WHEN HAY SUPPLIES DWINDLE
If you grow your own hay you already know that crops are sensitive to any type of extreme weather conditions. Too much rainfall and a crop rots on the ground. Too little rain stunts seed and leaf production, resulting in hay that is longstemmed, coarse and has little nutritional value.
That’s what happened in the southern plains during the summer of 2011. A widespread drought left horse owners and livestock operations scrambling to find quality forage. But even those outside of the region felt the pinch.
“The drought in the southern plains pulled hay from other areas of the country,” says Katelyn McCullock, dairy and forage economist with the Livestock Marketing Information Center, an organization that provides economic analysis for the livestock industry. “That left many states, even those not in the drought zone, with lower stocks than in previous years. Then again, the following summer, a more widespread drought centralized over the Midwest devastated hay production numbers and continued to pull hay from other areas of the country.”
But transporting hay across the country is expensive, and that created a secondary problem—sky-high prices. “As anyone who has ever moved a few hundred bales into the hayloft knows, hay is heavy, bulky and difficult to handle,” says McCullock. “The cost of transportation is a huge problem, and prices were much higher for even lower quality grades.” As McCullock points out, “it was the perfect storm for record high hay prices.”
Here are a few guidelines that can help you minimize your own risk of running short on hay in the aftermath of drought:
• Find a local farmer who supplies good-quality hay and stay loyal to him. If supplies run short, growers tend to take care of their most loyal customers first. And if your regular source does run out, he’s more likely to put you in touch with another grower who can get you by in the short term.
• Store more hay than you think you need. Providing you store and stack hay properly, it’ll retain most of its nutritional value for a year or more.
• Use slow feeders to stretch your hay supply. Horses consume anywhere from 15 to 25 pounds of roughage per day, depending on their size, activity level, age and breeding status. But slowing them down a little can satisfy their nutritional needs with less waste.
• Consider alternative forages if supplies run short. One option is complete feed pellets, which are formulated to meet a horse’s roughage needs. Hay cubes— either alfalfa or a timothy/alfalfa mix—are also worth considering. But horses with dental issues may have trouble chewing them, so be prepared to soak them in water to prevent choke.
• Keep track of hay supplies and shortages. Your state department of agriculture is a good source for what’s going on. Other options include your county extension office or the U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored www. fsa.usda.gov/haynet when local sources run low.