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Hay Planning

(post written by Jason) This is the time of year when farmers really start to look closely at their hay supply relative to when they think that livestock….horses or cows…..will get most of their forage consumption from pasture. The older generation did this by eyeballing the situation; my grandad was genuinely good at guessing a couple months ahead of time when he could stop feeding hay and let the pastures take over. I still eyeball the situation too, particularly in terms of how much green grass is available relative to how much hay I have left in the barn. But while most farmers of my generation still eyeball things in truth most of us are more inclined to test our theories with hard numbers. The first thing to gauge is how much forage a horse is going to consume. We measure forage consumption in terms of how many pounds of 100% dry matter (0% moisture) forage a horse will consume. No forage in the world is actually 100% dry matter, so this is a theoretical number but also one with very practical applications. The rule of thumb is that horses eat roughly 2% of their body weight in forage dry matter each day. Of course this number is an average, some will eat more and some less than average. Thus every 1200 lb horse on one’s farm will eat roughly 25 lbs of forage dry matter per day. Most hay tests roughly 85% dry matter, so every 1200 lb horse will consume 25/.85 = 30 lbs of hay per day, plus a little more that will get wasted. If a large bale weighs on average 700 lbs, each bale will provide roughly 20 horse days worth of forage (ie will feed one horse for 20 days or 20 horses for one day or some combination thereof). Thus this time of year if one has 100 large bales of hay in the barn one has roughly 2000 horse days worth of forage on hand. This is enough to feed 20 horses for a hundred days or 50 horses for 40 days, etc. Extrapolating these numbers out a little farther yields some interesting results. On this farm we use the numbers to gauge the productivity of our pastures AND to size our hay needs and hay storage facilities for the coming year. You can do the same if you follow the calculations below. Over the course of a year a 1200 lb horse will eat 365 x 25 = 9125 lbs forage dry matter. If the horse is stalled with no access to pasture he’ll go through roughly 11,000 lbs hay. This equals 16 seven hundred pound large bales or 275 small square bales. The rule of thumb is that to avoid a crisis you should end the hay feeding season with a half season of extra hay left in the barns. We should be in good shape here at Paradigm Farms thanks to a lot of years when we were able to do this. Last year was not one of those years and this one isn’t going to be either. Thanks to a very late spring and a very dry early summer period last year we fed a lot more hay for a lot longer than we normally would. Hay supplies were also tight so we used used up much of our hay stockpile. This spring we will be looking to replenish our stockpile AND put enough hay away to get us through next winter.


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