No matter how you got to this point: Bought a horse after hay season, took in an extra boarder, failed at hay math projections, trusted hay dealer ran out on you; you’re here. It’s the grips of the end of winter and you’re running low on hay.
Why is hay so crucial?
Forage is the basis of a horse’s diet. Nature made horses to wander and migrate while eating mediocre grasses across their environment. Forage provides the substances that keep the gut moving (aka help reduce colic risk), can neutralize stomach acid and thereby act as a buffer (ulcer prone horses) provides protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that are essential to the base of a horse’s diet. Man made grain to compensate for horses working harder that need more energy calories as a supplement to a forage heavy diet. Horses should consume daily 1.5-2% of their weight in forage daily.
So, I’m low on hay… now what?
There’s many ways to help round out your forage plan while you scour the internet for more hay.
Consider hay shapes – normally feeding squares and they’re impossible to find? Consider a round bale, there’s many pros and cons to all hay shapes but if you can find quality hay you have options to work with.
Feed efficiently – Enter the “nibble net” these little beauties go by many names but they help eliminate waste. That unsightly pile of hay under your hay bag that your horse grinds into the ground or shavings and uses as a personal toilet. With a small hole hay net horses can graze longer, more efficiently while saving you money and keeping their gut moving.
Add in forage supplements – Thanks to commercial feed companies we have many options to stretch the same hay bale a little further. Depending on how far your wallet wants to stretch you can replace anywhere from some to all of your horse’s forage intake with commercial products. Companies like Standlee Forage offer everything from a commercially compressed full bale of hay to bagged, chopped forage to hay cubes to pellets. These products are far, far superior to any “hay stretcher” product sold by a company which is an odd composition of grain byproduts. For the same price you can feed quality forage. While not the cheapest, if you’re in late February and hay prices have hit the roof, these forage products can be more cost effective.
When stretching that hay supply and using forage alternatives it’s important to make sure you are weighing your items. A bathroom scale while you hold hay can weight your flakes or a feed scale to weight the products. If you replace 50% of the daily intake of a 1,200lb horse with alternatives you are replacing 6-12 lbs of forage with an alternative product. If you’re using a cube product, it runs around $14 per 50 lb bag. So for $2-4 per day you can supplement and stretch that hay bale that cost you much more than that!
Prepare to Pay – That hay you bought out the field at $5-8, that someone has stored all year and is now in high demand is going to run you $8-12. It’s supply and demand, such is business, but don’t get upset when you can’t find $5 hay in February.
* A big thank you to Katie Jackson M.S., Equine Nutritionist for her contribution to this article and for helping me solve my haymergency.