What Is a Hay Steamer?

Marlene Garcia

A hay steamer represents a device used to remove dust, mites, fungal spores, and bacteria from hay fed to horses. Hay steamers come in various styles and sizes suitable for steaming a bale of hay or more. Use of a hay steamer might address respiratory problems suffered by some horses from allergies or inhaling harmful fungi or bacteria.

Hay steamers ensure that the hay is not harmful to horses.
Hay steamers ensure that the hay is not harmful to horses.

Owners of one or two horses might prefer a hay steamer that sterilizes one bale of hay at a time. Usually made of durable plastic, these containers have spikes inside that create openings for steam to enter the feed. A device outside the box attaches to interior vents to allow steam to penetrate the entire bale.

A hay steamer may be used to sterilize bales of hay in order to safely feed them to horses.
A hay steamer may be used to sterilize bales of hay in order to safely feed them to horses.

The steaming process typically takes 30 minutes to reach 212°F (100°C). Hay treated in a hay steamer comes out free from dust mites and active fungal and bacterial spores. If hay is broken down before placed in the steamer, treatment time might be reduced.

Some horses prefer eating hay directly from a steamer when it is still warm. The process releases the aroma of the feed and might improve appetites of finicky horses. Most nutrients remain in the hay after the steaming process.

Before hay steamers came on the market, horse owners commonly soaked bales in containers while pouring boiling water over them. Maintaining the proper temperature to kill fungi and bacteria was difficult in this method of sterilizing horse feed. Removing sodden bales from the container for drying created extra work and represented an uncomfortable chore in very cold climates.

A horse owner might opt to make a hay steamer as an alternative to buying one. An old refrigerator connected to a wallpaper steamer might serve the purpose if tightly sealed. Other equestrians fashion a hay steamer from a large barrel and portable steaming device. Thermometers can be used to test the temperature of a homemade hay steamer to ensure harmful substances are killed.

Horses acquire allergies to dust or mites that might cause respiratory problems. Inflammatory airway disease describes a condition that could worsen and affect horses' ability to exercise. The disorder might create a serious situation in race horses or show horses when they become easily winded. Other symptoms of this disorder include a cough and nasal discharge. Some respiratory problems might lead to digestive problems.

A hay steamer might prove especially useful in barns where dust is prevalent. People who work with horses might also suffer from hay fever or other health problems associated with inhaling substances found in hay. Farmer’s lung defines a respiratory condition common in people sensitive to dust and bacteria in hay.

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