In the Midwest, hay supplies are already running short and many fields saw damage to forage quality from excessive rains or flooding. Regardless of current conditions and lacking inventories, horse owners will still need hay to last until next season.

In a recent extension article, several specialists at the University of Minnesota explained 10 strategies to optimize and stretch horse hay supplies in these less than ideal conditions.

1. Develop a good relationship with at least one horse-hay supplier

“Find and keep hay suppliers that are trustworthy, communicate well, and produce a quality product,” the specialists write. The supplier should explain the pricing and delivery process clearly and be willing to answer any questions a buyer may have.

Be an educated buyer when looking for a reliable seller. Understand local conditions and prices; then look into what forages are available in your area. The specialists note that both parties should be timely with communication and understand the various factors that affect buying and selling hay.

2. Maximize pasture during the summer months

Grazing pastures typically cost a third of what feeding hay does. The specialists encourage horse owners to establish new pastures and maintain their existing pastures by fertilizing, controlling weeds, and resting for regrowth. “Consider using annual forages like teff and annual ryegrass to extend the grazing season,” the specialists recommend.

3. Purchase hay by weight, either ton or average bale weight

Bale density can make estimating bale weight difficult, especially for large round and square bales. Weighing bales helps to ensure prices are fair and makes it easier to calculate annual hay needs.

4. Buy a hay type that matches your horse’s needs

When used as a pasture companion, more mature grass can meet the needs of the horses even though it provides fewer nutrients. The specialists note that some immature forages can result in overfeeding and overspending if used as a companion to grazing. Understanding the needs of your horses can be the key to knowing what hay you should and shouldn’t feed.

Avoid buying hay with mold, dust, or weeds. Hay with preservatives is safe for horses and will help prevent mold growth.

5. Have your hay tested for quality

When looking to find the right feed to meet your horse’s needs, testing hay will create a better understanding of its quality. “These test results help to calculate how much hay each horse needs to avoid over- or underfeeding,” the specialists note.

Use labs with an equine package that will provide equine digestible energy results. When choosing between two same-priced hays, choose the one that provides the most energy since less of a high-energy hay is required to meet the horse’s nutritional requirement.

6. Do not over or under feed

Avoid over- and underfeeding by matching hay quality to your horses’ needs. “Most horses should eat 1.5 to 2.5 percent of their body weight in feed daily,” the specialists explain. Overfeeding results in excessive horse weight gain, related health issues, and wasteful spending.

7. Always use a feeder or net to reduce hay waste

For small square bales, using an indoor feeder can save 6 percent waste and an outdoor feeder can save 8 to 12 percent. When feeding large round bales without a feeder, 57 percent waste occurs, which is nearly 20 percent more than with a feeder. The specialists note, “Although feeders can be an investment, all feeders pay for themselves within one year.”

8. Reduce hay waste with proper bale wrap and storage

Understand the difference in dry matter (DM) losses between the different types of bale wrap. Bales wrapped in sisal twine see nearly 20 percent DM loss, but those wrapped in net wrap only lose about 7 percent. The way the bales are stored also plays a role in how much is wasted.

Consider building more bale storage to reduce losses and to store extra hay during market swings. If indoor storage isn’t an option, use tarps and make sure bales are stored on well-drained surfaces or pallets. Work to use the older bales first.

9. Consider using an alternative feedstuff

The specialists also recommend using hay cubes, hay pellets, chopped alfalfa, and complete feeds as total replacements for hay, but they say that horses tend to eat these options quickly. Rice bran and beet pulp can also be used as partial hay replacements.

10. Consider reducing herd numbers

Look further into your herd and how much each horse eats. By knowing the total annual cost of keeping the horse, you may find it’s more beneficial to you and the horse if it’s sold and relocated to a new owner.

Michaela King

Michaela King is serving as the 2019 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She currently attends the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and is majoring in professional journalism and photography. King grew up on a beef farm in Big Bend, Wis., where her 4-H experiences included showing both beef and dairy cattle.