The Price of Horse Hay

I received a phone call from a farm manager, asking who I purchased my hay from. I told him my hay supplier had excellent quality forage with good protein levels and averaged 1Mcal per pound. I gave him the phone number and he said he would call him for pricing.

While at the county fair this week I saw the farm manager and his students at the 4-H barn, so I asked if he had purchased any hay for his farm. He told me that the supplier I had told him to call was too expensive. He had quoted him $220 per ton, with a 5 ton minimum. Since he was not use to buying by the ton, he inquired as to how many bales that was, and was told it would amount to about 165 bales. The farm manager said he had done the math, and that the bales would be over $6.50 each, which was just outrageous!

I saw hay in his feed stall and asked if that was the hay he purchased. He said yes, and was proud to say it was only $5 per bale. He had purchased 200 bales for $1000. I lifted one of the bales and was surprised how light they were, so I asked if he knew what the hay has cost per ton. He had no idea. I then asked if we could wheel four of the bales over to the scale in the cattle barn to weigh them. “ You and your tons,” he replied…”Why not!”

Feeling certain he had gotten the best of a bargain, he loaded the bales and we took them to the scale. They varied from 36 to 40 pounds each, so we said an average of 40 pounds each. I then asked him to do the math.

200 bales x 40 pounds =8000 pounds or 4 tons.

$1000 /4 tons = $250 per ton.

He realized his “bargain” was not such a great value and laughed, “I know, I know…You don’t buy hamburger by the patty, and you don’t by hay by the bale.”

Salt for Horses in High Temps

High temperatures and high humidity in much of the U.S. have created higher stress conditions for people and for horses.  I have been judging some horse shows recently in outdoor arenas with temperatures well in the 90’s with heat index values 100+ and I can see the impact on the horses as the show progresses.

Horses do require about 1-2 ounces of salt per day to provide help meet their requirement for sodium and chloride under normal temperature conditions.  This requirement can increase to 4-6 ounces of salt per day in hot climates or under exercise where losses in sweat increase greatly.  Inadequate salt in the diet can result in abnormal eating behavior such as licking or chewing objects which have salt on them (fork handles etc.) or licking/eating dirt.  Water intake may also decrease, increasing the risk of impaction colic. In more extreme cases, horses will stop eating and may experience muscle incoordination.

A good option to maintain year around salt intake is to offer loose salt available free choice, either in stalls or in a covered mineral feeder.  Salt intake from loose salt has been observed to be higher than from salt blocks due to the ease of consumption.  It is a challenge for a horse to lick enough salt off a salt block to consume the higher levels required during high heat and humidity. 

If horses are salt starved, it may be a good idea to limit the amount of salt put out for them initially until they have adjusted their intake.  It is absolutely essential that fresh water at an appropriate temperature be available at all times as well.  Horses tend to consume less water if the water temperature is too high, even if they should be drinking more water in the warm, humid conditions.

Commercial feeds normally contain 0.5-1.0% salt, so horses on this type of feed will typically consume less free choice salt than horses not receiving salt in their feed.  They may still benefit from having loose salt available free choice.  A salt block is better than not having any salt available free choice, but may not be as effective in maintaining salt intake when high intakes are required in hot, humid weather.

Providing salt free choice is a good management tool that can help your horse eat and drink well all year long!

Five Myths of Horse Nutrition

As researchers and feed companies alike continue to make progress in understanding nutrition, more and more once-commonly held beliefs about horse feed are becoming obsolete.  Here are five common misconceptions about horse nutrition and what it means for you.

  • MYTH #1 : Horses don’t need ‘grain’
    • Most horse owners judge the effectiveness of their feeding program based on the weight of their horse(s).  Given good quality pasture or hay, the majority of idle horses will appear to do just fine without additional supplementation. Though this is a good foundation to start from, it is important to consider other health factors influenced by nutrition, such as hoof quality, muscle development, maintenance, performance and bone integrity. 
    • Providing your horse a feed that delivers the appropriate levels of amino acids, vitamins and minerals is the foundation for good nutritional health.  Most forages are either deficient or counterbalanced in many of these important micronutrients and offering a commercially balanced feed that is compatible will provide your horse what he needs to meet his minimum requirements.  A ration balancer provides this type of nutritional supplementation without adding calories.
  • MYTH #2 : All pelleted feeds contain floor sweepings
    • In the early days of pelleted horse feeds, this was probably based in reality more times than not.  Today however, it is not a common practice.  A reputable feed manufacturer will have stringent quality control programs in place such as HACCP (Hazardous Awareness and Critical Control Points) that prohibit the use of any material that is not an approved ingredient. 
    • In addition, the traceability of ingredients used in feeds is increasing in importance as the ingredient supply is stretched between feed, food and fuel.  Increased traceability means less chance of non-approved ingredients being included in pellets.  The bottom line: good quality control practices in the industry means quality ingredients and products you can trust.
    • Finally, using poor quality ingredients is just bad business.  Think about it this way: if a feed company manufactured a poor quality feed that animals did poorly on, than owners would stop purchasing it.  It is in the best interest of everyone involved to make quality feed from the start.
  • MYTH #3: Ingredient by-products are fillers
    • By-products such as wheat midds, soy hulls and corn germ meal are derived from the milling or processing of grains generally for food production.  For example, wheat midds are the husks remaining from flour milling, soy hulls are the husks of soybeans derived in the crush process for soy oil and beet pulp is a by-product of the sugar extraction process from sugar beets.  All of these by-products contain valuable nutrients that are readily available for digestion.
    • Because they are involved in the processing of ingredients for food, there is also quite a bit of variation in the levels of nutrients from differing suppliers or between loads.  A reputable feed company will test in-bound ingredients to ensure they contain quality nutrient levels, and then formulate their use based on what they provide.   Ask your feed manufacturer how they monitor and control the quality of ingredients coming into their feed mill.
  • MYTH #4: Corn is bad for horses
    • Feeding corn to horses does come with inherent risks.  First of all, certain strains of molds commonly found growing on corn create toxins called aflatoxins.  It is important that any feed maker test in-bound loads of corn to detect and reject loads based on the level of these toxins present.
    • Whole corn contains somewhere around 65% starch which, if consumed in large quantities, could overwhelm the digestive tract of the horse. Corn is however, an energy-dense ingredient, making it a highly available and desirable ingredient to provide energy in a feed ration. 
    • When fed alone, corn, like any other single grain is not nutritionally balanced to meet a horse’s needs. However, when provided as an ingredient in an overall balanced feed, it makes an excellent part of the makeup of the whole feed. When sourced, tested, processed and managed correctly, corn can bring many benefits to horse nutrition.
  • MYTH #5: Protein makes horses ‘hot’
    • We as horse owners have been programed to seek out a feed which provides a protein percentage that we believe our horses need, based on something someone somewhere told us.  Maybe it was mom.  Maybe it’s what worked for grandpa’s horses.  Whatever the source, you may be surprised to hear that protein does NOT make horses ‘hot’.  In fact, horses don’t even need protein….rather, their nutritional requirements are for the amino acids called Lysine, Methionine and Threonine. These are the building blocks of protein.
    • Protein is the least efficient energy source for horses, as compared to fiber, Non-Structural Carbohydrates (NSC) and fats.  The metabolic pathways which convert protein into energy actually burns a lot of energy to convert (as compared to fiber for example), creates waste and is particularly hard on the kidneys when fed above requirements.  Ammonia production is an output of excess protein digestion; for a stable full of horses, this can have a huge impact.
    • As you consider protein in your horse’s diet, be sure to check that the feed provides guaranteed levels of Lysine, Methionine and Threonine.  This way, you know your horse will be meeting his nutritional requirement.

The study of nutrition has come a long way in the last 20 years and will continue to evolve thanks to investments in research and development.  Who knows what myths we’ll debunk in 20 years…..?