Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Horse Feed: How to Save Money on Hay for Horses with Hay Testing

With much of the nation experiencing some of the coldest temperatures on record, horses are gobbling up hay and feed faster than ever.

Hay for horses, unlike lower quality hay for other livestock, can be quite expensive, as can horse feed. That's why it is so important to test and understand the quality of the hay you feed.

Hay for Horses: My Hay Testing Experience
I recently tested my hay (sent a sample to Equi-analytical Labs) and was shocked to discover that the hay I was feeding my horses, cut from my own field, was low-carb hay. While low-carb hay is great for horses with metabolic problems, like insulin-resistant horses, it is a poor choice for horses who need to gain weight or who are trying to stay warm in extreme temperatures.

I face both situations. My gelding, Walker, is a hard keeper so I always have to feed him extra. On top of that, the other horses in my herd have to eat more than in previous winters because we are having the coldest winter in 100 years here in Colorado.

With these conditions, I was having to feed literally half a bale of hay per horse per feeding (3 times daily) just to keep them fat and shiny. While my homemade "horse goo" was helping to regulate their metabolism and get the most out of every flake of hay, I still couldn't understand why I had to feed so much. Now I know.

Feeding Low-Carb Hay
With low-carb hay (10% carbs), my horses were getting the equivalent of "diet hay," which didn't contain enough starch and sugars to keep them warm and fat. Low-carb hay has fewer calories, so my horses had to eat so much more of it to get the calories they needed. Once I figured that out, I ordered five tons of higher carb hay from a local hay dealer, and now I am feeding much less hay. I am also supplementing my herd with much less horse feed, a senior pelleted feed.

I never knew that hay for horses could vary so much in calories or quality. I'm saving my low-carb hay to feed this summer, when my horses occasionally have to be taken off the pasture while it is being irrigated. During the summer, when the horses have access to lush green grass, they won't need as many calories, so the low-carb hay will make a perfect feed.

Have You Tested Your Feed Lately?
With all the buzz going around about horses with metabolic issues, more hay dealers are now testing their hay. Horse owners who have insulin-resistant horses have insisted on it, which is great.

Now it's time for the rest of us horse owners to get in on the hay-testing bandwagon. If you have a hard keeper, it's worth checking if your hay dealer has high-carb (18% carbs) hay, especially if you live in a cold climate. With high-carb hay, you'll be able to feed much less quantity but get much better results. Your horse will maintain his weight more easily on less hay, and that will definitely save on your horse feed bill.

If you plan on buying several tons of hay from a dealer who does not test his hay, it may be worth your while to see if you can get the hay tested yourself. It could save you literally hundreds of dollars, not to mention the fact that your horse will be a lot happier if you feed him hay that is a good match for his metabolism. The test itself is inexpensive (less than $30), and definitely worth your time!

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Photo credit: Free Digital Photos

1 comment:

  1. My suggestion is to research the larger companies first. They will be happy to show you the different feed mixtures and explain what it is they have to offer. Most feed stores promoting the feed companies will ask you about your animals, what kind of horses you own, whether they have pasture and if they are being ridden, and if so, how often and how hard.

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