HAY There…Where Are You?
By Betsy Kelleher
With four horses, we use a bale of hay a day. We used to buy a year’s supply at a time from a farmer who stored it for us. It was an economical arrangement that gave us a sense of security and monthly back aches moving it! Then the farmer’s hay field was plowed up to plant corn.
Now we rely on a hay farmer’s regular delivery to our stable. We pay more per bale, but save time, energy and gas money. He told someone last month that he usually harvests about 16,000 bales a year. This year, it was only 10,000 bales. The April freeze slowed pasture and crop growth, then the severe drought and hot temperatures this summer really held back the hay crop, and I still haven’t heard if he was able to get a fifth cutting. I did hear that he was out of large round bales after his last delivery.
When my husband heard all this great news, he started talking about selling one of our horses. OK, which child can we sacrifice? But then he got realistic. So we ordered all the hay we could store (two months worth) before prices go up and supply disappears. Now, all we have to worry about is the six months until the next hay crop! To stretch what we have, I have been increasing the grain slightly and decreasing the amount of hay fed. Yeah, that may save us at least six bales!
There is “chatter” on the internet and in many of the latest horse publications about the hay situation. On TheHorse.com there was a Hay Poll that asked, “Are you doing any of the following to decrease your dependence on hay this winter? The alternatives listed: fertilizing and reseeding pasture, planting winter forages, rotational grazing to conserve forage, feeding complete feeds, and using alternative sources of bulk fiber, such as alfalfa cubes or pellets. On the day I visited that site, 202 people had entered their answers. Most (89) had chosen rotational grazing, with 81 feeding complete feeds and 80 using the alfalfa cubes (hope I can still find a few bags of those for us!). And 76 said they were reseeding pasture. Wish everyone had that option.
One person posted, “horses should have hay or grass forage available 24/7, no substitutes!” I agree that is ideal, but not everyone can do that. Other comments included selling horses, cutting back on other expenses to be able to buy hay, and not stressing pasture with too many horses so it will last longer. For those with property, pasture management is an important issue right now. The lack of rain didn’t help our local pastures, however, and there isn’t much left to rotate!
Does this sound desperate? Yeah, well, just maybe. Our usual February scare about where to get hay is already creeping in way too early. When you stop to think about the climbing gas prices, the rains that drowned crops in some states, the drought that killed crops in other states, and the financial problems that plague many horse owners with too many horses, and the shutting down of slaughter plants (I’m not against that, but the timing is adding to our problems), with all that to consider, you should be moved to start thinking about solutions. And the more horses you own, the more you need a plan.
Think about places to store extra hay, and buy it while you can get it. Look for hay suppliers in newspaper ads, on the internet (do a search for Illinois horse hay), through the farm bureau and on tack shop bulletin boards. Look for a farmer who has some hay and is willing to store it for you if you buy it now. In the September Illinois Horse Network, for example, I saw an ad for hay and another ad for horse pasture for lease. Start a file folder of possibilities. I’m a little nervous about giving these warnings, because I don’t want to cause everyone to start buying hay in a panic and not leave any for me! I would also recommend that you don’t buy old dusty moldy hay just to save a little, because you might end up with a sick horse and greater expense in the long run!
Look for economical ways to make the best of what you have. If you can test your hay for nutritional content, you will know what nutrients you need to provide in supplements to keep your horse healthy. Use a weight tape on each horse instead of guessing, to create an accurate feed ration for the correct weight. Figure out how much your horse needs for good health, and don’t overfeed. You don’t want a skinny horse going into winter, but being accurate with correct amounts could prevent wasting what you have. Weigh flakes of hay to be sure you are feeding enough and not more than necessary.
Supplement grass hay with alfalfa cubes. Get a large round bale, but limit time horses spend near it by turnout rotation or by placing it in a special area. Find a neighbor or friend with unused pasture to rent. Spend more time hand grazing in the yard. Don’t forget the neighbor’s lawn even, after asking permission of course! Be creative!
Such measures will take time and ingenuity, but it’s wise to have a plan in mind in case the situation does get scary. Maybe someone will find a way to transport extra hay from other states to help us out. I heard somewhere that Texas horse owners shipped some of their hay from Illinois earlier this year. Don’t think we could afford that, but some large stables might.
Do what you can to help your horses utilize their feed efficiently. Have teeth checked and floated if necessary. Worm horses on a regular basis. Use a supplement such as Source (my favorite) which claims to help digestion. Separate horses that hog the hay you throw outside, if you need to, to protect timid ones from getting less than they need.
Should you buy land just to have grass pasture? That’s not a bad solution, if you’re thinking about buying sooner or later anyway. One acre per horse is the recommended situation. If you have enough pasture, you shouldn’t need as much hay. Forage is important to our horses. We know they are grazing animals, happier and healthier when they can walk around freely and eat a little here, a little there.
For that same reason, when I put out a hay snack for our horses in their paddock, I walk around with a big flake and drop little pieces all over the place to give them plenty of space to share it and the need to walk around to get it. We also take the evening feeding and pull it apart and fluff it up in the stall to make it look like more. I hope it takes longer for them to eat it that way, maybe helping to satisfy them longer even though we are feeding a little less hay.
Last year, Rocky got hyper on too much alfalfa and we ended up changing to grass. Traveller didn’t like grass hay at first, but he has adapted. I would favor a grass-alfalfa mix, but our current supplier doesn’t offer that. Grass hay might be better anyway, and cheaper, as long as we can get it.
October’s Horse Illustrated, page10, contained a press release (same one as in the August Illinois Horse Network) regarding a Kentucky Horse Council’s Equine Safety Net program. Kentucky horse owners can apply for a 30-day supply of feed for up to 2 horses in cases of temporary financial need. Does the Illinois Horse Council need people to contact them to get such a program for our own state? If anyone has a good idea how to handle the approaching need for hay in parts of Illinois, please start your engines now!
I would like to just tell people that God will provide, don’t worry. But He often allows our faith to be tested in uncomfortable ways. Think of the story in Genesis about Joseph, whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery. Remember how God worked things out to place him in a position of importance in order to later save many people from starvation. The Egyptian Pharaoh had a dream, and it was Joseph who interpreted it. Joseph was then given the task of gathering grain during seven years of plenty in order to feed all the people during the seven coming years of famine. I do hope that someone around here got the word to store up some hay for all of us!
God is able and willing to care for His people, if we are willing to heed His warnings. He has promised to provide if we trust Him and follow His guidance. We do what we can to be ready for future needs and we can pray for help and trust God to provide when it is time. That is usually how God strengthens our faith.
Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” To seek God in a time of need and to trust His love and provision is certainly a showing of wisdom.
(Originally published in the October 2007 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)