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Maine Hay Struggles

Published: 7/16/2009
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By Maddy Butcher
 
A visitor from Wisconsin was shocked when we got to talking about hay.
I was bemoaning this year’s miserable expectations and how we might get our first cut sometime next week. Some farmers won’t even manage a second cut, I told her.
‘Geez, back home we get three or four cuts per season,’ she said.

Thanks so much for sharing. I really needed to hear that.

During the last two months, many horse owners have resorted to ordering shipments of Canadian hay. It’s expensive and you have to order in large quantity. Hay prices are worse than gas prices last summer.

Dr. Rachel Flaherty of Maine Equine Associates
says folks aren’t exactly frantic now that fields are finally being cut.
“But they’re definitely worried,” she said.

Some are seeking hay alternatives. But you have to be careful, she told me.
Hay stretcher pellets, alfalfa pellets, cubes, and beet pulp pellets, are all options.  Flaherty urged caution when switching to new textures and new types of feed. Every horse needs to be evaluated individually.
When metabolism and digestion are considered, she said “a thoroughbred is not the same as a haflinger or a pony or a horse with Cushings or metabolic issues.”

She suggested generously soaking pellets and cubes regardless of the horse’s age and dental health to guard against choke and because if consumed unsoaked, those feeds with expand in the stomach.

Forage, basically chopped grasses preserved and kept moist with molasses, is another option.
Forage can be timothy, alfalfa, or grass blends. There are several brands and types. We support Lucerne Farm, which has several varieties and is made in Maine.

Flaherty told me grass should form the base for most equine diets, not grain or alfalfa. Alfalfa is high in protein and calcium and can create problems with easy keepers especially.

One should strive for protein content of around 10-12 percent from your hay, fields, and other nutrition sources combined. Timothy and other grasses tends to have less protein while alfalfa has upwards of 20 percent.

You can get an analysis of your field and/or your hay through your county extension agent. There are commercial analysis labs, too.
Check out the guaranteed analysis tags on your feed bags.

I asked Tom about the term "rich." Many horse owners talk about rich feed as something to avoid because it is, well, too rich. But it's always confused me. When I think of rich food, I think of fudge and Quiche Lorraine. Artery-clogging stuff.
When I think of rich food, I think of fudge and Quiche Lorraine. Artery-clogging stuff.
But in horse food terms, this usually means that the energy in the given feed is too readily accessible. Horses fed "rich" feed get fat because their bodies don't have to work too hard to get the calories in it. We get especially concerned with rich food and overfeeding easy keepers because those horses can develop metabolic issues and laminitis. [In human terms, think diabetes and other diseases related to obesity.]

First cut hay is generally not rich. Second cut hay is generally "richer" than first cut. Alfalfa is "richer" than timothy. If we thinking in human terms, consider timothy the dinner you should have and alfalfa the dinner you shouldn't have but still really want.
If we thinking in human terms, consider timothy the dinner you should have and alfalfa the dinner you shouldn't have but still really want
As a guideline, you’ll want to feed your horse one to two percent of its body weight each day. For a 1,000 pound horse, that’s 10-20 pounds of feed.
Very little of that amount should be grain.

Hard-keepers, older horses with no teeth, or horses who've been starved (Tom Judd examined Honey. For story, click here), for example, can handle more grain, more soaked feed mentioned above. Indeed, those horses will benefit from complete-feed grain as well as added oil to their diets.

Thanks so much to Drs. Rachel Flaherty and Tom Judd for their valuable input.

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"Practice sharpens, but overschooling blunts the edge. If your horse isn't doing right, the first place to look is yourself" - Joe Heim