Warmer weather may be just around the corner, but in most regions it will still be several weeks or even months before pastures begin to grow again. Until then, finding more hay will likely be difficult and costly. So take a few minutes now to consider the contents of your loft or shed: Do you have enough hay to last until the first cutting of the summer?
Keep in mind that a horse needs to eat 2 percent of his body weight in forage each day. That’s 24 pounds of hay or other roughage source per day for a 1,200-pound horse. As you survey your loft, think of every horse you’ll be feeding for the coming weeks and estimate whether you’ll have enough.
If you aren’t certain your hay will last through the season, begin formulating a plan now to replenish or supplement your supply. The last thing you want to do is wind up with no hay at all. Even going a few days without sufficient forage can cause some horses to colic. If your hay supply is running low, here are a few options:
• Purchase more. This sounds simple enough, but this late into winter, many suppliers may be out of hay or have only poor quality bales you are better off avoiding. If you can find good hay, by all means purchase it, but don’t settle for dusty, moldy or otherwise questionable bales.
• Stretch your supply. There are ways to make the hay you have last longer without compromising your horses’ health. Begin mixing in alfalfa pellets or cubes with your horse’s ration, cutting back on long-stem hay proportionally to maintain the 2 percent threshold.
• Replace hay with another forage source. There are many hay alternatives available, including chopped forage, alfalfa cubes and complete feeds. If you can’t stretch your supply of long-stem hay, you can replace it with one of these. This transition needs to be made gradually, however, well before your supply of hay is gone. And keep in mind that using an alternative with less “chew-time,” such as a complete feed, can leave a horse restless and more likely to start gnawing on trees or wood fences.
The key to managing a hay shortage is to see it coming. You don’t want to be caught by surprise with an empty loft midwinter.
This article was originally published the March 2016 issue, Volume #474 of EQUUS magazine