Written by Danielle Busselman under the direction and review of Rebecca Bott.
With summer, many farm operators are turning their thoughts to cutting hay. It is also a good idea for horse owners to focus their attention on this matter as well. Horses need a substantial amount of forage to meet their nutrition needs and to aid in sustaining health. Now is the perfect time to take an accurate account of hay on hand and to invest in forages for the upcoming cold season.
Nutrition & Feed Management
Horses are periodic grazers, meaning they require small frequent meals throughout the day to optimize gut health. Their digestive systems are designed to break down small meals over a long period of time. Supporting this behavior during the winter is a challenge as grazing opportunities may be limited. To best establish a well-rounded feed management plan, hay inventory should be taken into consideration.
On average a horse eats approximately 2% of its body weight in quality feed each day. This equates to roughly 22-24 pounds per day for an average sized horse. Ideally, the majority of this feed should be quality roughages. This knowledge leads to estimating a basis for how much hay the animal will consume while off pasture for several months. To help narrow down the amount even further, an owner should determine how long they will prohibit grazing. A simple calculation with the average hay consumption, and estimated time utilizing hay, will give an indication of how much hay should be on hand. How much should we order per horse per year? How about getting enough for winter?
As mentioned in Better Horse Hay for Your Buck, there are three types of hay to consider feeding, grass, alfalfa, or a grass-alfalfa mix. The physical body condition of your horse and their ability to utilize feed can be used as a key indication on which type of hay should be purchased. Additionally, farm managers must decide if square or round bales (large or small) are more appropriate for their operation. Storage space, feeding style and efficiency are factors that contribute to this decision.
The summer is a perfect time to also evaluate not only hay inventory, but also any hay storage space, or equipment used in feeding. Checking hay feeders for any damages and replacing any broken equipment makes for a well-rounded management practice. Analyzing indoor storage space for leaks or structural damage that could compromise hay quality and repairing them is a practice that will allow for better feed utilization. Precautions that can be taken to aid in eliminating chances of hay molding or rotting saves on costs. At this time, hay currently on site should also be examined for any mold or poor quality and the best disposal methods for the forage should be implemented.
When restocking a hay supply, creating a system for storing the forage according to usage enables better quality for feeding. At grocery stores products that expire at an earlier date are placed at the front in order that they are used first. A similar philosophy can be applied to our horse’s feed source. By storing hay in a system that allows for utilization of an older cutting first, and saving fresh cuttings for later use, we can assume less waste. Ideally, new hay should be stored separate from the older inventory. This allows easy access to both sources, and promotes safety practices. If new bales were not properly cut, cured, and made, they have potential to start fires. While analyzing hay inventory keeping a chart or record of all hay used and all hay purchased will aid in a well-rounded management practice. The date obtained, forage type, location obtained from, and storage method are all categories that should be included in records.
|Date Obtained||Forage Type||Number Acquired||Obtained From||Storage Site||Other Notes|
|6/30/2014||Grass Hay||50 square bales||Mr. M||East barn- back||Low in dust|
The Bottom Line
Overall, hay is a very important energy source for our horses. Establishing a routine in checking feed quality, inventory, and equipment, that pertains to feed usage benefits any management plan. Not only does this action help with cutting out costs, and preparing for unexpected events, but it also aids in overall animal health.