Overcoming the Hay Shortage

Safeguard horse health by ensuring proper nutrition, even during a drought.
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Safeguard horse health by ensuring proper nutrition, even during a drought.

The hay shortage that livestock owners have experienced over the last couple of years has had a major impact on horse owners? abilities to feed their companions. For many, fires and drought have put a strain on what little hay there is across the United States, and people are now forced to consider new options.

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Journal photo

Keep in mind that the National Research Council?s Nutrient Requirements of Horses report says that fiber is needed to maintain proper gut health in your horse. Adequate long-stem forage also tends to keep horses from chewing on other things ? such as the wood paneling of your barn. For these reasons, it is important to have at least some sort of long-stem forage component in your horse's diet.

Nutrena offers a few options to help stretch your hay budget.

  1. Make sure to select the best quality hay you possibly can within your budget. That way, each bite your horse takes has the most nutrition possible.
  2. If you can, try to weigh out the correct amount of hay, based on your horse's body weight for each meal that you feed. Ideally, your horse should be eating about 1.5-2 percent of his body weight in forage per day.
  3. You can also use a feed that contains prebiotics (yeast cultures) and probiotics ?(microbials, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus). This can help your horse's hind gut better digest the forage it takes in.
  4. If your horse is on pasture instead of a stall, divide the pasture into sections and rotate your horse through them fairly frequently so that the forage in the pasture can have maximized growth and production of nutrients.
  5. If times are exceptionally tough for hay production, you can use a hay extender product (a pelleted feed that contains roughage and grains) as a supplement to your hay. This can help you make the bales of long-stem forage that you do have last longer.

With the droughts that many parts of the United States have been experiencing lately, many horse owners are finding that there just isn?t enough hay to go around. Either that or sometimes the hay that they do find is poor quality.

Complete feeds or hay stretchers can be useful products to use during times of particular stress on long-stem forage crops. If you plan to use these products, though, Nutrena stresses that horse owners must be mindful of the usage guidelines for each feed in order to keep your horse healthy.

  1. You?ll want to follow the recommended feeding rate described on the feed. This is especially important if you are using the feed as your horse's sole diet. As mentioned before, fiber is extremely important to your horse's gut health.You may also want to consult your veterinarian to make sure your horse is getting all of the nutrients he needs to stay happy and healthy.
  2. Some unwanted behaviors generally go along with an absence of long-stem forage. You might see your horse start chewing, cribbing or weaving because he lacks the forage to keep him busy. It is a good idea to offer at least a flake or two each day, if you can, to help prevent these behaviors. You might also try hay cubes if hay and pasture are unavailable.
  3. Make sure that your horse is drinking enough water and has enough salt in his diet. A horse's hydration levels are very important to keeping his gut moving properly. This is especially important with less long-stem forage in the diet.

Although times are stressful and hay may be scarce, proper fiber is important to your horse's health. With good management and utilization of the tips above, you can ensure that your horse remains happy and healthy throughout the hay shortage.