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.”

Stretching Your Horse Hay Budget

We all know that next to water, forage is the most important part of a horse’s diet. Without it they just can’t survive.

With the high prices of forage there are a few ways you can get a little more out of the forage you feed.

  1. Start by selecting the best quality hay your budget will allow – higher quality means more nutrition in every bite. 
  2. If practical, weigh out the appropriate amount of hay your horse should eat at each feeding so that the excess isn’t wasted. On average, a horse should eat between 1.5-2% of his body weight in forage per day.
  3. You may also choose a feed that contains yeast cultures (prebiotics) and direct fed microbials (probiotics) like Lactobacillus Acidophilus. These elements will help your horse’s hind gut better digest and utilize the forage it takes in.
  4. If your horse is on pasture, a good practice may be to divide your pasture into sections and rotate sections on a frequent basis to allow for maximization of forage produced.
  5. If hay or pasture is in truly short supply, try utilizing a hay extender product.  While it is always beneficial to keep at least some long-stemmed roughage in the diet, using a hay extender can make the few bales of hay you have last quite a bit longer.