Nutrition update Winter 2012. What do we do about the hay shortage?
We all know that feeding hay is an important part of the horse's diet and, in most cases, should be the majority of the diet. But anyone buying hay this fall is encountering a big problem. Due to major weather events, hay is proving to be very scarce. If you are lucky enough to find hay, the cost per bale is skyrocketing- many producers are charging double what was charged last year! Fortunately, there are options to get our horses through the winter in good shape.
How do we address the hay shortage?
An average 1000# horse needs between 15-20 pounds of forage a day (grass or hay). You can choose one of the options below. Please keep in mind that a horse should not eat more than 5 pounds of concentrate at any one meal. If he / she needs more (which is not unusual) then there will need to be more feedings. Example: If a horse is fed 12 pounds of feed a day, then split into three 4 pound meals. Don't be afraid to feed what your horse needs! Monitor his/ her weight weekly by feeling for ribs. If your horse is getting thin, then increase by 1-2 pounds a week until gaining weight. If you seem to be having difficulty getting weight on your horse and you are feeding above the recommended levels of feed listed on the feed bags, we should see your horse to make sure there are no medical issues.
Complete feeds. All feed companies make complete feeds. These feeds are designed to provide all the nutrients that a horse needs, including fiber (>16%). No hay has to be fed with this kind of concentrate.
Hay Extender/replacers. Can be fed as a substitution for hay.
Beet pulp, bran should be fed in addition to hay or a hay substitute.
If you can only find alfalfa hay, it is ok to feed as long as you follow the guidelines below, and feed less of it.
One issue with feeding only concentrates is your horse may get bored. If horses have no hay to chew on, they will often find something.... walls, feeding buckets, arms etc. Feeding hay cubes, feeding hay in a hay bag with small holes in it, giving them toys and/ or maximizing turnout will keep them from being too mischievous, destroying the barn, or learning to crib.
POTENTIAL HEALTH CONCERNS WITH FEEDING
Always keep in mind that when you transition to new feeds to do it gradually (over a 10 day period).
Make sure your horse's teeth are in good shape so they can chew the feeds you are giving them (example- an older horse may not be able to chew a hard hay cube).
If your horse is a fast grain eater or needs dental care he/ she may be prone to choking (feed that gets stuck in the espohagus). Signs of choke include colic type signs, stretching/ arching the neck and feed material coming out the nose. This most often is seen with pellets. Putting cobblestones in the feed bucket may prevent choke, and of course good dental work.
If your horse has special needs- older horse with poor teeth, cushing's, gastric ulcers, muscle disorders (tying up or HYPP) talk to us before starting on any new feeds.