Drought hits horse owners too
Drought has hit horse owners too this year, but not as hard as it has their cattle-owning counterparts.
"While many cattle producers could still be looking at feeding several dozen mama cows over the next few months, most horse owners only have a handful or fewer mouths to feed, so the pressure may not be quite as intense for horse owners," said Mark Russell, assistant professor-equine extension, for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
In addition, many horse owners have different supply routes and their charges have different nutrition requirements.
"What I've found is those who can get hay do so because they've been working with the same supplier for years," he said. "We're not in a place where we're panicking and if you've planned ahead, you're probably in pretty decent shape."
However, the summer's hay has still not been as plentiful as in past years and it's shown in the prices.
"They've had to pay a little more--maybe $2 to $3 a bale more than what they're used to," Russell said, moving typical prices to $7 a small square bale for good-quality grass hay.
Russell said Louisiana and Mississippi still had hay and some Arkansas horse owners were towing empty horse trailers south and returning with a trailer full of bales for the fall and winter. A little planning among fellow horse owners could go a long way too.
"If you could get some folks grouping together and find someone with a 30-foot gooseneck and split the gas, getting hay is going to be a lot cheaper that way," he said. "If you have three or four people split the gas, it's not as painful as it might've been."
"We managed through the drought with adequate supplies of hay," said Shea Wilson, communications administrator for the Arkansas Department of Correction, the state's largest horse herd with 450 head. "Irrigation of the crop helped."
"We grow all of our own hay, so we don't buy any, therefore, the rising cost does not impact ADC," she said.
However, where hay hasn't been as plentiful, "many horse owners are evaluating current feeding programs and seeking alternatives," Russell said. The problem is "horses do not accept a change in forage very well," which means horse owners have to plan ahead.
"One of the most important factors in feeding a horse is to keep any changes in feed gradual," he said. "This includes both forages and concentrates such as grains, pellets, and oats."
In Arkansas, horse owners planning grazing should use a ratio of one adult horse per two acres of pasture, or one acre per yearling or two-year-old.
Among Russell's recommendations:
--Plant winter annuals such as rye, ryegrass or wheat. "While the initial cost may be high, this option could possibly by less expensive than hay purchase over the course of a winter and early spring," Russell said.
--Employ rotational grazing. "During months when rain is more prevalent, use a fencing system that will allow for sections of the pasture to not be grazed," he said.
--Only feed hay when the previous feeding has been completely consumed.
--Weigh each hay feeding to prevent over-distribution.
--Foaling mares should be kept away from fescue because of concerns over foal death at time of birth and the absence of milk production in some mares provided access to fescue.
To see Russell's tactics for feeding horses in drought, visit http://arkansaslivestockdotcom.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/tips-for-feeding-horses-during-a-drought.
Learn more information about horse Digestive System of the Horse and Feeding Management, FSA3038 is available online at www.uaex.edu/Other_Areas/publications/PDF/FSA-3038.pdf.