Planning for Next Spring

Winter months are a great time to start thinking about your pastures and feed situation to start planning for next year. While many horse owners wait until the weather turns to stock up on hay for the winter, it would be more feasible to make a plan and stock up earlier while hay prices are lower.

Your first step in this process is determining what your horse requires. There are complicated mathematical and scientific ways of determining what your horses’ nutritional requirements are. However, the simplest way for a horse owner is to use the NRC (National Research Council) Nutrient Requirement of Horses. Using this chart you can determine your horses’ nutrient requirements based on their physiological state and amount of work. For instance a bred mare will have different requirements than a gelding that has a light workload.

Along with your horses’ physiological state you should also evaluate their body condition score (BCS). It is important as a horse owner to never forget the body condition score. You may be feeding your horse the exact nutrients they require based on their physiological state and the NRC requirements and your horse may still not maintain the ideal body condition score. Therefore it is important to remember that if you think your horse is too thin and needs more feed then increase their feed. At the bottom is a visual example of the body condition score system.

The second step is to decide what type of hay is best for your horse. In this area the most common hay types are straight alfalfa, a grass alfalfa mix, or straight grass. Of course you can also decide what type of grass you would like. Your hay supplier may have tested their hay, so it is completely reasonable to ask them what their test revealed and what nutrients their hay has. Using this and your horses’ requirements from above, you can decide what type of hay to feed your horse.

While you are looking at all the hay testing results and requirements, you will notice whether they are on a dry-matter-basis (DM) or as-fed (AF). If you completely balance a ration on a dry-matter-basis, you will need to convert it to as-fed when you are done or you will be shorting your horse. This is because even though we feed dry hay, there is still moisture in that bale. A lot of your hay quality is determined by this. A bale that was baled with too high of a moisture percentage will mold, and besides risking your horses’ health, if the entire stack is really moldy it can combust into flames. Hay that is baled with too low of a moisture percentage will be dry and crumbly when you open the bale. When this happens, the flakes do not stay together and you lose a lot of hay just to waste while you are moving it and feeding it.

The last step is to figure out how much hay you will need for the year. Let’s say you feed your horse hay 365 days a year and they do not go to pasture. They weigh about 1000 pounds, so they need twenty pounds of hay per day. You chose to feed a grass alfalfa mix and the average bale weighs sixty pounds. This all comes down to a simple equation. (20 lbs fed per day x 365 days fed) / 60lbs = 121.7 bales. Depending on the quality of hay you bought and how it is stored, you are guaranteed to have some hay that you cannot feed. You may have some bottom bales that get wet. Maybe a hole in your tarp caused a few bales to mold. So you should buy a little extra. A good rule is to buy about 20 percent extra. If you need 122 bales to get through the year, buying an extra 25 bales just to be sure is a good idea.

(Lbs. fed per day x days fed) =number bales needed
Average bale weight

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