Horse owners struggle to find hay

You might have trouble buying a bale of hay or finding a place to board a horse this year.

“I’m not taking any new horses this year unless we know that we are going to be able to get hay,” said Anne Phelps, who owns Amber Sun Acres in Malta with her husband, Bill.

Because of last year’s drought, alfalfa yields plummeted and horse owners across the country are having trouble finding enough hay to feed their horses. Amber Sun Acres grows most its own alfalfa hay, but not all horse training and boarding facilities have ready access to supplies.

“One of our suppliers is trucking it in from Kansas,” said Ryan Lowe, owner of Runaway Ranch in Sycamore. Horses normally require 1 percent to 2 percent of their body weight in forage daily; Lowe said he has also cut back on the amount of hay used by following the recommended minimum daily roughage outlined by the grain supplier.

“What we’ve saved in hay, we’ve spent on a ration balancer to supplement their daily grain to ensure the horses are getting a complete nutritious diet,” Lowe continued. Runaway Ranch also is not accepting new boarders.

Hay production, especially for the more nutritious alfalfa hay, is down nationwide, according to Robin Newell, chairman of the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance.

“We have lost alfalfa acres and hay acres across the U.S. in the last 10 to 15 years,” Newell said. “Last year the drought exacerbated it. Alfalfa hay production was down 20 percent in 2012 versus the previous year.”

Newell added that 2012 hay production levels were the lowest since 1953.

Despite the hardships caused by the drought, Lowe is optimistic about the prospect that hay will be more plentiful after this year’s first alfalfa cutting, which is often done in late May.

“It’s been a tough year, but we are surviving and the horses still look great,” he said.

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