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If early reports are correct, horse owners may be facing a severe hay shortage this winter — but H&H’s top tips can help you cope with reduced supplies and soaring prices

1. Consider big-bale hay

With fuel and labour costs only going up, hay merchant Peter Caley says more and more farmers are turning to big bales.

“Our big hay bales are 350kg, the equivalent of 17-20 small bales. At £35 per bale, you’re saving up to £25 a time if you’re currently paying £3 per small bale.”

Unlike haylage, which will go off if not used quickly enough, big-bale hay will last and he and other merchants are increasingly flexible.

“I wrap some hay for my clients, as they have to store outside, and we’ve found the big bales are just about moveable by two people.”

2. Club together

If you prefer haylage you could consider clubbing together with other owners on your yard to ensure you get through big-bale haylage fast enough.

3. Don’t wait — buy now

Buying straight from the field is cheaper. If you’re lucky enough to know someone about to small-bale hay, arrange to collect a trailer or horsebox load from the field. The farmer may give a discount if you’re willing to save him the job of transporting it home.

4. Improve poor quality hay

While the hot weather means this year’s hay should be good, if you end up stuck with dusty hay, soak it – or use a hay steamer.

5. Know what you’re feeding and adjust your ration accordingly

Hay and haylage don’t just differ in their moisture content; depending on the type and age of ley (mix of grass varieties) used, when it is cut (anything from May to late August) and the amount of time it “cures” before being baled, your forage can vary.

“Most leisure horses in the UK don’t need supplementary hard feed — we’ve just been seduced into giving them those sweet smelling mixes and cubes,” believes Witney-based stud owner Ian Vandenberghe.

If you’re feeling the pinch, get your forage analysed and speak to a nutritionist about any savings to be made by reducing hard feed.

6. Mix with straw

A mix of something like HorseHage and a palatable straw such as barley or oat can ensure sufficient nutrients and fibre, and help keep costs down.

7. Prevent waste

Store in a dry place and feed little and often to prevent trampling (or use a haynet/rack).

8. Consider “extenders” like brewers grains

Non-molassed sugar beet pulp which has been soaked is also a good source of fibre and can be mixed in with the forage ration.

9. Try alfalfa (chop or pellets)

A useful hay extender with a proven track record and a good nutritional profile.

For the full article on coping with hay and straw shortages, see the current issue of Horse & Hound (22 July, ’10)

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