hundred percent agree. And I, but I also say you, you gotta find what works for the facility that you are chatting with.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (21:41):

Yeah. And you know, I couldn't agree with you more. And I should really emphasize because I probably did at the beginning, you know, most people, a lot of people don't have to test their hay. If you have a good hay supplier and a healthy horse, and you're happy with your horses, body condition score it, testing hay is still recommended, but probably isn't, you know, probably isn't as important. But if you are dealing with the horse with any of those disorders and you are nutritionally managing that horse testing hay is imperative. It must be done. Because even though we have book values, there's such a wide range because of environment and management that we could never truly predict the value of that. But again, I just wanted to emphasize the importance of hay testing. So thank you, Dr. Cubitt for pointing that out.


Katy Starr (22:32):

And also speaking of soaking time length, all of that, some people, and this can go, you know, even beyond this conversation of like long stem hay and the purpose and reason why we're soaking it. But if we're even starting to talk about soaking pellets or cubes or anything like that, sometimes people will soak things for a longer period of time. Maybe they do it for like 15 or 30 minutes, but what if they do that? And then they let it sit, because they're like, oh, I'm going to feed it to 'em later, but I need to soak it now, how far ahead of time can we soak hay? What are some things that we need to be aware of if we do that?


Dr. Krishona Martinson(23:11):

Yeah. So that is a great question. So you really should feed the hay immediately after soaking. During the winter months and again, we've shared that that might not even be practical in places like Vermont or Minnesota or really the Northern to, you know, Northern third of the US, you know, during the winter, you could get away with maybe having that hay sit for 24 hours. But in Minnesota we get very, very humid days at hot humid days during the summer months, and I'm afraid if you let that sit for more than a feeding meaning kind of 12 hours, maybe you're soaking it in the morning and then you're gonna feed it after work in the evening. If you would let it soak for anything more than 12 hours, I would be concerned that you would start to get mold formation in that hay. So although we've never looked at that from a research standpoint, just practically, you know, you should try to feed it within 12 hours during the hot summer months and within 24 hours during the cold winter months.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (24:10):

And just to clarify the soaking length, I do believe you can soak it for too long. So I would not recommend anybody's soaking hay for 20 hours or, or more than 24 hours or overnight. We, we just end up with too much dry matter loss. And we honestly end up with an inverted calcium to phosphorus ratio, which I know can be fixed, but a lot of time that isn't on people's radar because they're managing a bigger issue. So again, you have to feed it out quickly and you really shouldn't let it soak for 24 hours or overnight.


Katy Starr (24:41):

And so you talked about soaking hay and how that impacts non-structural carbohydrates to kind of get that out of the hay, but let's talk about a few other things that it can impact as well. What about crude protein?


Dr. Krishona Martinson (24:56):

So crude protein is pretty stable. We don't see a change in the crude protein when you, when you soak or when you steam hay.


Katy Starr (25:04):

And some additional minerals, you kind of brought up a little bit, the whole calcium to phosphorus issue.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (25:11):

Yeah. So, you know, calcium to phosphorus issue and, you know, Tania, you are definitely the equine nutritionist and not me, but if you think about it, we know that phosphorus is water soluble. Right? Think about when we are concerned about algea blooms with phosphorus running into lakes. So during this soaking or steaming process, we can lose phosphorus, but we don't lose calcium. That's not really water soluble. So we end up with these really large calcium values in these really small phosphorus values. So Tania, you can talk more about how that impacts or could potentially negatively impact a horse. And again, we didn't measure all of the, you know, different elements, but really you do end up with these really elevated calcium values, but more in, but more importantly, you just lose so much dry matter. So you, you actually have to soak more. So if you're giving your horse 10 pounds, you might have to soak 12 pounds of hay, just so that they actually get 10 pounds of intake, which a lot of times these horses, that hay is being soaked, they're kind of overweight or obesity goes with some of these disorders that we so okay for.


Dr. Krishona Martinson(26:16):

That might not be the worst thing, but it is something if you're dealing with a thinner horse that also has this disorder incredibly important to watch the volume that you are giving after soaking.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (26:28):

Yeah. So many comments, but yes, back to the phosphorous, that's not something that I had thought of, but I find with a lot of local, especially on the East coast where they're, you know, we have a lot of the bays where people are growing hay and so they're very cognizant. Some states ban certain fertilizers from being put down, phosphorous is one that they can't use. So I'm already seeing a lot of local hays out here on the East coast be low in phosphorus. So then if you're oversoaking your hay and you're losing even more phosphorus, I'm having to tweak diets and do weird things that I would never usually do, like add wheat bran to bump the phosphorus up because we have to balance calcium of phosphorus in the feeds or the, the forage products. But that's very interesting. Certain areas of the country were already low in phosphorus.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (27:14):

So it just make it worse. And then so many people forget about dry matter that these values or percentages that we drill into people, you know, one and a half percent of body weight, two and a half percent of body weight that is in dry forage, it's dry matter. So especially when you say that and we're losing dry matter. I think about the cost of everything right now. And my thread of what I'm talking to people about is efficiency and being more efficient with your feeding program and investing in your hay because you're right, the horse eats the majority of their diet. It doesn't matter whether you're a race horse or a pleasure horse. The majority of your diet is the forage portion of your day. And so that's where small, small changes can make or break the diet. So even something like having to feed, if you've got 10 horses in your barn that you're soaking hay for, you're losing potentially 20 pounds of dry matter by over soaking.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (28:15):

That's a lot of hay that you're losing every day. So it might seem small when you're just thinking about one animal, but when you times that by multiple animals, and then also times that by three, three hundred and sixty five days in the year, cuz we're all great horse owners and feed every day that adds up. And so other than soaking and steaming hay being one of the most common questions that we certainly get the other most common question is how do I feed my horse on a budget? And you feed your horse on a budget by not making silly mistakes. And Krishona is opening our eyes to some little things that maybe we don't even realize we're doing that could be in the long run, costing us money.


Katy Starr (28:56):

Right. I, and I am so glad that you brought up the point about dry matter loss because I am almost certain that majority of people have no idea that that's occurring if they're soaking for too long. And yeah, what if you're planning for the winter and you're like, oh, I need about this much of hay over the winter. And you're soaking hay. What if you don't take that into account, then you're at the end of the season and you're scrambling trying to get hay.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (29:24):

Because it would be cumulative and you would start to see your horses are losing a little bit of weight and yes, not so bad for the horse that may be already on a weight loss program, but you are usually already at the lower end of how much that horse should be eating in a day. So if you go below that, then you might be then bringing in some other just overall gut health issues, microbiome issues, you know, that's a whole nother podcast by not feeding enough dry matter. So.


Katy Starr (29:53):

So let's get into steaming hay now. So what is the purpose of steaming and what horses can benefit from that?


Dr. Krishona Martinson (30:02):

I think the purpose of steaming was to humble me as a researcher. , That's what I'm pretty sure happened. So I honestly, I'm not really sure where the whole steaming concept kind of drum, you know, what was dreamed up. But several years ago, steaming became really important in Europe. And I think it is because they have a much more humid climate where we are very lucky in the Midwest where we are able to make beautiful hay during our growing season. Yes, we have humid periods, but we have really ideal conditions to make dry hay. And a lot of European countries, they have more of a damp, you know, environment where they produce a lot of silage, which isn't commonly fed to horses in the U.S. and they have more issues with mold. So the whole, how it was advertised to me and we started getting copious amounts of questions is, you know, steaming will kill mold.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (31:01):

And I was like, really? How would that work? So we actually bought a steamer and we steamed two different kinds of hay. Now, when I did the hay soaking research, remember I was a rookie agronomist. I did not feed the hay to the horses. So I should have soaked it, collected the data and then did a feeding trial to look at preference and blood glucose and insulin and all that fun stuff. I was not as smart back then as I am now. So when we, when we went to steam, our hay, we got a, we had a really high quality grass, hay and high quality meaning for horses. We want to see all of their feed come in at less than 500,000 or half a million colony forming units of mold. Now that may seem high, but mold is on a log scale. And even sitting in all of our nice clean offices, there's still mold in the air, right?


Dr. Krishona Martinson (31:54):

There's just, it's, it's everywhere. You can never have zero. So we had good quality hay that had just under 40,000 colony forming units. And the average horse owner can't even pick up mold until it's around that half a million. That's when you can kind of start to be like, Hmm, there's just something a little funky, a little off about this hay then, because we wanted to feed the hay because we learned from our hay soaking research mishaps that we found a hay that was purposely baled, just a tad damp. And it came in at, at about 350,000 colony form units of mold. So just slightly higher, the steamer that we used, we followed the labeled instructions and they wanted it steamed for 90 minutes. So it had two wallpaper steamers that each took about a gallon and a half of water. You filled out those wallpaper steamers or those wallpaper steamers. You put the hay inside of almost like a rubber made container that had little spikes in it. And then the wallpaper steamers just sort of pushed that steam up through the bale. So in theory, the steaming is supposed to kill the mold, but somewhere along the story, steaming evolved to also reduce nonstructural carbohydrate content.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (33:08):

That's one I've never really understood.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (33:10):

I know Tania, like, I don't know how that sort of became the, the deal, but some will wear along the story. Somebody said, oh, and by the way, it kills mold and it reduces nonstructural carbohydrates. Well, low and behold, steaming hay does kill mold, like call me wrong. Right? But the mold is still in the hay. It doesn't, it's not like it just disintegrates it or is gone. The mold is just dead because obviously mold is a living organism. So we can test it in hay because when we swab the little Petri dish and put it on some auger, it, it duplicates. So we can identify and count the mold. So after steaming, the mold was dead in the moderately moldy hay, but it was still there. Interestingly enough, the steaming really did not change the nutrient profile at all of the good quality hay or the low mold hay, although it made the dry matter higher.


Dr. Krishona Martinson(34:03):

So you're gonna have to feed it out faster. And it also did reduce some of the phosphorus. Again, it's a very water soluble element. With the moderately moldy hay it killed the mold, but the mold was still there. So we had a low mold count after steaming, but it also reduced the non-structural carbohydrates, the water soluble component of that. And we think it is because that bale would have to heat slightly as that mold is kind of growing and reproducing and maybe that sort of loosened those bonds and some of that non-structural carbohydrates that water cell carbohydrate component was able to leach out. Now, this is just in my brain, what we think happened. We were never able to really determine what actually happened, but like Tania said, there's a practicality in this. And that's likely what happened when we fed the hay. The horses ate the same amount of the moderately moldy hay steamed or unsteamed.


Dr. Krishona Martinson(34:57):

And again, I think it is because the mold was there and if there was any off taste, it was still there. But with the low mold hay, that really high quality hay, they hate two and a half times as much when it was steamed. And the only thing I can think of is it's sort of like broccoli, raw broccoli, maybe isn't as palatable as steam broccoli. Maybe it just made the hay softer. So I don't know the place for a hay steamer in the horse industry. However, our vet school has kept the has steamer. And when they have a horse who doesn't want to eat or is coming out of colic surgery or needs a very soft diet, they steam hay for the horse.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (35:36):

And that's really where I saw the hay steamers first, was the veterinarian application, especially in vet hospitals, colic surgery or the respiratory disorders where we wanna knock down any mold or dust. Interesting that, I don't know, like what effect does dead mold, I mean, it certainly doesn't have the mycotoxins. What effect does that have on the horse? Because the difference is we're not rinsing the hay like we would with soaking. We're not washing it away. So we're not washing dirt particles away. We're literally steaming it. And so it's dead and still sitting there. I'm curious. So it did reduce the NSC, but by how much. Let's say we go in with the hay, that's 15% non-structural carbohydrates. And we know if we soak it for 30 minutes to an hour in cold water, we're gonna get to 12. How much was the steaming working? Because again, I feel like the only water is the steam that's going up through it and then there's condensation in the contraption, but it's not washing it away. So how much are we actually leeching out.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (36:45):

Between 13 and 27% reduction.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (36:49):

Wow. Okay. So significant. Yes. Significant. Okay. Well, I didn't, I did not know that that was going to happen. So


Dr. Krishona Martinson (36:57):

You, you and me both, like I said, this was very humbling as a researcher


Dr. Tania Cubitt (37:02):

And I still find they are quite expensive. I do have a lot more of my clients will have them in their barns. Maybe the, the, the specific company has sponsored them and they've given them one or something. Just another option, I guess. I see if we're making the hay softer and potentially a little bit more palatable, senior horses when their teeth are just starting to degrade, maybe it would be a great idea there or in the veterinary practice where, you know, we have colic surgery or whatever now was it your group years ago? I remember. And I, I always advocate never for our clients to feed fermented forages. Was it your group that did that research and it was really palatable and slightly more digestible? Wasn't it? The fermented product?


Dr. Krishona Martinson (37:46):

Yeah. So I think that was a group. Oh, so first of all, thank you for thinking it was me another


Dr. Tania Cubitt (37:51):

Another cold state,


Dr. Krishona Martinson (37:54):

Yes. Another cold state and Tania, I, I agree with you. We don't recommend people feed silage. There's just too many risks or fermented forages. There's too many risks when we tend to have long stem, dried hay available in this part, you know, in the U.S. But yes. I mean, it, it is pretty palatable, but again, it's chopped, it's soft. It smells good, you know?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (38:15):

Yeah. And it wasn't dry to start with. I mean, it was always just higher moisture content and not dried out anyway. Right.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (38:25):

Every year I get a call from somebody now I've got some horses that ate the silage, or I gave it to them on purpose and they're dead and there are some more that don't look good can you fix them? And I say, no, don't feed it again. 


Dr. Krishona Martinson (38:45):

So, and you know, with the whole, anyway, with the whole silage thing, you know, you have to remember over in Europe, they have fed that for generations. So there's knowledge in properly producing it properly, you know, having it become ensiled and properly storing and feeding it that I think some of that knowledge is just lacking because historically we don't feed that in the U.S. We just don't have that kind of historical built-in knowledge because it's a historical feed price or a historical feed option. But going back to the steaming, there was a group and Tania, maybe you remember I think it was a veterinary group that actually looked at a heave lines and horses. And when they fed horses, steamed hay, that heave line and their respiratory health did improve. So I think steaming is probably more beneficial for hygienic purposes. If you have a horse that has a breathing issue, but in all honesty, we'll get to it. Wetting is a much cheaper alternative. Yes. But you know, the steaming probably does have a place in the horse industry, but it's probably for a very select and small group of owners.


Katy Starr (39:53):

It's such an interesting concept. And just like the findings that you had, especially with the nonstructural carbohydrates on the steaming, super intriguing, but let's get into wetting hay now. So we've talked about soaking and steaming and when you reference quote unquote wetting hay, how does that exactly differ from soaking in steaming hay? And what horses would you find? I mean, you did just mention some that, you know, struggle with heaves a little bit, but what horses might benefit from wetting hay?


Dr. Krishona Martinson (40:25):

Yeah. So, you know, wetting hay is definitely best for horses that have respiratory issues and wetting hay sounds just like it. Like, I mean, it sounds just like it is right. You take a hose with a spray nozzle and you fully wet the hay. You do not immerse it or soak it. You do not steam it, you simply wet it. And what that does, so, I mean, that's like what a five minute shhh you know, with the hose or two minute spray with the hose. And what that does is that physically weighs down those mold particles, cuz they're kind of large and it stops most of them from being inhaled into the horse because it's that inhalation of the mold spores that causes respiratory issues. So, you know, it's a very distinct difference. Soaking we are immersing the hay into clean water for up to an hour for horses with metabolic syndrome or ones that have, you know, those, those type of disorders, Wetting is really a very specific practice of simply wetting the hay down way down those mold spores that can't be inhaled for horses that have respiratory issues that, I mean, there's this huge difference between those two types of management schemes.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (41:36):

I would also add a lot of times with those horses that I recommend just wetting the hay, oftentimes it's I tell them to get a, one of those sprayers from Home Depot and put water in it and spray down the whole stall just to keep the dust down. And I don't know whether there is any correlation, but I have so many of my horse owners that are frustrated that their horse are dunkers and they will take hay, and there is funny videos you can watch on the internet about how it doesn't matter, where you put the hay versus the water. They will walk and walk and walk just to dunk every mouthful of hay in the water. So, you know, I do say horses are smarter than people often and they tell us a lot and sometimes we don't listen. So maybe those horses always knew that wetting, the hay made it nicer for them to eat. I don't know. But yeah, there is definitely more of my customers that I wet hay than necessarily soak.


Katy Starr (42:29):

And one thing that I actually wanted to ask and I forgot when we first were talking about it with soaking hay, what do you recommend people do once they go and get rid of that water? Right? Because sometimes like Dr. Cubitt when we talk about soaking and it depends on what it is, we're soaking, if it is cubes or pellets or anything like that, from that aspect, you like the soaking because it allows that horse to just take in more water, especially if they're not drinking water. And so in this case, when we don't want them to consume that water, I mean, do people think about where maybe we should get rid of it to make sure that there isn't enough horse going around and trying to, I guess, drink it up or anything like that?


Dr. Krishona Martinson (43:19):

You know, that is an excellent question. And you have to remember that water is full of nutrients, so ideally and, and phosphorus, right? So ideally you would find a nice grass patch, maybe on your lawn or around the barn where you could take that water and dump it on that grassy patch and kind of, you know, do it sporadically around to, to kind of displace those nutrients and let the grass roots soak it up. You would never want to dump it on like an asphalt driveway or somewhere where it could run into a storm sewer or elsewhere. Right? Yeah. So definitely be careful when you dispose of that water, cuz again, it is full of nutrients. And when you look at it, it will sort of be an Amber color because all of those nutrients kind of turn the water, almost like a lightish brown, depending on how long you soak it for. So again, you can physically see, you know, your hard earned hay or your money sitting in that water. And again, definitely dispose of it somewhere where plants can take up those nutrients.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (44:21):

And I don't have to say this as much as I did many years ago when we first started soaking hay. But when we first started, I had to often tell people that you did need to dump the water out and you didn't feed the muck tub with the hay and the Coca-Cola water to the horse that, that defeated the purpose. So make sure you tip it out. Yeah, that, that was an interesting one. I don't say it very often these days.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (44:49):

Well, and you know, that's a great reminder. It is really hard to soak hay. So ideally you put the flakes of hay into like some kind of a, a whole net or a hay net with small holes, like one of those slow feet hay nets and then take like a rock or a retaining wall brick or something and set it on that, that hay net to make it stay submerged. Then you're gonna have to hang it on the fence for about 20 minutes and let all that water drip out. Right. And you're gonna have to be careful not to have water all down the front of your pants and your shirt as you're taking it out of that bucket or that wheelbarrow. So there is kind of a practical, messy side of this as well.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (45:27):

So touching on that a little further Krishona, when you do your research and, and you know, when others have done this research, I don't think it's ever really been fully described in the materials and methods, what you do post soaking and, and then are we letting it drain for 15 minutes? Are we letting it drain for 20 minutes? And then we're feeding it cuz I would guarantee you most people are dumping the water and putting it straight in. So we've leached most of it out. And I think we we'd be fine. And you're probably just increasing the moisture content a little bit. So I know that people will not think about that, but one other thing that's, it's on my mind and, and I, we haven't really, we've been mentioning it, but I want to put it out there. Soaking pellets or cubes is a completely different ballgame here, we’re soaking pellets or cubes so that they're absorbing moisture and making it easier for the horse to consume. Not that you are rinsing the sugars and starches or any nutrients out of it because in that situation, your horse is consuming all the water and the pelleted or cubed product. So that soaking don't think that when you soak your pellets, you're leeching sugars and starches, you're not.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (46:45):

Oh, that is so important. Thank you for saying that Dr. Cubitt, because you're right. We are talking, my research has focused specifically and solely on long stem, dried hay, not anything else. And that's an incredibly important distinction to be made. Also for our research purposes. We hung those hay nets on rack and they, we let them hang there until there was no dripping because, and of course we had to dry it in our big commercial research dryers to then grind it and send it off to the lab or to analyze it ourselves. So we had a slightly different purpose or it's kind of a slightly different procedure than an actual horse owner would use. But I do think it is in your best interest to have most of it dripped out, just especially if you're feeding it a stall, you don't want all that liquid in your stall because then it ruins your shavings and you just go through shavings faster. If you're putting them in an outdoor dry lot, it's probably not as important. But if you are feeding that soaked hay that's dripping copious amounts of water day after day, you could end up with a little mud pit, right, where you're trying to feed your horse. So it's probably best to let most of that water come out and then hang it to be fed.


Katy Starr (47:55):

So when you're thinking about the time that it takes to do this, it's not just the soaking time, but it's that time too. I don't know if like Dr. Cubitt, like you said, I don't know if people are thinking about that. So that's something important to consider right? When we want to make sure that we soak for the right amount of time, don't get rid of too much and lose too much in dry matter loss and all of that. So, yeah. And then as we wrap up this episode, I feel like we've talked about a lot of different things. And so I'll let you add anything in Dr. Martinson, if you have anything or Dr. Cubitt, but as we wrap this episode up Dr. Martinson, what are a few of your main takeaways that you would like to leave our listeners with today?


Dr. Krishona Martinson (48:36):

Yeah. So that is, that we have covered so much, right? That's a great question. First of all, just know that not all horses need hay soaked, steamed or wetted, and because it adds extra work and time and labor and equipment, you should only do it if it's been, or it's been recommended by veterinarian or nutritionist when it comes to hay soaking, first of all, always try to find hay that is best suited for your horse so that you don't have to do these extra steps. If you've exhausted, all of those options, have your hay tested, soak it for no longer than 60 minutes and feed it to those horses that need a lower amount of nonstructural carbohydrate in their entire diet. And traditionally, those horses are ones that have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, laminitis, perhaps PPID obesity. And even the muscle disease PSSM right.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (49:33):

We know that those horses need a lower non-structural carbohydrate diet when it comes to steaming steaming, you know, again, it's extra equipment and extra work, but it's probably best suited for hygienic purposes or to increase the palability for a horse that is having an issue, maybe a complication from surgery or from dental issues or an older horse that is having a hard time chewing. The wetting is really a much more affordable option to the steamer. And again, what wetting does is it weighs down those mold particles. So horses with respiratory issues do not breathe in that mold and have a respiratory attack. So again, wetting, steaming and soaking are all very different, but they should only be done if you absolutely need to do it. And you have explored all other options for hay types that would work your horse in the first place.


Katy Starr (50:30):

Excellent. Dr. Cubitt, do you have anything to add?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (50:34):

I would just add, because I, I know that sometimes things can get misconstrued and I know that Dr. Krishona is not by any means saying that if you have a moldy hay, you can throw it in the steamer and then feed it to your horse and it won't die. If you smell hay, if you smell mold, if you see mold, chances are, we are outside of that relatively safe range and it should not be fed to horses. We do know that horses are super sensitive to mold and even at levels where we can't detect it. So if you have a horse that you know, is very sensitive to molds, then that's when I think you or dust using the steamer on what you think is a good hay, but your horse is very sensitive so you, you use it in that situation, but don't think that you can outrun bad hay by using a steamer. That would be my, my only addition.


Dr. Krishona Martinson(51:31):

Oh my gosh. Thank you. That is so important for clarifying that. So thank you very, very, very much


Katy Starr (51:39):

Excellent. I found this episode to be quite fascinating, especially, I mean, a lot of the time just getting to just learn from both of you on your thoughts and your feedback and just your experiences with these trials. It's very interesting information and I really hope our listeners found it to be interesting as well. And I would just like to add if anybody has any future topics, maybe you've heard of some research out there that you want to learn more about or anything like that and you want us to talk about it, reach out to us at Of course we love hearing from you all and until next time, thank you, Dr. Martinson, and thank you, Dr. Cubitt for being on today.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (52:23):

Thank you, Katy.


Dr. Krishona Martinson (52:25):

Yeah. Thank you. I had a wonderful time.


Katy Starr (52:28):

You can connect with Dr. Krishona Martinson and the University of Minnesota Equine Extension Program on their Facebook page, on their YouTube channel, or go to their website to learn more about the research that they've been doing. Thanks for listening in today and reach out to us if you have any questions. Thanks for listening to the Beyond the Barn podcast by Standlee Forage. We'd love for you to share our podcast with your favorite people and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform until next time, keep your cinch tight. And don't forget to turn off the water.


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