It was years in the making, but Dave Fink is now the exclusive manufacturer of a Purina Animal Nutrition horse-hay product called Hydration Hay.

A commercial hay grower from Germansville, PA, Fink worked with the feed company to develop a horse product that could be compressed into a 2-lb block and rehydrated within minutes with 5 quarts of water. Hydration Hay, introduced early last year, is used for travel-stressed or special-needs horses requiring water and nutrients quickly.

Fink grows or buys the hay and processes the blocks on his Heidel Hollow Farm.

Finding the right presses, the correct combination of hays and a way to rehydrate the blocks was quite the journey, says Mary Beth Gordon, Purina director of equine research and new-product development.

In 2005, Gordon met with a Canadian grower who was compressing hay into blocks. “We initially were trying to give them to horses to see if we could slow down their consumption rates of feed, and try to decrease their glucose and insulin response to feeding,” says the equine nutritionist. But the grower couldn’t provide the production capacity needed, and the project was shelved.

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A couple of years later, Fink, with experience in double-compressing 35-lb bales for the horse market and 75-lb bales for export, met with Gordon.

He found presses nearby that were being used to make fuel blocks from sawdust, and Purina bought line time to run hay compression tests. Fink provided alfalfa and timothy at different ratios and differing lengths of cut to find the combination that horses would consume.

“It’s a lot of research and development,” he says.

“Sometimes we would make up 16 different formulas in a day,” Gordon remembers. The blocks were then shipped to horse owners across the country to test, and some began soaking the blocks for special-needs horses.

“They came back to us and said, ‘These are awesome, but they’re better if you put them in water.’ And we thought, ‘Eureka!’ ” says Gordon. From that feedback, they developed a block that stuck together but hydrated quickly, using a soaking technology that Purina has since patented. The block ended up containing more grass than alfalfa, Fink says.

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Other compressed horse-hay bales on the market, says Gordon, may need to soak up to a day to get soft enough for hungry or stressed horses. Hydration Hay, requiring only minutes to soak, gives Purina an edge in the market.

Interestingly, Fink points out, compressed hay blocks were used in World War I by the Germans, who wanted their horses to get good nutrition and perform well on the front line.

To gear up for production, the grower added equipment and increased hay acres from 800 to 2,000, which includes some orchardgrass for other markets. He also increased quality control and trace-back procedures. With nearly a year under his belt, he’s made a couple of production-line improvements.

Hydration Hay has been a success among horse owners. One man, after learning that Fink made the product, thanked him for saving his stallion. The animal had a digestive-tract impaction, and “the veterinarian gave him a 10% chance of survival. He fed him the blocks, and without any surgery, he recuperated.”

Texas A&M University at Commerce recently compared the product to bermudagrass in a study using horses transported during intense Texas heat, Gordon reports.

“The horses that had Hydration Hay before and after traveling had higher water intakes, lower rectal temperatures and lower respiratory rates,” she says.

Hydration Hay costs $27.99 for 12 2-lb blocks at Tractor Supply Co. stores and fits a niche market, Gordon says. “It’s for your high-end sport horses, and your special-needs horses and horses in hospital.” She’s used the hay when administering medicines and says its packaging makes it convenient when traveling.

“It’s kind of like a salad for horses,” adds Fink. “After 10 minutes (of soaking), it basically has the same consistency as fresh hay in the pasture. It’s almost identical.”

For more information, call 800-227-8941 or visit Purina's website or a Purina dealer.

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