The hay shortage of 2014

...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.

The hay shortage continues, not only in Crawford County, but nationwide. Hay is at an all-time high price, running around $40.00 for round bales and $4.00 each for small squares.

I read some interesting items in the Draft Horse Journal recently, don’t know whether I agree with all of them.

Dr. Bob Wright, Bsc Ag, DVM, was talking about the hay shortage and what you can do to extend your hay supply. (1)

How many of you feed your horse 15 pounds of hay per day? Who measures in pounds- - most horse people I know feed it by the flake or have free-choice round bales out in the field.

I do measure the small, square bales in pounds, from 40 up to 80 each.

For the average 1,100 pound equine, the horse people I know feed 2 to 3 flakes per horse, in the morning, with a snack of 1 flake in the afternoon, followed by 2 to 3 flakes for dinner, followed by a snack of 1 flake. Some also feed a late night snack of 1 flake before closing the barn for the evening.

This in addition to a grain ration twice a day; this in accordance with a work-out routine.

This comes out to approximately 12 pounds total hay, if each flake weighs 1 pound each, is normal in size and is of good quality. This would be for an average trail horse taking a walk around the field with you for an hour a day, three or four times a week.

Some people also leave large, round bales out in the field. These must be monitored for rancid hay, due to ongoing weather conditions of rain. The baling twine must also be removed.

Draft horses, horses in training or horses who are working heavily would obviously receive more of everything; refer to Maintenance, Adult or Performance horses.

At least 50% of the horse’s daily feed intake should be good quality forage, or hay. This contains 20% crude fibre. (2)

I heard bad stories about horses in Crawford County last year who had no hay left and were eating the barn wood in their stalls.

Alternatives can be fed to extend supplies of your hay.

Horses can adapt to other types of rations that don’t include hay, but there must always be a minimum of fiber consumed each day.

Low fiber consumption results in increase risk of colic and gastric ulcers, along with increased desire to chew wood. (3)

Complete feeds are usually pelleted mixtures of hay or beet pulp, combined with grains, vitamins and mineral supplements. They can be extruded or textured, also, and are supposed to be fed without grain or hay, and still meet the horse’s nutritional needs.

Make sure to read the label as it should always say, “designed to be fed without forage.”

Remember that horses always like to chew, and some of the complete concentrates do not have enough fiber in them to satisfy this need.

If you are switching to a complete feed, do it slowly over time, such as a week, to completely eliminate the hay from the diet. Feeding smaller amounts several times a day is also helpful, and can occupy the need to chew.

Consulting a Veterinarian is helpful in this category, as suddenly eliminating the hay and feeding

only complete feeds may result in colic or laminitis.

Alfalfa cubes are mixtures of chopped alfalfa or timothy hay that is cut and dried, chopped up and compressed into cubes. The quality of nutrition depends on the quality of the chopped hay that is used. These can be used as hay extenders or substitutes. (4)

Up to 15 pounds of hay cubes can be fed to a 1,000 pound horse each day, as a substitute in place of hay. Current cube prices come in at $15.00 to $18.00 per 50 pound bag.

Again, consult a Vet, as several cautions are issued for feeding hay cubes. A dramatic increase in wood chewing may be observed and choke incidents increase, also. Soaking the hay cubes in water for 10 minutes can help with this.

Straight alfalfa cubes contain higher protein concentrations, along with calcium. This will not harm the horse, if its kidneys are functioning normally. Nursing mares and growing horses do well on these, and they work great as a partial substitute for hay.

I am currently using alfalfa cubes to stretch my hay supply, but I only give around 20 cubes per feeding, or approximately 1 pound, per horse, per feeding, with the grain. The magazine article calls for 2 to 6 pounds of cubes, per horse, per day, as an extender. My horses eat all the grain first, then move on to the cubes and hay, and all will be wearing blankets of heavy denier.

My hay is the good quality, second cutting timothy that Tom Herman made for me this summer.

The cubes also work great as a hay extender, if the hay is poor-quality. *

I never recommend feeding straw to horses, as there is no nutritional value here. Straw is the left over material from grain crops such as oats and wheat, what is the sense of feeding this?

Do not think that feeding straw will qualify as a nutritional feed source. It makes an okay bedding, if sawdust isn’t available.

Sawdust is not suitable for horse feed, either, but I have actually heard of people using it as such.

Some of my horses will eat the straw I use for bedding; I become worried about impaction colic, so I try never to use it.

The “chew factor” goes down on stabled horses, but straw may contain fungi, if the year has been wet. Rye straw can be infected with Claviceps fungi and can cause dystocia, or difficulty foaling, in pregnant mares. Do not use rye straw with pregnant mares in the last two months of pregnancy. (5)

The dry, long-stemmed hay should always be the main source of nutrition for your horse. It should be clean, clean, clean, green and smell sweet, too.

Look ahead at this year’s winter forecast. Watch the weather nightly and pay attention to those long-term forecasts; one map I looked at has us as being normal for precipitation, for Lower Great Lakes, December through February, but don’t quote me on that.

The Wooly Bears were all black, and you know what that means.

Next time, we’ll look at pasture management and rotation, along with using root crops, beet pulp and bran as hay substitutes or extenders.

Until then, here’s the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

1- 5: Dr. Bob Wright, DVM, and Dr. Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, dACVN, Associate Prof., Dept of Animal Science, Rutgers University College New Jersey, “Hay Shortage and Forage Substitutes,” the Draft Horse Journal, Winter 2012-13

* One of Roseanne’s big Pet Peeves: poor hay