Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hay, Glorious Hay!

How does northern Ethiopian hay, grown in the Midwest by an Amish farmer, delivered in a semi from a furniture company end up in my barn? Well, quite simply, luck! Hay procurement has been more challenging than I remember it being on the east coast. (Or maybe its just here in the south east) My theory is that a lot of nice hay grown in the north by passes us to get to Fla. where the race horses and jumpers go to winter. Well, that's my theory anyway and I'm sticking to it!

On Friday, we stacked over 41 thousand pounds of hay two barns. I'll spare you all the details. suffice it to say, no one is looking forward to the next load we will have to buy around March! I chose to buy so much for several reasons, first and foremost I really wanted my horses to be on a consistent supply of hay. By that I mean hay from the same cutting, from the same soils, put up the same way. I felt after years of inconsistency, mild colics, bouts of watery stool, random weight losses and gains that it was the least I could do for my ponies. In CA, I bought hay in small 10 to 15 bale loads. Due to cost and storage constraints this was the best I could do for them. One week they might be eating Oregon orchard, the next timothy from Nevada. Now while I've heard horses do like a variety, I think it very unlikely they would gallop themselves across several states to get it. A variety of grasses offered in the same soils/field is more likely the case.

I prefer to feed a grass hay like orchard or timothy and have stayed away from less expensive varieties like bermuda. I did this in Ca because the bermuda I came across was very dirty and very salty. The horses I saw living on it had bloated hay belly's and poor coats. It didn't seem to be a quality hay. Here in the south, Bermuda is a huge hay crop and while it seems much less dirty, I've opted to stay away from it here as well. I have read from several sources online that bermuda is suspected to be the cause of an increase in colics here in the southeast. That being said, none of the sources agreed on why. Some said it was the physical make up of the bermuda stem. Fine grass shoots off of one tougher main stem. Making it hard for the horses to chew effectively.(I guess kind of like celery, tender parts with stringy bits.) The lack of proper chewing caused it to form a plug in the lower intestine ensuing in a colic. Another source said it was the genetic make up of the hay. Something like the endophyte problems they have in some fescues. Then there is the local problem of the farms using a raw, liquid pig waste fertilizer to treat their hay fields...In any case bermuda is still on the "no feed" list where my horses are concerned. That makes hay purchasing quite the feat.

There has been alot of rain on the east coast this year, which is good for hay growing, but bad for hay curing and baling. The result is moldy hay or hay to mature to be either palatable or nutritious. Orchard and timothy are cool weather crops, doing best with cold nights and warm days. Neither tolerate heat particularly well so if the summer is hot early the hay crop is bad, if there is alot of rain the hay crop is bad, In other words if its not camelot-esque the hay crop will be difficult! So what to do? Well, research of course! What I came up with teff. teff is a relatively new hay crop from Ethiopia. Like bermuda it thrives in hot climates. Making it a great summer crop. Something that could grow and produce after orchard and timothy was finished for the season. It is a grain hay. So like oat hay, it produces a grain. Unlike oat hay it is a fine stemmed grass, whose nutrient value as a hay does not diminish once the grains are ripe. It resembles bermuda to the untrained eye and I in fact once sarcastically said as much to a poor feed store worker in Ca. He was showing me what I thought at the time where two identical bales of hay one being the usual affordable bermuda( which he knew I never fed) and one being something called Tiffany hay for several more dollars......I dismissed it out of had thinking he was trying to pull a fast one! (Sorry Bonbones! ;0)) Any how if I had only looked closer, I could have told the difference immediately. The teff/tiffany not having a tough main stem with shoots. Another way to have seen the difference would have been to cut open the bales. Bermuda falls apart very easily resembling grass clippings instead of flakes. Teff having individual grass leaves or stems holds its shape in a flake like most hay.

So far the horses are really enjoying their teff hay, leaving the grass patch they have access to in the mornings to eat their hay first. Something that was not the norm with the timothy I started with. Their manure looks good too. TMI , I know, but something we horse people have no qualms about discussing! I got this load tested, and while it came back in the normal ranges for teff in both protein and fiber/moisture and digestibility. It would raise eye brows with folks used to seeing 14 percent protein and above. I like my horses to be able to have hay in front of them all day. We have little grass here for foraging and will have less come winter. The teff hay fits the bill across the board for me and mine. I'll keep you posted on how it performs through the winter. Meanwhile give it a look!

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