Clover in Hay

Before moving, my horse was always boarded. Now he’s at my place, and along with that, I have to look for a quality hay source.

I found a nice Timothy/orchard/alfalfa mix earlier in the fall, but the farmer is now out of that hay, and I did not buy enough to store through winter, unfortunately. I have tried a few different sources since then and have either found the hay too weedy, stemmy, or not quite the mix I was hoping for. After a lot of searching, I finally found a nice Timothy/orchard mix, nice and soft, clean with no weeds etc. The farmer told me it contained some clover, but not much, less than 20%. I purchased 70 bales, not knowing anything about clover and horses. My horse has been on the hay now for a few weeks, loving it. Then I heard from someone that clover can contain a toxin that would be poisonous to horses. I went home, researched the issue, and sure enough, it can. A certain type of clover can even cause “big liver disease” or liver failure that is irreversible……

Now what do I do? Do I continue to feed the hay and hope the small amount of clover in the hay doesn’t affect my gelding? Do I try to resell, or even just scrap the hay? I wish I had known this before I bought it…… feels like a rookie mistake, any insight into clover and horses would be appreciated. Thank you

The problematic toxin is from Alsike clover, and I would hope an actual hay farmer doesn’t have any of that in a field.

Clover can also have safralmine (sp) which is a fungus that causes “slobbers”, but isn’t harmful.

Otherwise, clover is fine, especially for horses who already did fine/well on alfalfa.


My horse gobbled pink clover for years. The bigger the leaves the more of it he ate. In this area of Maine we have pink or white flowers. Clover is part of the timothy mix that is grown and baled locally. He never ate much of the white. White can irritate their muzzle area but clears up without causing any damage. I never had that happen.

One benefit of hand grazing was figuring out what his favorites were. The choices change through the season. The last farm where we boarded had a marvelous salad bar with a tasty selelction of grasses and weeds he could choose from. He dragged me all over the place looking for the top choices. Sometimes the farm hands would screw up and mow the salad bar. In that case he headed for the fence lines and worked in weed whacker mode and kept them under control.


As you know from your research, alsike clover is the type associated with liver enlargement problems. If you can look at it growing in the hay field it is readily identifiable when compared to red and white clover by lack of leaf markings. But, this being winter, a visit to the hay field isn’t likely to be productive. But any hay farmer worth his salt would know what he is cutting and baling. I doubt that examining the hay will be productive, as any clover leaf marking will likely be gone from drying,even if it is red or white clovers. Twenty percent clover in a hay bale is not a small amount. It is a lot of clover, around 10 pounds of clover per bale by weight.

I’d start by asking the hay farmer what type of clovers are in his hay before you make any other moves.


Thank you for your replies, I did ask the producer what type of clover was in his field. He said “red and white clover”. I mostly see the heads in the bales. Dried. Some have some color still to them, being purple.

I did find a stem with leaves and heads attached, I’m going to examine the leaves today to see if they have any markings left. But, I doubt it. Some of the leaves I have found, look like what I see online about Alsike Clover identification, but I know they can also resemble red clover as well.

I want to trust the producer about his product, but it does concern me there may be some Alsike in there as well

You will quickly learn that when you are in control of all things your horse encounters you can worry yourself into a hole that is hard to get yourself out of.

Being careful is great. Being frantic is going to help no one.

I am not saying all farmers are honest, that would be as silly as saying all farmers are dishonest. Clearly there are some at both extremes.

In this case, I doubt this farmer is lying to you. It would do him no good to knowingly bale alsike clover and sell it to horse people.
Lots of horses eat lots of hay that has clover in it.


White clover is everywhere and the stems are short and the clover heads are small. They cause slobbers sometimes when grazed in abundance but pose no risk. It grows rampant here.

Red clover is long stemmed and the heads( as I call them) are 100% red/ purple and that is what we seed into our existing hay fields and cow pastures. All our animals love it and have no issues what so ever.

Alsike clover looks to be slightly pink at the bottom and white at the top of the head. I seriously doubt the hay grower has that in his hay.

Looking at the dried clover that is in your hay it would be unmistakable to see what color you have as the heads stay intact and should retain their color enough to identify what you have… Our clover heads stay somewhat purple after baling.

Before the OP reads this and panics that since there are clover heads that are intact it must be alsike clover…
I think candyappy means that you might be able to see the coloring (I doubt it, but you might) because most clover heads (all types) stay intact when baled.
They are not saying that if you have clover heads you must have alsike clover.

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I thought that is what I said. I will make it more clear and edit my post above so as not to cause panic…

The slobbers situation is due to the fungus that grows on clover (red and white, not just white) under the right conditions, which are generally warm and humid. It grows on Alsike clover as well, but that should be a non-issue since horses shouldn’t be eating that anyway.

It isn’t related to how much they eat. Not all horses are equally sensitive, and the slobbers does tend to be worse if they eat more of the clover than another horse.

I have found( for my horses) that slobbers occur when the grass is drying out ( like in drought) and the clover hasn’t yet. My horses will gravitate to those areas where it is heaviest. We are warm & humid for sure.

Other than last year and one other time my horses have not had slobbers grazing this same pasture since 2015.

I don’t think tiny white clover has an effect when in baled hay? I’ve never experienced it and I am sure there must be some in it.

Yes, when the grass start going dormant, and clover hasn’t started drying out, horses love to eat the clover, and yep, that’s usually when it’s warm and humid. It’s a “Summer Slobbers” here, I can’t say I’ve ever had it happen before about mid-June