From Endurance to Dressage
Hey, Hey, Hay!
This post definitely counts as part of the Barn Life in California series. I thought I'd share a little bit about hay. I should start off by saying that I am not an expert on hay types and have never done any research on hay, but I am a typical horse owner in California which makes me qualified to report on what the typical owner might do. And by typical, I mean the kind of owner who wants their hay to be cheap and easy to get. There was a time when I fed oat hay, but it was a pain to find as it is only cut once or twice a year around here, and storing a full year's supply of hay was difficult. So which hay is relatively cheap and easy to get in California? That would be alfalfa.
What is alfalfa hay anyway? "Alfalfa is a flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae cultivated as an important forage crop in the US, Canada, and many other countries. It is known as lucerne in the UK, France, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and known as lucerne grass in south Asia. It superficially resembles clover, with clusters of small purple flowers." Thank you, Wikipedia.
Random Internet Photo
Here in California, alfalfa can be harvested many times a year. We buy our bales in long, rectangular cubes. Each bale weighs about 100 pounds and will feed one horse for approximately five days. Currently, alfalfa is selling for around $20 per bale. Other hay types (oat, timothy, orchard grass, etc.) are selling for as low as $17.00 per bale.
As I was 'researching' this blog post, I stumbled on an interesting website that had a Myths page that seems pretty sensible. Check it out here. The first myth the author addresses is this:
"You should never give a horse straight alfalfa." Never say never. In California and the southwest United States, horses are routinely fed straight alfalfa as the only forage. In that region, alfalfa is cheap, plentiful, and the horses do quite well.
While some horses may not need alfalfa, others would truly benefit from receiving alfalfa. The difference lies in what nutrients alfalfa provides, and what the horse actually needs. Alfalfa contains more energy, protein and calcium than most grass hays, such as timothy, brome grass, orchard grass, etc. This nutrient profile makes it most suitable for young, growing horses and lactating mares, because they have high protein and mineral requirements. By comparison, alfalfa exceeds the protein requirements of idle horses and performance horses. That does not mean these horses cannot receive straight alfalfa. It just means alfalfa provides more protein than these classes of horses need. Alfalfa also tastes good, so it's useful when you've got a finicky eater or a horse with a poor appetite.
Since alfalfa provides more protein than our horses need, what should we do about it? Many owners cut the alfalfa by feeding alfalfa/oat cubes, but by and large, most owners in California feed alfalfa straight with no side effects. Can there be side effects? Yes. Are they that common? Well, no. Some horses develop enteroliths (large stones), others urinate more frequently as their bodies try to process the excess protein and calcium. See the Myths page above to find out the whys for the more frequent urination.
The truth is, most of California's horses eat straight alfalfa with no problems. Mine included. Here's how we do it. RM, barn owner, doesn't have a hay barn ... yet. With our mild climate, we only have to worry about infrequent rain storms. Tarp-covered hay is a common sight in California, and serves most people well. Our hay rests on pallets and sits in two parts: the smaller stack is what we feed from while the larger stack is more tightly covered. Click photos for larger view.
Bounder gets alfalfa/oat cubes at night instead of straight alfalfa, but he also gets alfalfa pellets at night. Bounder also gets morning supplements and several pounds of beet pulp. In addition to his hay, Bailey gets oats with some goodies thrown in for good health. Speedy G and Sydney get several pounds of beet pulp and rice bran to round out their daily hay ration. Does everyone feed like we do? Of course not, but I bet you'd find that many, many Californians follow a very similar feeding routine.
In all honesty, we could probably cut back a bit on the hay since our boys get other stuff to eat, but we all know that readily available forage is good for the brain, gut, and keeps our ponies warm during our cold nights and mornings.
12/29/2011 01:08:22 am
Wow! Hay is so expensive there! We pay $8 for about 80lbs bales of orchard grass and $5 for about 60lbs bales of medium quality local grass hay. We can also get round bales of local hay for about $35 per 1000lbs. We normally have round bales out during the winter for forage in the fields, and feed the orchard and local for barn times.
12/29/2011 05:43:01 am
I've never understood the round bales. How do you keep them from getting wet and moldy? What keeps them from getting trampled on and kicked into the mud and dirt? And once the "yummy" pieces are eaten, do the horses just eat the left-over stems? Clearly I am in need of more info!
12/30/2011 01:11:23 am
Honestly - they get eaten down way too fast to get gross and the hay quality is fairly consistant throughout the round bale because it is processed a little differently. They smoosh the stems to make it more pliable. Also the round bales LOOK less tasty because they have to be dried out more to prevent them from becoming burning bales of disaster. They're also very tightly packed and pretty rain resistant just by nature of them being wound up so tightly.
12/30/2011 03:56:40 am
HammerHorses ... can't reply down below ... in any case, quite interesting. I've seen the round bales while traveling, but know zero about them. Thanks for sharing. BTW, love the yearly recap over at your blog, http://gottalovethefarm.blogspot.com/2011/12/2011-in-re-cap.html
12/29/2011 01:56:55 am
OK Hammerhorses- we're officially jealous! I feed orchard in the morning, alfalfa at night- and the orchard grass is routinely $1-2 higher than the alfalfa!
12/29/2011 05:40:19 am
Fred C. Gilbert, on the east end of Norris, had orchard grass for around $17.00. Might be worth checking out. Although, maybe you're getting your alfalfa a lot cheaper than we are. Are you getting it for around $20 a bale, or cheaper?
12/29/2011 09:35:55 am
Alfalfa was 15/bale when I purchased it , and grass 16, but we buy a couple of squeezes at a time and i'll be out and lookin by march! This summer I was able to purchase enough to run until early spring. I know prices are higher now!
12/30/2011 03:58:03 am
I don't know what our current hay cost when it was purchased, but I know that it's going for $17 - $22 a bale right now. Yikes! Let's hope it comes down this spring.
Great series, Karen!
12/29/2011 05:48:00 am
Even with high quality hay, I still feed beet pulp and rice bran. With lesser quality hay, it would seem mandatory. I've never heard of hay stretchers. We have ground up alfalfa meal. Do you think it's similar? I've seen people feed a loose, shredded hay thing ... I've just not heard it called a stretcher, but it seems similar.
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About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
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