Being a good horse hay buyer (or seller)

Working together to optimize the hay buying and selling experience.

Photo credits: Karen L. Waite
Photo credits: Karen L. Waite

When buying horse hay, communication is the key between buyer and seller.

Depending on where you live in Michigan or the Midwest, 2017 may have been a difficult year for making or buying sufficient amounts of good quality horse hay. As a result, you may be finding yourself running short of hay much earlier than you had planned or intended. You may also be getting a little stressed by the fact that in most cases, small square bales of decent quality alfalfa/grass mix are currently selling for $7-8 a bale, if availability exists.  Michigan State University Extension suggests a few points to remember when buying or selling horse hay to make the transaction a positive experience for all involved.

1.  Hay Production is a Business…Like Any Other Business

People who produce hay have a tremendous amount of time and effort invested in their crop. They buy seed, fertilizer, fuel and much more to produce decent horse hay and just like you may be feeling anxious now, they were stressed last summer when trying to cut, rake and bale before the rains came. Having said this, it does not mean they can or should forgo good customer service when communicating with potential buyers. It is a reasonable expectation for hay buyers/horse owners to ask about nutrient quality or to see a picture of the product before they agree to buy it. The reason for this may simply be that the hay buyer is trying to purchase the most appropriate hay that fits their horse’s nutritional requirements. With this in mind, for example, a good quality grass hay may be preferred over a high quality alfalfa hay or vice versa. .  Keeping an eye on your local hay auction website to evaluate prices for the specific type of hay (grass vs. grass/alfalfa mix vs. alfalfa) that you may be looking for will give you some idea what is reasonable to pay for hay in the current market.

2.  Horse Hay Can Be Labor Intensive to Make

Many horse owners typically buy 50 - 75 small square bales, primarily for ease of handling when feeding. Not surprisingly, producing this type of hay also requires quite a bit of labor and often producers have to pay outside help to assist with picking up hay from the field, stacking it on the trailer and unloading it. If you prefer second cutting hay, this typically happens in the hottest and most humid parts of the summer and as a result it isn’t always easy to find people willing to do this kind of work. As a result, more and more hay producers are focusing on making round bales, which the majority of horse owners in the Midwest do not have the equipment to move, room to store nor enough horses to consume a round bale in a reasonable amount of time. However, management practices for incorporating round bales into the nutrition program for horses has changed somewhat with the addition of covered round bale feeders, which may also minimize waste.

3.  Horses Require Good Quality Hay

The average 1,000 lb. horse requires 15-20 lbs. of hay or other forage daily to maintain optimal health.  Like any animal, depending on the production stage of the animal, horses may have differing requirements for Digestible Energy, Crude Protein and other nutrients. Unlike ruminants such as sheep or cattle, horses do not have the microbial population in the gut to digest very fibrous, overly mature hays or to detoxify problem contaminants in hay, such as hoary alyssum. Excessive amounts of hoary alyssum endemic in the Midwest, may cause colic or in severe cases founder, both of which can be life-threatening. Similarly, many horses are used in athletic pursuits and as such they need to maintain a healthy respiratory track. At the same time, they are often sensitive to mold not just from a gastrointestinal perspective, but as a result of the long term, sometimes permanent damage that can be done to the respiratory system in the form of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) commonly known as Heaves. Once a horse develops COPD, their days as a useful athlete are limited.

Before long spring will be here once again, and (hopefully) the weather will cooperate such that  we’ll have another chance at producing, budgeting and buying enough good quality hay to take us through the year. 

Did you find this article useful?