Health reasons for feeding hay

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

Supply and demand always drive prices up, but we are talking about animals who are herbivores and have a limited diet; it isn’t like we ourselves would die from starvation while searching for Ho-Ho’s.

I just have to wonder about the animals.

Read the following, even though it is a repeat:

Hey, Hey, Hey,

Hay is for horses, grass is free,

buy a farm and get all three.

Like a good Scout, be prepared; that is, know the consumption rate of hay consumed by your horses.

This time of year, lofts begin to look bare, as we wait for the weather to turn and the first cutting crop to come on.

Everyone starts to scramble, calling their dealer or supplier, to see if there is anything left until the hay season starts, way out in June.

No matter how you look at it or how you price it, hay is a necessity.

It can be aggravating to find and its’ availability depends on the weather.

Sometimes all that can be found are large bales and if all you have are two small Mini’s, you have to keep searching.

Maybe you don’t have a big loft and maybe your budget is small, so you can only purchase a few bales at a time.

Most horses eat 15-25 pounds of hay or pasture a day.

Hay has something called “long fiber,” and it is very important to your horse’s health.

Fiber provides energy for the bacteria in the horse’s gut, for the animal itself, and it stimulates the intestines. To do this, the fiber/hay must be “long,” at least 1 inch in length.

An adult horse should always have at least 5 lbs per day of fiber in pieces at least 1 inch long. (1)

Old horses or horses unable to chew that are on “complete pellets” should have this 5 lbs. per day of “long fiber” in sources such as (wet) hay cubes, chopped forage or regular 2nd cutting hay.

Pellets are more finely processed than cubes, but have the same nutritional profile.

Always follow directions for the weight of your horse when using complete feeds; sometimes pellets can swell and cause “Choke” in the horse.

Usually, a 20% reduction in the amount fed by weight is followed, since pellets are so easily digested. Wetting the pellets down with warm water makes them very easy to consume for old horses and helps them maintain weight.

I once had this old boy who came up from Texas.

His teeth were practically gone and I think he really enjoyed his pellets with warm water. It turned into a kind of soup, and he would just close his eyes and savor it, much the way a person would enjoy the same.

Never feed grain and pellets together, this can cause grain overload.

The 5 lbs of chopped forage, such as “Dengie” brand, is also good for horses that can’t chew, need to maintain weight, or in times of hay shortages.

It has long fiber and the complete feed can be used along with it to cover overall fiber needs. Some bagged forages have molasses added, so watch your easy keepers.

The bagged forages come in straight chopped hay, hay mix and hay mix with fiber.

Hay cubes are compressed, chopped hay. They are hard, so soaking them is recommended for older horses. Again, these can be supplemented with complete pellets.

Beet pulp replaces up to 50% of hay, most horses like it, and it is digested very easily. The large bowel digests it like hay in the fermentation process, so it’s good for the health and function of the intestines.

You can balance it with rice bran or wheat bran and these always help with digestion.

Old hay? By this, I’m referring to last season’s hay, not hay that is over-the-hill.

It does show up in late spring or when supplies get short. Everyone always seems to have a hundred bales or so up in the loft; normally it is not sold.

Palatability is questionable and there is risk of lost nutrition.

Some old hay can be used, with caution, but some should never be used. It gets dusty and faded and you might as well feed them cardboard.

Don’t feed:

v Bales that don’t easily fall into flakes or that have matted-up centers.

v Hay covered with black, gray, tan or white spots (molds.)

v Hay more than 2 years old. Because there has been no hay made for 2013, the year 2012 is your most recent cutting. Hay from the 2011season should be at your discretion; do the math.

v Bales with fist-sized holes in them; these are mouse nests. (2)

In times of hay shortage it is tempting to increase the grain ration. This is not smart.

Horses have limited capacity to digest grain in the small intestine. The undigested portion overflows and you risk upsets such as colic and laminitis.

Picture the horse’s stomach as the size of a football, and you can see the possible downward cascade.

Remember, horses will consume twice as much water when on alfalfa hay.

Easy keepers and ponies really don’t need that super-high nutrition, it is better suited for Thoroughbreds.

Now is the time to line up your hay supplier for this summer.

Touch base with them to make sure they are still cutting.

Some suppliers are putting all their hay fields into corn this year because of profitability in the bio-fuel industry.

Other suppliers sell out to big dealers or choose to keep the hay for their own farm.

A reputable supplier will have good quality hay and will let you return any bad bales.

Read that again.

There should never be more that 10% of bad bales per load, or 10 bales per 100 bales.

Even that is high, to me.

Think about it: you are paying $3.00 per bale on a first cutting, $4.00 per bale or higher for second cutting.

It should be close to perfect and not have weeds or mold.

I have gone back to suppliers before with my hired hand and dumped a load of hay right at their barn door.

It makes no sense to me to pay someone your hard-earned cash for baled weeds, when you could go out to your own back yard and pick them for free, should you choose to feed them to your horse.

Hay should be fragrant, green and sweet. Over-the-hill hay is tasteless and boring, and has no nutrients.

Follow the bats, cats, rats rule.

That is, hay should be free of urine and manure from these creatures, and also free of bird feathers and droppings.

Nothing irritates me more than having to deal with any of these, especially on an expensive 2nd cutting, and it’s no way to manage a barn or conduct business.

“Goodlife, LLC,” out of Medford, Oregon, sells an electronic pest controller called the “Pest Repeller Ultimate AT,” that has three different frequency bands to deter rodents, insects, bats, squirrels, raccoons, spiders, ants, earwigs and other pests.

It emits an ultrasonic alarm that is inaudible to humans by creating a hostile environment for the creatures.

Think of your horse first; get a nice, grassy hay that is clean, clean, clean.

Your buddy will thank you for it with a cheerful whinny and that yippee-kai-ay kick-up, along with a low Vet bill.

Right now, I have a be-e-e-a-a-u-u-u-tiful first cutting on the ground; it is clean and green,* and the horse gods have seemingly worked some magic with the weather gods. Lining up my hay-help to the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

The ideas expressed herein are meant as guidelines and not Veterinary or nutritional analysis.

Always seek the advice of a qualified Vet to help you outline a hay nutrition management plan for your horse, especially if there is incapability for the horse to chew hay.

Seek out family, friends, buddies, cohorts or anyone else you can think of, in the event of hay shortage.

1, 2: Horse Journal

*Remember, this is a repeat. The first cutting as of July 10th is over my head and over the hill. Not a happy horseback rider.