Extreme Weather Conditions and Reduced Production May Affect Hay Quality, Availability and Price

A freshly baled round bale in Montana

Unfavorable weather conditions last fall and winter meant more hay was fed than normal causing last year’s hay supplies to be running short.  Unprecedented weather extremes through the spring are affecting the quality and availability of new hay for 2011.  Whether you are suffering through the extreme drought in south Texas, excessive rainfall in the Midwest, or unseasonably cool temperatures in the Northwest, harsh weather conditions have affected hay production in many regions of the country.  Pressure from high grain prices and government support of biofuel production is also causing some hay farmers to shift acreage from hay production to corn, switchgrass and other crops.  Projections are that 2011 may be lowest hay production year since 1994. Short supply and high demand could lead to record hay prices in 2011.  -quality hay will likely be hard to find and/or very expensive.

In one year, the average horse eats one ton of feed and nearly four tons of hay (or pasture equivalent). Due to the high moisture content of green pasture, horses must eat nearly six times the weight of pasture to provide the same amount of dry matter as hay. For example, 25 pounds of hay at 12% moisture represents about 22 pounds of dry matter.  Green pasture is often 85% moisture so it will take 147 pounds of pasture to provide 22 pounds of dry matter.  In some regions, pastures are burned up, dry and non-existent.  These pastures are a place to stay, but will not support grazing. Horses must consume a minimum of 1 pound per 100 pounds of body weight of hay or the equivalent in pasture to meet their fiber needs (10 pounds of hay for a 1000 pound horse).  Variations in quality or type of hay fed are significant risk factors for digestive upset in the horse.

When hay or pasture is poor quality or in short supply, there are hay replacement options available to help stretch how long the hay will last or even totally replace hay when needed.  Purina® manufactures several complete feeds which contain appropriate amounts and types of fibers to consistently and effectively replace hay or pasture.  Complete feeds not only have adequate amounts of total fiber, but actually must have the right combination of digestible fibers and indigestible residue to properly replace the type of fibers provided in hay or pasture.  Purina® Horse Chow has been the hay replacement option many horse owners have turned to for over 40 years.  The Purina® Equine Family products of Equine Senior®, Equine Junior® and Equine Adult® all contain quality hay replacement ingredients and can be fed to supplement hay or as the entire ration, replacing hay and grain, when needed.  Purina® Omolene #400® contains specific fiber sources, primarily beet pulp, to replace hay or pasture and is formulated for performance horses.  The product you choose will depend on your horse’s age and activity level. Your Purina® Certified Expert Dealer can help you determine which complete feed best fits your horse’s needs and your forage situation.

To stretch your hay supply out to last longer, replace 50% of the hay with an equal amount of the appropriate complete feed.  If horses are eating grain, reduce the amount by ½-1 pound per day.  When replacing the entire hay portion of the diet while feeding grain, feed the same amount of the complete feed as you were feeding of hay and reduce the amount of grain by 2 – 3 pounds.  To use the complete feed as the entire ration, simply follow the directions on back of the bag.  Horses should continue to be evaluated on an individual basis and minor adjustments can be made to these recommendations based on the body condition of the horse.  Reducing the amount or eliminating hay from the diet represents a major diet change and should be made gradually over several days.  Since horses will eat a complete feed faster than long-stemmed hay, it is beneficial to divide the total daily ration into 3 – 4 meals per day to spread out feeding times.

Complete feeds are not only a very consistent source of fiber and balanced nutrition; they are also easy to use.  With no mess or waste, they can often be economical compared with hay.  Thanks to complete feeds, horse owners are no longer limited to conventional baled hay, but instead have a number of options from which to choose.

Karen E. Davison, Ph.D.
Equine Nutrition Specialist
Land O’Lakes Purina Feed

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