Save Some Hay!

With as many horses as we have, I’m always looking at ways to save money. It’s expensive to keep nine head and a donkey, especially when you have to feed hay during the winter.

We have a regular cradle hay feeder for the horses that are in our back pasture. Although the cradle feeder does a great job at keeping the hay up off the ground, just like any other regular hay feeder, there’s a lot of hay that goes to waste.  A regular five foot round bale usually lasts around 4-5 days at best. That’s with 3-4 horses turned out full-time.

While I love the many different types of hay savers out there, and I’m sure they pay for themselves over time, the cheapest one I could find was $175-$200 by the time I paid for shipping. There’s been times I couldn’t afford that! Did I mention years of living hard have made me cheap?

I decided there’s got to be a cheaper way that’s comparable. Well, here’s what I came up with – total cost is $30 – a lot cheaper!

Our hay saver
Our hay saver

This is plastic barrier netting that you can find at any Home Depot or Lowes. The netting comes in different thicknesses and lengths. I chose a little heavier thickness, and the shortest roll they had as I only needed enough to cover the top of a round bale. One short roll was enough to cover 3 bales.

 

Round the edges
Round the edges

IMPORTANT – When you cut the length that you need, make sure you fold the end into itself, as the edges are a little sharp. By folding the end, you’ll have a rounded edge. 

I round the edge and then tie it on to the edge of the cradle with hay string. I leave it on the first 3-4 days and then take it off as they work their way down the hay bale.

While it might not save as much hay as the $200 versions, it definitely helps. This is the second year we’ve used this and on average, hay bale lasts 3-4 days longer.

This is a great option for anyone that feeds round bales and can’t afford the more expensive hay savers.

Water For Winter

Cold weather is here and in some cases the temperature has dropped drastically in a matter of just a few hours. While extreme changes in weather can cause some concerns for managing your horse, there are things you can do to minimize your horse’s risk of getting sick.

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Any time the thermometer drops it’s a good idea to add water to your horse’s feed. Horses generally drink less and eat more hay when it’s cold. This of course is the prime set up for compaction colic. Adding water to the feed is a great way to get some guaranteed fluids in their digestive system and avoid choke at the same time.

Some owners will add salt to the feed to encourage their horses to drink. While this may work for a lot of horses, I have seen some horses with digestive issues that will not up their water intake even with the salt. The result is that they become dehydrated much faster because they don’t drink enough water to compensate for the added salt. This is why wetting down feed is a good option.

Even if your horse’s weight is where it should be and they don’t require additional grain, it’s still a good idea to add soaked roughage during the changes in weather. Adding a small amount of soaked alfalfa or beet pulp is a great choices for horses that are on hay and/or pasture and don’t require feed.

Soaked Alfalfa cubes

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Alfalfa comes in small squares or cubes and in pelleted form. Beet pulp comes in pelleted, shredded, or meal form. Both options are high in fiber and expand when water is added. As both can be used to replace a small part of the hay intake (20-30%) they’re a great way to stretch your hay supply.

When soaking feed or cubes, it’s a good idea to let it soak until it’s soft and expanded. If you feed a straight grain, you can still add some water to the grain until it softens. Hot water can shorten the amount of time needed to soften and expand. If more convenient you can also soak overnight as long as the water does not freeze. Freezing will make it impossible to get the feed or forage out of the bucket.

Soaked Beet Pulp

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A good rule of thumb for soaking is to cover the cubes, pellets, or shreds with at least an inch of water. If you’re feeding straight grain, you won’t need as much water. For pellets that are extremely hard or for beet pulp shreds you’ll want to add a little more water. Horses with teeth issues will also need a wetter mix.

As fresh drinking water is a critical component to managing horses well in cold weather, make sure your horses have free access to their water buckets or troughs. Keep the ice busted up and if necessary periodically off them warm water to encourage them to drink. If tank warmers are not an option, setting your troughs in an area where they receive direct sunlight on a daily basis will help minimize the amount of ice that accumulates.

 

What concerns do you have for your horse this winter? What are your strategies to avoid those concerns?

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Old Horses & Hard Keepers

The topic that seems to come up the most in every horse discipline is feeding. People are always asking how to put weight on their old horse or hard keeper. With the unlimited amount of supplement and feed companies out there, you can find an endless list of articles and advice on how to feed horses.  If you ask ten different people what to feed your horse, you’ll get ten different answers.

There have been many times that I’ve run across a skinny older horse whose ribs showed and the response has been, “Well, he’s just old and won’t keep weight.” The owners have bought into the misconception that once a horse gets over the age of 20 they’re going to be skinny. While that may be true for some ancient horses, and by ancient I mean over the age of 30, that’s not necessarily true for all. I have seen too many fat and sassy old horses to know better!

It is true that as horses age, factors like tooth loose and a decreased ability to digest foods impacts how well they keep their weight. But it doesn’t mean that the impact is so big that they can’t maintain a healthy weight. What makes the determination of whether or not an old horse, or a hard keeper, maintains their weight is simply management.

Quite frankly, one of the biggest reasons I’ve found that keeps old horses or hard keepers from gaining weight is simply that they’re not being fed enough. The next reason is that they’re not being fed a good enough quality forage.

When you ask owners how much does your horse weigh, how many pounds of feed and how many pounds of hay do you feed your horse, many simply don’t know. They can tell you what volume they feed, but they don’t know what that volume actually weighs. When they put a weight tape on their horse and then actually weigh their feed and hay, they often find that they are feeding a good bit less than what they think they are.

So rule number one in feeding the hard keeper and old horse is know  your horse’s weight and actually weigh your feed and your hay. By the way, a 3 quart scoop of Equine Senior weighs 3.8 pounds on a postal scale – and not all feeds will weigh the same!

Since we’re talking about pounds, the average horse requires a minimum of 1-1.5% of their body weight in forage sources per day. That means that a thousand pound horse needs at least 10 to 15 pounds of hay per day. Most hard keepers will require around 2% or 20 pounds of hay per day. Keep in mind these totals do not include feed, only forage or hay.

If you’re feeding an older horse with teeth problems that can’t chew, many Senior feeds are formulated to be at least a partial replacement for hay. Be sure to verify if your senior feed is a Complete Feed.There’s also other options such as Chaffhaye , cubes and beet pulp, and chopped hay that provide high quality sources of forage for horses that can’t chew well.

In order to keep weight on an average horse, a decent amount of excellent quality forage is still required. When feeding an older horse or a hard keeper, feeding at least some top quality hay is critical to maintaining their weight. Personally, I’ve never seen a hard keeper that could keep weight on just hay but good hay or forage does play a crucial role in their feed program in order to maintain a certain level of weight and condition. Without it, it’s impossible to keep the pounds on.

The bottom line is that you can’t feed a minimum amount of feed and mediocre hay and keep weight on your hard keeper or your older horse. You also can’t just add a supplement or just change feeds and watch the pounds miraculously appear. It takes making sure your horse gets enough poundage, not just volume, of good quality feed and hay — and that’s after you’ve made sure they’re on a good worming program, their teeth have been floated, and they don’t have any other underlying health issues.

Do you have a hard keeper or an old horse that’s in excellent condition? What do you do to keep them at a good weight?

Here’s a picture of my 23-year-old Appendix horse that I’ve had since he was 3 years old. He’s on 3 pounds of Chaffhaye , 1.5 pounds each of alfalfa cubes and beet pulp (soaked!), 10 pounds of mix fescue grass hay,7 pounds of Strategy feed, and a cup of rice bran and flax seed. He weighs 1250 pounds.

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Putting Up Hay

We have a lot of horses on small acreage. Although we rotate so that the horses always have some grass to munch on, our set up requires us to feed a lot of hay year around. On average, we feed between two and two and half bales per day, along with other forage sources such as beet pulp and alfalfa cubes. That puts our annual hay consumption at 730-912 bales. If we didn’t feed the beet pulp and alfalfa cubes, that number would double and in years past it often has!

We feed grass hay and buy it from a friend that is local. He cuts his fields three times a year and we purchase pretty much all the hay he puts on the ground. On a good year where there’s plenty of rain and the weather cooperates, he may get a fourth cutting. 

We live in a fairly small rural town about thirty minutes outside of a larger city. There are lots of farmers in our area and just about everyone is related. Because of that, I always thought that people in the area, even non-farmers, would know what the term, “Putting Up Hay” meant and what it involved. Within the last year or so, that assumption was proven wrong!

The friend that cuts the hay is in his seventies, is a diabetic and has kidney failure. Although he’s managed his conditions well and he’s in good shape, when it comes time to cut hay he has no one to help him. As is common for rural culture, we always try to help him when there’s hay to cut even if we’re no buying any. After all, he doesn’t have help and hay is something that has to be removed from the ground that same day or it goes bad and kills the grass underneath. 

It’s also just me and my husband when it comes time to put up hay and we’re not getting any younger. This year we opted to pay some teenagers to help us with the first cutting. The second cutting we didn’t purchase but we still wanted to help and so we put out the word to see if anyone else might be interested. This second cutting was very late due to weather and we knew it was going to be a lot of hay. It wound up being over 900 square bales — normally that field produces 400-600. 

In my quest to find some help these last two cuttings, I discovered something. Even though people may grow up in the middle of a rural culture, they don’t always know what putting up hay is all about. They don’t necessarily know how it’s done, why it’s important, nor do they necessarily understand the seriousness of some of the practices involved. 

For instance, two of the teenagers that helped showed up in silk gym shorts, no shirt, and no socks because it was hot. Even though they came from a small town and had horse friends they really didn’t know how to dress for putting up hay. 

They also had no idea that hay came in small square bales and how it even became a small square object. They were fascinated by the square baler when it would spit out each bale. 

So often we have a tendency to see people coming like that and laugh at what we know they’re in for. Granted, many times I have seen people that worked out that couldn’t handle the heat and the labor of putting up square bales and had an attitude about it as well. Yet these young kids worked their hearts out as well as any kid raised on a farm. Even when their skin turned bright itchy red from all the grass, they kept right at it without complaining. We got up over 500 bales that day. 

When I put out the word to get some help, a dear friend of mine in the same small town offered to come out and help. Then she asked what all was involved in, “Putting Up Hay”. I realized once again that even though she grew up in the middle of farms, she didn’t know what the process was for this one very crucial task at the center of a lot of horse people’s lives. 

Basically, “Putting Up Hay” , or “Cutting Hay” is cutting grass or another type of horse edible plant out in a big field. Then you use equipment to rake and “tetter” or fluff the hay into rows. This is so that it dries and it can be scooped up into a machine to make the bales. After the hay has dried or “cured” for a couple of days, then you drive a piece of equipment called a baler over the rows. The baler scoops the hay up from the ground and then compacts it into small square bales that weigh around 50 to 100 pounds. It then dumps the bale back on to the ground where it has to be picked up manually and put on to a trailer and then put into storage where it can stay dry. 

There are basically three types of balers based on the type and size of the bale it compacts the hay into. Round balers produce the big round bales of hay that can weigh as much as a thousand pounds. Large square balers compact the hay into large squares that can weigh anywhere from 500 to 800 pounds. Then there’s the small square balers that we use.  The type of bale will determine how the hay is put up. Of course the bigger baler require a tractor to lift and carry them out of the field. The small bales are all done manually. 

Hay has to be dry in order to be fed. If the hay isn’t dry, it will mold. If moldy hay is fed to horses it can kill them and this is why putting up hay in a specific manner is crucial. This is also why the hay can’t be baled until the dew has dried off of the grass and why it’s critical for the hay to be gotten up off the ground and stored the same day. 

Once the bales are on the ground, then they have to be manually lifted on to a truck or trailer where they’re stacked. Once the truck or trailer is full, then it’s time to put the bales of hay into the barn. This requires either walking or tossing the into the barn and re-stacking. 

On the outside, you might ask why would you feed small bales if it requires so much manual labor? One good reason is that you can’t feed a big round bale to a horse that’s in a stall. It won’t fit! 

Here’s some pics of the last cutting we helped with – 

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LOADED TRUCKS 

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And this is how I usually dress hauling hay — long pants, long sleeves, and a hat. It’s a good practice any time you put up hay anyhow but I’m also not supposed to be out in the sun and I’m allergic to hay so that’s eve more reason to dress like this!

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Did you learn something new with today’s post? If so, what was it and is it something you can put to good use?