Soaking Vs Steaming Hay: Improving Respiratory Health


Soaking Vs Steaming Hay: Improving Respiratory Health

Soaking vs steaming hay…which is better? When trying to improve our horse’s respiratory health and condition, improving air quality is a must. Soaking or steaming hay has become common practice in order to alleviate respiratory symptoms. But, why does treating our forage in this way help our horse’s breathing, and which method is best – soaking or steaming?

Soaking vs Steaming Hay For Respiratory Health

Through soaking/steaming hay, we can improve stable hygiene by reducing the amount of dust and bacteria particles circulating through the air.  This is especially useful when horses are stable situated in an indoor stable block, as ventilation is usually much lower than when stables are outdoors or in comparison turn out.

Breathing in particles from hay, horses could inhale fungi and bacteria spores. This has been shown to induce inflammatory effects on horses with already compromised respiratory, such as those suffering with Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO), worsening their symptoms and possibly reducing the effect of combating management such as respiratory supplements.


Soaking Vs Steaming Hay: Improving Respiratory Health

Soaking Vs Steaming

In comparison to dry hay, both soaking and steaming methods have been shown to reduce the amount of airborne particle, significantly! However, for those unsure about the quality of their forage, steaming may be a more effect route as it has been shown as a more effective way to reduce harmful respirable particles such as bacterial and fungal spores.


In one scientific study, it was found commercial steamers reaching 99C reduced mould and bacteria spores by 99%! However, the same cannot be said for the homemade steamer many equestrians may use.

Soaking Vs Steaming Hay: Improving Respiratory Health

Homemade steamers usually entail using boiling water from a kettle, poured into a container which is large enough to fit a haynet and has a lid to contain the heat and steam. When looking further into how effective these devices were, researchers have found they may actually worsen hay quality. As home-made steamers cannot reach the temperatures required for killing bacteria and mould, the environment created is actually perfect for encouraging growth – warm and moist!

On the other hand, the other, inexpensive route to reducing airborne particles is soaking. However, soaking may also be be harmful to our horse’s health. Although reducing respirable particles, soaking hay has been found to increase bacteria levels by up to four times the amount found in dry hay, which may impact overall condition.

Take Home Message

Soaking and steaming hay can really help your horses respiratory health, reducing the amount of airborne particles available to breath in! However, steaming with a commercial steamer is best practice, as this will kill the majority of bacteria and mould spores, where as homemade steamer designs should be avoided. Soaking hay is a wallet-friendly alternative to reducing respirable particles, however increased ingested bacteria which may cause other health concerns!


Moore-Colyer, M., Taylor, J., James, R. (2016) The effect of steaming and soaking on the respirable particle, bacteria, mould and nutrient content in hay for horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 39, pp. 62-68. DOI: 10.1016/j.jevs.2015.09.006
Moore-Colyer, M., Lumbis, K., Longland, A., Harris, P. (2014) The effect of five different wetting treatments on the nutrient content and microbial concentration in hay for horses. PLoS One. 9, e114079. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0114079


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Abby Dickinson

Journalist and News Reporter, Everything Horse Reporting on equestrian news stories, Abby also produces a variety of engaging content for the magazine.

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