January 20, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Hay-less Nation?

"If there is room to safely store hay, the best plan this year is to stockpile whatever you can"

By Susie Morgan

Hoof Prints in Santa Fe

Susie Morgan is a lifetime lover of horses, the outdoors and lives for adventures. She lives in Las Campanas, and is reconnecting with horses after working 27 years in New York City.

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2012 is an exceptionally difficult year for people with livestock. The 2011 extreme drought in the Southwest caused farms that normally only graze their horses to purchase hay. This put pressure on the normal supplies. Additionally, the massive fires in several hay-growing states damaged the hay crop. Lastly, diesel prices have gone up considerably. Many hay growers shipped their hay out of state this year to especially challenged places like Texas, Arizona and California, getting as much as $15 per bale in August and September. Prices are still climbing.

All these factors have resulted in increasing hay prices. It is a bleak situation for the Southwest and could get worse. The negative effect on our equine friends will cause some animals to be sold and others get less food when they need extra to burn for warmth.

The signs were evident this spring, and some facilities bought and stockpiled for the year. For many, this is simply not feasible. Some hay growers held their hay back, suspecting that late winter and especially spring, hay will be at a bigger premium.

The current situation also forces people to buy hay wherever they can find it. Constant changes in feed can put horses in increased danger of colic. Additionally, hay may be arriving from dry land places that are infested with possums and blister beetles. Both can have devastating effects on horses. Blister beetle can kill horses and donkeys. It attacks soon after horses have ingested it. Signs of blister beetle are the same as colic, but much more violent and the animals go downhill very fast. So, check your hay for these bugs which are found mainly in alfalfa-based hay and pure alfalfa.

Regions that have possums can cause a severe neurological disease in horses. The virus can lay dormant in horses for years before it becomes active. When it does become active, symptoms of this virus include nervousness, not walking straight and stumbling or falling to the knees when being ridden. There are tests the vet can do for this virus, ncluding a blood test. Other hay issues include toxic weeds and too much clover in the mix. Ask your local veterinarian about toxic weeds or look online.

Many different strains of hay can also cause mares in foal to abort their babies. Fescue hay is one of the most prevalent and some types of brome. Oat hay can also cause mares to abort foals and can be very hard for horses to digest. The transition to oat hay may cause colic if not done gradually. Additional factors include when the oat hay was put down and cut, and how much oat stock is on the hay.

Presently, there is hay on the market as farmers are beginning to release their reserves, albeit at higher prices. Some local barns are getting hay from as far away as Montana and Utah and there are concerns that these sources will run out. Hay will be in high demand until the next crop is harvested. If there is room to safely store hay, the best plan this year is to stockpile whatever you can.

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