The Fatty Fats and My Frightening Forage Famine

Equine nutritionists say that a horse on average requires 1-2% of its bodyweight in feed each day. For weight gain or hard work you might bump that to 2.5% But what does that really mean?

The average horse weighs about 1000lbs, so the average horse should eat about 10-20 pounds per day. This is the DRY weight of feed, with no water added. The actual amount a horse really needs depends on its metabolism, workload, environment, and quality of feed.

For the past three years I have offered hay free choice to my horses. I find they self regulate and don’t typically overeat. It also helps to reduce the stress of hunger and keeps their salivary glands working. With my affinity for thoroughbreds (and their affinity for ulcers) I take any step I can to reduce the risk of digestive distress.

My boys are larger, standing 16.1 hands high and built thick. Over the past few years I’ve averaged 3/4-1 full bale per horse per day. It’s not the best quality hay (stemmy) and they do waste a bit but I’ve never thought twice about it since they maintain a nice weight and look great.

That was until this fall.

Our hay storage leaves much to be desired. I’ve been spoiled being boarded at farms that have the capacity of storing hay for the entire winter. At home we only have the capacity to store hay for a month. It is sheltered in our carport on pallets. For the past few years I didn’t have a truck and was lucky enough to have a hay-guy that would deliver and stack hay for me monthly. I simply texted him when I was about 7-10 days out. I’d then move the remaining bales to my tackroom, pick up the leftover chaffe, and leave a check. When I woke up for my overnight shift I’d be greeted with a carport full of hay.

As my normal routine I was about 7-10 days from the end of my hay supply late October so I sent my guy a text. He usually gets back to me within the hour. He didn’t. The next day I checked in….still nothing. I waited the weekend and began checking with friends for names of new hay farmers. Nobody had hay. I found a neighbor who sold me 25 bales which we loaded into our new truck and stacked ourselves at home. I have no idea how my hay-guy managed 65 bales on a single load!!

I sent a final text to my hay farmer…this time just requesting he let me know that he’s okay. I was legitimately worried about him. He’s never not gotten back to me in the few years I’ve known him.

Still nothing.

I was utterly ghosted.

Now I’m panicking. I don’t REALLY have the time to stack my own small bales….I’d be forced to find the time but I can’t even FIND small bales!

This is my first experience dealing with a shortage of hay. I was enjoying the entire summer with its dry days. I got in a lot of nice riding time in. I never gave it a thought what the dry weather meant for the hay supply; it simply didn’t occur to me. Our lawn, which typically gets burnt out around July/August was burnt out by May-June. That should have been the very first sign. I have experience in horses but remember I’m still very new to management. This will be the first year (and not likely the last) I have to wonder where the hay will come from…and pray that those who DO have it don’t hike prices on us.

Just thinking about the process: We loaded the bales into the truck….I unloaded them and stacked them into the carport. For ease of feeding during my workweek I transport several bales to the tack-room (in the barnyard 100 yards away). Then I load hay bags for feeding.

I like to call myself a “pretengineer” at work since I do engineer level work with a technician’s title and pay. Having taken several Lean Six Sigma courses and being involved with so many activities in life means I try to work as efficiently as possible. Handling the hay bales that many times seems wasteful, inefficient, and a miserable waste of time. My gears began turning.

I got in touch with another farmer a friend referred me to. He didn’t have small squares but offered me a few first cutting rounds. He told me they are almost gone but he’ll sell me what he can until it’s all gone. We loaded two 800lb bales of beautiful first cut hay into my truck and I wrangled it on my own at home. I rolled them off the truck an onto pallets into our carport.

From the carport I filled my haybags. I line the empty metal cans (which once held feed before my grain bin) with my hay nets…much like you would a garbage bag. I then take sheets from the roundbale and load them into the haynet lined can. Then I work on the next hay net.

I plan on this being what gets me through the winter so I invested in a few more hay nets. This time purchasing the quality nets from HayChix during their Black Friday sale; I bought 8 for $176 (4 for $88). I now have a total of 20 nets at the moment. It gives “meal prepping” a whole new meaning!

I thought I could get away with doing 4 hay nets per day…2 in the morning and 2 in the evening. As it turns out my Fatty McFat boys ate every strand of hay before the next meal. I found the sweet spot was 3 bags each feeding.

It was all fine until I realized we had gone through more than half a bale after the first week. Seriously guys?! I went to Walmart and picked up a luggage scale (Less than $5). As it happens the bags average 12-13lbs each…that means the gorging geldings were devouring almost 30lbs EACH per day!!!!!

So technically, according to guidelines I can get by with 4 bags per day, but for my sanity I give them one extra.

In only 3 weeks these horses finished the first two round bales. I called my new hay farmer up and he sold me 2 more first cutting bales. He needed the rest but was willing to part with two second cutting round bales. His baler died at the end of summer so a friend helped him bale and used a 1000lb baler. These suckers were heavy!!! Our truck had no issues getting them home, though, it didn’t even feel like it was working.

When we got home I backed into the carport and we used the tractor as an anchor to help drag the bales our of the bed. Worked beautifully!

For now we are getting through. We still have a long winter ahead but I am hopeful that we will find what we need. I am very grateful that we have a truck now because most farmers will not deliver. This gives me more options, at least.

I should note: While I’m aware that many people can reserve hay…this wasn’t something available with my original hay farmer. Hopefully next year will be better for hay and I can develop a good relationship with this new farmer (he’s only 5 minutes from my house!).

How are you and your farms doing on hay this year?


  1. We had drought here this summer and many places only got one cut of hay. I am at a boarding barn so the barn manager got in enough hay for the winter . He has a small bale farmer what he has used for several years. I hope you will be ok through the winter! Best wishes for good hay!

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