Harvested forages are seldom cheap but often necessary to provide adequate nutrition for your horses when the grass is not enough. This article will highlight a couple of “hay hacks” that will keep your animals happy and healthy while minimizing the strain on your wallet. Remember, feeding horses is simple we tend to over complicate it. We like horses forage fed and grain finished!
- Buy local hays: If your horse is an easy keeper and not in heavy work, don’t spend all your money on high-dollar imported hay grown outside of the Southeast (alfalfa, timothy, orchardgrass). These forages are of higher quality than many of our warm-season forages we can grow for hay, but are not necessary to meet the nutritional demands of most horses. Many of the locally grown forages such as bermudagrass hays (coastal & tifton) and perennial peanut can meet the nutritional demands of most horses in light to moderate work, early gestation, and maintenance.
- Utilize hay cubes! Personally, alfalfa cubes are a staple in my horse’s diets. A 50 lb. bag of these dried cubes will last a single horse two weeks in my barn with once per day feedings as a supplement to other sources of nutrition/forage. The added benefits of hay cubes is their ability to soak up three times their volume in water. Water is a key part of gut function in a horse, especially important in winter months or when traveling when a horse may not want to drink as much water on their own. These cubes are also a great substitute for grain if your horse is an easy keeper but you need a medium to throw a couple of supplements into.
- Don’t be scared of bermudagrass hay. As mentioned previously, not only is bermudagrass hay cheaper because it is locally produced, but it can be a decent quality and provide your horse with a forage to slowly consume throughout the day. A horse is anatomically designed to consume forages all day, not in two meals per day. A way to extend your forages is to place a slow feed net around your round bales of hay that will be placed in the pasture or turnout areas. These nets force the hose to eat slower and reduce hay waste. There are a lot of misconceptions about coastal bermudagrass causing horses to colic. In fact, it is usually other factors in management that create a colic episode. A big factor is lack of water in the gut, another reason I like to soak hay cubes at least once per day for my horses. Pay attention to each individual horse to know how much water they typically consume.
- A final hay hack is to invest in your pastures. Grass is the cheapest nutrition you will ever have for your horses. Adhere to stocking rates of 1 horse per 2 acres, this will keep your grass from being stressed and overgrazed. Allow areas of your pasture to rest by enforcing a rotational grazing plan. Have your soil analyzed every 2-3 years and apply fertilizer as recommended. Manage for pasture weeds and unwanted competition to create space for grass to perform at its best.
If you are looking to revise your hay strategy, please reach out to your local livestock agent and they would be happy to help you. Save money on hay so you can invest in other areas of farm management and feeding, or perhaps that new saddle you have been eyeing!