Heavy rains have been known to cause hay shortages, and Midwest farmers were still feeling that squeeze at the outset of 2020. If a hay shortage affects your area, it can be stressful knowing your horse may not have access to as much forage as he needs. Let’s take a look at the factors to consider during a hay shortage:
How much hay does my horse need?
The average mature healthy horse needs 1.5 to 2% of their body weight in forage per day (a 1000 lb. horse needs 15 to 20 lbs of roughage per day). Horses need to chew and ‘work’ their digestive systems for their health. On their own, a horse grazes about 16 hours a day.
But when hay supplies become limited and grazing is not an option, what can you do?
Your alternative hay feeding options:
The first option may be to feed a different hay than you normally use. Perhaps add some alfalfa, timothy, coastal, orchard, or grass mixes. Another option is to change up the type of bale you feed — large square versus small square or round bale, for instance.
Other roughage options are perineal peanut grass hay (13-20% protein), pea hay, oat hay, compressed hay, hay cubes, complete feed, silage, haylage, alfalfa pellets, timothy pellets, beet pulp or straw.
In all cases, do your own research before you make changes/additions to your horse’s feed as the protein content and other nutritional values can vary greatly between different types of roughage.
Purchasing and Storage Ideas:
- You might need to get creative and buy out of area if local sources are tapped out. Get a group of friends together and buy large quantities, like a full semi-trailer, is a great option!
- If storage is limited shipping containers can be rented or purchased; they provide rodent proof and weatherproof storage.
- Or store at a nearby location, such as a friend’s or neighbor’s building. Alternatively, make-shift storage might be an option, using tarps, pallets, trailers, etc. Make sure that the hay is off the ground and has good air flow.
- To reduce waste while feeding, explore the use of slow feeders, hay nets, and such.
- Keep your hay storage area clean to reduce waste! Clean under the pallets and around the hay frequently to reduce the chance of hay spoilage from old and molding hay – this is particularly relevant in climates with high humidity!
- Work on your picky eaters – try more of the ‘clean plate club’. Feed them smaller amounts of hay/roughage with each feeding but provide more feedings – this may help reduce the waste while they still get the amount of roughage they need.
- Best to weigh the roughage! Guessing is not accurate.
- Check nutritional content as not all roughage is created equal! Protein content can vary greatly.
- Always check feeds for spoilage. A little mold/spoilage can contaminate, or damage can spread quickly.
- Be cognizant of allergies and issues like horses with metabolic issues, etc. when choosing a different hay option.
- Of note, veterinarians often suggest vaccinating horses against botulism if they are fed round bales. Check with your veterinarian for his/her suggestions and do your own research!