Don’t let poor quality hay get the better of your horse

This year particularly you really need to watch the quality of hay your horse is being fed at any boarding stable. Of course the quality of hay should be a number one priority for every horse boarding stable, but this year costs have sky rocketed and the weather hasn’t been of much help.

Now, I’m no grower, but I’ve been told that the cost of fertilizer alone has tripled. If it used to cost $400 per ton, it now costs $1200 for the same thing and growers need 2.5 ton per acre. Of course it would help if I could tell you how many tons of hay you’d harvest off that acre. But that I can’t. To boot, transportation costs have gone up considerably as well. Last year I paid $285 for a ton of Timothy. This year it’s $375. Alfalfa has gone from $245 to $330. Those are increases of more than 30%. Now add a bad growing year. This makes finding good hay at a reasonable price nearly impossible.

With price increases coming at us from every direction, I know my boarders’ pockets can only sustain so much of a board increase before they have to look for alternatives. It’s a fine balancing act. And I’m not alone. Other boarding stables are faced with the same challenge, I have no doubt. With hay being one of my biggest expenditure in this business, it’s worth trying to keep my cost down as much as possible. But having said that it can’t be at the expense of the horse’s health.

Here’s a story of what can happen when you try to look for a deal. I always get excellent quality hay and my broker knows exactly what I want. He had located a descent batch for me, though it was sight unseen, and since it had to be moved quickly, I was able to get it for a reasonable price. The hay was just delivered a week ago. As the bales hit the ground, the dust came out of the bales in clouds. My friend and I kind of looked at it in disbelieve. It can’t be that bad?

The hay was all loaded up in the loft. My friend took her load home. That night when I opened up a few of the bales it looked more like bedding. I was surprised to see so many bleached out leaves. The loft didn’t smell right either – it was musty. I gave one of the horses a flake and she just pulled her nose up to it. Not all the bales were that bad, but it was very spotty. I knew this stuff had to go back.

I called up my broker and brought him the bad news. I can’t take the risk of any of my horses or those of my boarders to get sick. Less than a week later the hay truck was back. They felt really bad that they hadn’t caught it. The truck was loaded and tarped at night. My friend had brought her load back too. They pulled all the hay out of the loft and gave me another fresh load from my usual grower. Considerably more expensive – but now when I walk into the loft it smells like fresh cut hay. Because of the lousy growing season it’s not as nice as previous years, but I can live with this and the horses love it.

I know we’re good, but my budget is blown. My boarders already had received their board increases based on the costs of the first load of hay with the promise that there will be no increases for the next 6 months – and I’m one to keep my word.

The bad hay looked like it was cut late in the growing stage since the buds were going to seed which added to the dust. It also looked as if the hay had been rained on after having been cut. To dry it, it had to be turned again and stay out in the sun longer than was good. Hay bleaches very quickly and bleached hay has no nutrients. If it’s not dried properly you also end up with mould in the bales.

With costs being what they are, many boarding stables will be motivated to get the cheaper hay trying to minimize board increases and risk losing their boarders. How many would actually be sending back a bad load to get the proper quality and be able to pay more?

Here are some things for you to ponder. Do you know what healthy hay looks like or do you put all your trust in the boarding stable to make the proper choices? Are you prepared to pay more for board without muttering, knowing your horse gets the quality feed he needs? What are you going to do when your budget gets pushed to the edge and you can actually not afford to keep your horse?

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One Response to “Don’t let poor quality hay get the better of your horse”

  • Great post, very informative!

    It’s true that it’s difficult when all of the extras begin to push a horse owner’s budget to their limit. I guess it has to be about picking your battles when it comes to money. Horse owners on a limited budget need to be prepared for unexpected costs and must decide what is more important with regards to their spending.

    I was once at a barn which was having a difficult time paying the steep prices for hay. Out of fear that they would lose boarders if they were to increase their board, they purchased poor quality hay and fed very little amounts of it. Horses have digestive systems built for a near constant intake of roughage. Needless to say many of the horses at this particular barn lost a lot of weight and looked extremely malnourished very quickly.

    This is where as horse owners we need to realize that instead of buying that Baker blanket, our money is needed elsewhere. Priorities are important in horse ownership.

    Thanks for the post, very helpful!

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    Do you have that nagging feeling that you may be paying too much for board and are worried that your horse may not be happy? Finding the right horse boarding stable doesn't have to be that overwhelming ... When you have the RIGHT information at your finger tips! Pick up a copy of my book How to Find Trouble Free Horse Boarding, Even if You are New to Horses.

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