These days managing hay costs can be quite a challenge for horse and other livestock caretakers. The cost of hay alone has quadrupled in our area of North Texas in less than 10 years, with bagged feed not too far behind! Waste is not an option when hay is akin to gold in the horse world. Here are some tips to managing your horse’s forage, maximizing your feed budget and helping to preserve the horse’s natural feeding behavior…all which will help maintain your naturally healthy horse.
Feeding High Vs. Feeding Low
Horses, along with other livestock, were designed as grazers. Wild horses travel miles and miles every day with their noses to the ground using their incisors to cut the grasses they find, and and then their ridged molars chop the grass up as they slide across one another. The mechanics of this foraging action is directly related to how the horse wears its continually erupting teeth. Horses that feed in this natural position, including periods of natural grazing, tend to have more balanced mouths and need less dental work to correct uneven wear patterns. So, if we allow horses to use their bodies as nature intended, they work better and are less likely to get out of whack! What a novel concept right?
Ideally, we would love to have our horses in wide open pastures with lots of varied terrain and access to natural ponds of fresh water. Unfortunately, most people don’t have access to that! Having our horses on the smaller managed lush green pastures most areas typically have isn’t such a good thing for many horses either. Many horses have trouble metabolizing the sugars produced by the cultivated and heavily fertilized grasses and end up at higher risk for obesity, laminitis and founder among other things. This risk is especially high for horses that are insulin resistant. Limiting turnout time and fitting your horse with a grazing muzzle is a good option for some, allowing natural grazing behavior to help wear the incisors. When this is not an option, then we need to manage our horses’ forage intake with pre-cut grasses in the form of hay bales.
The optimal way to manage how much hay your horse is eating and minimize waste would be portion control through square bales or cubed forage. However, this is VERY labor intensive. Plus, anyone who has ever put hay flakes on the ground for a horse to eat knows they will paw it, pee on it, poop on it, and generally waste more than they eat! Not something we want to have happen when we are paying out the nose for that very same hay! So what kinds of things can we do to make sure that we are getting every penny’s worth in our horse’s belly?
Our first instinct is usually to place the hay or feed up high, off the ground, so the horse can’t paw, pee and poop on it. But by doing that we are possibly creating new problems for our horses and our pocket books when our horse 1) can’t process their food correctly because of uneven tooth wear, thereby not getting all the nutrients that otherwise might get and 2) end up needing dental work to correct the problem.
Whether you’re feeding round bales or square, a simple solution to keeping at least most of your hay safe from soiling is a hay ring. Since our pasture is only 5 acres of mostly weeds with some sparse native grasses, we have to supplement with a round bale in our pasture. It’s not a perfect solution because some of the hay still gets spilled out of the sides of the ring. But if you are managing your horses forage with square bales, it works pretty well. It’s definitely better than the first couple of times we put a round bale out without any barrier at all! We ended up losing half the bale as my adventurous horses were climbing all over the hay bale pawing it apart. You can find several different varieties of hay ring available at your local feed/farm supply store.
The latest trend in forage management for horses is the “hay net” which forces the horse to work harder to get a bite. This is a great benefit for horses that are overweight and to help maximize your feed dollar. In addition to hay bags for use with flakes, they make a round bale version that virtually eliminates waste. They are very inexpensive at just over $200 when you consider how much money you will save on lost hay!
photo (left) courtesy of Jennifer Maxwell, photo (right) courtesy of Adrianna McCollister
This was a novel idea that one of my Facebook friends shared with me. I would never have thought to use old tractor tires as hay containers because of the propensity of them to collect water on the inside ring and grow mosquitoes. However, apparently you can have your local tire shop turn them inside out and the water collecting lip is no longer an issue! You’ve got only the cost (if any) of obtaining a used tire and whatever fee your tire store would charge to turn it out. And you can get various sized tires to meet any situation, whether you need multiple small ones for individual horses or one large one for a round bale. Very ecomonical and I love the idea of putting the old tires to good use rather than filling the landfill. Great tip from Sandy Hickey!
photos courtesy of Sandy Hickey
Implementing just one or two of these little tips can save you hundreds of dollars in hay costs each year. The initial investment will pay for itself in the first year alone! Plus you are helping your horse to mimic a more natural feeding position and minimizing the impact on their health. Please feel free to share your forage management tips in the comment section below, or come of to the Heavenly Gaits Equine Facebook page here – https://www.facebook.com/HeavenlyGaitsEquineMassage.
The information in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any condition or illness. Nor is it meant replace proper veterinary care. It is meant for educational purposes only. Always consult your chosen veterinary professional before starting your horse or other animal on any therapy.
Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools. She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork, using essential oils for animals and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses. She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the “whole horse”.
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