Our two horses will demolish a 6’x4′ hay roll in a week. They burn through all the best bits, leaving everything else. This is Calais digging his way through a round bale we put in the paddock for them just two days ago. Using his large head as a pitchfork, he merrily flings aside all the outer layers, and then some. How I wish we had a metal bale guard! I’m not sure it would stop him, though.
Horses must surely be the fussiest of all hayburning beasties. Luckily hay is not as expensive now as it was a couple of years ago, otherwise the sight of such wastage would make you cry. Two summers ago you couldn’t even buy reasonable quality meadow hay here in Perth. It was more dust, weeds and mould than leaf or stem.
Due to the 2010-2011 Queensland floods resulting in widespread crop losses, a lot of Western Australian hay was shipped east, and prices soared. Meadow hay started at $80 a roll, if you could find it at all. We were lucky if we could get oaten hay rolls for $100. At least the oaten was generally better quality. Even people with pasture were struggling with feed costs, it was such a dry hot summer. At that point, we had no pasture at all, just an eroded dustbowl full of stinkwort.
This season, at $45 a roll, we can afford for our horses to be horses, and play with their food. We found a local hay grower who soil tests, sows grass and legume species (rather than just cutting whatever pasture grows self-seeded), he also fertilises at the right times of year. His hay is awesome, sweet smelling and weed-free. We have been buying hay from him for over a year, and he has rewarded our loyalty with a discounted price! Apparently this season, many farmers have had trouble shifting hay, it’s been such a good crop. A lot was shipped to Tasmania and other bushfire affected states, where local hay crops went up in smoke.
It feels good now we’re able to give the horses free access to hay, after the past two summers have been so hard. Back then, we fed enough hay to maintain healthy digestion and hold weight (about 1.5% of total bodyweight – between 6-8kgs hay per horse daily), but not enough for them to gain weight. It is embarrassing to admit, but we just couldn’t afford it. The horses didn’t go hungry, but they often didn’t look that great.
Meanwhile, we have worked hard to build up our soil and pasture, steadily planting kikuyu by hand – the landlord’s farm manager laughed at us in the beginning. “You’re planting grass?” he scoffed.
Now we’re reticulating our burgeoning perennial pasture to get as much growth happening in the warmer months as possible. Once we start getting regular rainfall, we’ll sow ryegrass and clovers for annual cover. All in anticipation of when we can offer the horses regular turnout on green grass, for more than just a token couple of hours every now and then.
Hopefully we’ll see it happen this spring. I can’t wait for that day!