If you keep horses at home, you need to keep hay on hand. Doesn’t matter whether you feed hay year-round or only during certain seasons. Assuming you even live in an area with grass, it is likely at some point your pasture will not produce enough forage to keep your horses adequately fed.
How much hay do you need? That totally depends on your individual situation. Typically, I get a large load of hay delivered in the Fall. Somewhere between 125 to 250 small square bales depending upon how many horses I have in any given year. This lasts me through Winter. But come late Spring or early Summer, I start to get nervous about the small amount of hay I have left over.
Many years ago, before Bear’s first laminitis episode, I kept my horses 24/7 on pasture. The pasture was quite lush. I only needed to supplement with hay from about December to April.
But since Bear had his first laminitis episode six years ago, I needed to drastically limit his pasture intake. Unfortunately, I now feed hay year-round despite having abundant grass in my backyard.
Some folks have their own hay fields or their own baling equipment. I have neither. So I need to go in search of hay before I run out. Doesn’t matter how hot the temperature is or how high the gas prices are.
Sourcing hay is actually one of the things I find most stressful about keeping horses at home. It is a bit of a game, even if you have a long-standing relationship with a hay farmer. Hay is not widely available in stores. I have no local feed stores that sell hay. It is critical to know where else I can find it.
You must find individual hay growers through word of mouth or scouring ads. You call, text and email as many folks as you can find in your area to compare locations, prices and types of hay. Or you might attend a livestock auction and hope someone is selling hay that night.
Once you find a hay farmer, you make appointments to come pick up the hay directly from the growers or see if they will deliver hay to you (for an additional price). Some folks I know that live in desert areas have hay delivered from neighboring States by the semi-truck load.
Hay is not easy to physically handle or pick up. Hay bales are heavy and require strength to move. They are large and take up space. You need to make sure you have enough room to store it out of the weather. If you pick up hay yourself, you also need to watch the forecast like a hawk. You don’t want to be driving home with a truck-bed or tag-along trailer full of hay in the pouring rain.
If you feed round bales instead of square bales, you may need an even larger storage space as well as heavy equipment to move the round bales from point A to point B on your property. I don’t have any of that so I stick to the small, square bales.
I am fortunate in the Midwest regarding the amount of hay grown. I live in an area where hay is plentiful, generally priced at $5 to $7 a bale depending upon the cutting and type of hay.
Even so, it is a coordinated effort to make sure I have the right amount of money set aside at the right time in order to bring home the right amount of hay and right type of hay for my horses at the right time. Lots of rights to get right there!
Assuming the weather is conducive to cutting and baling, generally the first year’s hay cut in my area is done towards the end of May. I was worried with our wet Spring that it would never dry out and thus delay the ability to cut and bale. Fortunately, first-cutting hay was mostly on schedule this year.
I was super excited to recently bring home two loads of first-cutting grass hay. Just like getting my annual fall load of hay delivered, it’s a relief to bring home my first load of Summer hay bales in my truck bed.
My barn smells wonderful. I wish my blog had a “scratch and sniff” button. I’d love to share the fragrant aroma of fresh cut hay for those uninitiated to the pleasure.
I estimate I need seventy more bales before this year’s Fall hay-load arrives. That means more hay chasing for me in the near future.
Here’s a shout-out to all the hay growers, by the way. It’s a big job. Done without a lot of acknowledgement or appreciation. Yet it’s critical to the health and welfare of our horses. Thank you, thank you, thank you.