EQUUS - - Eq Conversati­ons -

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.

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