Enduring the Summer Drought and Preparing for Winter

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July 27, 2012 - The long hot summer ? that's how I will remember 2012 in Michigan.? Coming from Texas, you?d think I wouldn?t whine so much about the unusually high heat we are experiencing this year.? Let?s just say one of the perks of Michigan weather is supposed to be the easy going summer (to make up for the snow bound winter).?? This year Michigan is experiencing the same drought as many of our neighboring Midwest states.? The high heat and low moisture are negatively affecting our crops and pastures.? That means farmers and horse owners alike are feeding hay to livestock in mid-summer that we wouldn?t usually have to feed until mid-fall. LEARN MORE by going to the U.S. Drought Monitor.??Click on your state for more information. Be the Squirrel As I watch the first cutting hay we purchased in May dwindling down in our barns, I realize that this is going to be an expensive horse keeping year.? Not only do I need to purchase more hay, but I am also feeding more grain this summer to replace the nutrients my horses usually receive from our pasture.? In states with significant droughts, hay production is going to be lower.? Many dairy and cattle farms that usually sell hay will be keeping it to feed their own stock.? Loss of corn and other crops will also drive grain prices higher.? Waiting until you actually need hay will be risky as hay availability continues to decrease and feed prices rise. So think like a squirrel and search for a variety of hay sources to stock up for the winter.? The trick is to work with area hay producers and buy hay now to meet your needs throughout the winter months.?? We have plenty of hay storage with our old dairy barns, but I have many friends who have to purchase hay in small loads due to lack of storage.? If that is your case, see if you can pre-purchase hay with your local supplier, so they will store the hay for you until you need it.? Since less hay will be cut this year, suppliers will have more storage room than usual and may be willing to work with their best customers.? Or, if you have neighbors with storage space, see if you can store your hay in their barns.? If rain does fall in sufficient amounts, we may still get a late summer or early fall hay harvest.? However, I will be hedging my bets and ?squirreling? away as much affordable hay now as I can. FIND HAY:? Many states have their own hay sellers list through their Land Grant University or Department of Agriculture.? Hay Net is a national hay sellers and buyers list sponsored by? U.S.D.A. Be Flexible Consider stretching your forage supply now to ensure you can feed some long stemmed forage through the winter months.? Horses need to eat between 1.5 ? 3 % of their body weight in feed (based on dry matter intake) to meet their individual requirements determined by their age, workload and production level.? Of that total intake, horses should receive at least 1 % of their body weight in forage.? For most horses, optimizing the forage portion of their diet to 1.5 ? 2% of their body weight, while minimizing their grain intake, is the healthiest way to feed.? ?That means the average 1000 lb horse will eat around 20 lbs of hay per day, or one small bale of hay every 2 ? 3 days, assuming small bales range in weight from 40 ? 60 pounds. ?This can be an expensive endeavor if there is a shortage in hay. Ideally, fiber particles from forage should be at least 2 inches in length to help stimulate the intestinal lining of a horse's gut.? When stretching your forage, consider supplementing your long stem hay with other high fiber feeds like hay cubes, hay pellets, and beat pulp.? Complete feeds as well as senior feeds are formulated to supply all of the horse's daily fiber needs.? However, horses will still have the psychological urge to chew ? and if they can't chew hay they will most likely chew your barn, fence and even their pasture mate?s tail!? So by offering long stem forage like hay, along with other fiber sources, you can keep your horses happier over the long winter months. LEARN MORE by reading the article Six Hay-Alternatives for Horses from Discoverhorses.com Think Outside of the Box If you have always fed second cutting grass hay, this may be the year you need to try something new.? Hay, whether cut earlier or later in the season, is more dependent on maturity and species to determine its overall nutritional value.? As hay matures in the field, it will decrease in both energy and protein, regardless if it is first, second or third cutting.? Legume forages, when compared to grass at the same maturity level, are higher in energy and protein. Legume plants are more drought resistant than cool season grasses, and it may be that you will get more quality nutrition with a mixed hay (grass and alfalfa) or even alfalfa hay this year.? You should always feed grain based on the type of hay you are feeding.? So if you are feeding hay with more energy and protein than you usually feed, you will probably need to decrease the amount of grain you are feeding ? otherwise you may end up with an overweight horse.? By the same token, if you are feeding more mature hay than you have in the past, you may need to increase your horse's grain ration to ensure your horse gets adequate energy in its diet. You can also feed hay that is over a year old, if there is any left.? All hay loses its vitamin stores relative quickly (in about 3 ? 6 months of storage).? We always assume that we need to supplement essential vitamins and some minerals based on where hay is grown and the species type.? Hay balancers can help do this or supplementing the hay with a fortified grain ration that is specific for your horse's dietary requirements can also ensure your horse is getting a balanced diet.? Remember to body condition score your horses often to ensure they are neither too fat nor too thin. LEARN MORE by taking the short learning lesson from eXtension.org/horses on How to Body Condition Score HorsesAvoid Dusty and Moldy Hay? Finally, avoid feeding moldy or dusty hay.? One year I fed dusty, low quality hay to my horses because it was all I could find in the middle of winter.? It took me several months into the summer to get my horses looking bloomy again.? I ended up spending a lot more money on grain to keep their weight stable and they just didn't look as good as they usually did coming out of the winter months.? It took a good month on good pasture to get them back to where I like them.? Older horses are particularly susceptible to heaves, a respiratory condition that can be aggravated by dusty, moldy hay. LEARN MORE by viewing the webcast Hay Selection http://www.discoverhorses.com/all-about-horses/webinar-hay-selection/ Read the Discoverhorses.com article How to Manage Hay Shortages http://www.discoverhorses.com/all-about-horses/how-manage-hay-shortages-html/Tell us your stories and tips of managing your horses in a drought ridden year in our comment section below.Dr. Christine Skelly is an extension specialist at Michigan State University where she founded and directs My Horse University, an online horse management education program.? Dr. Skelly developed the free online course Purchasing and Owning a Horse 101, in partnership with Discover Horses. Follow My Horse University on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and take the FREE online course Purchasing and Owning a Horse 101.

Find out how your state is fairing this year with the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Find out how your state is fairing this year with the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Buying hay this coming winter will be risky, as both supply and quality decreases and prices continue to rise.

Buying hay this coming winter will be risky, as both supply and quality decreases and prices continue to rise.

Hay quality depends on maturity at harvest and the species of the forage baled.

Hay quality depends on maturity at harvest and the species of the forage baled.