Friday, March 22, 2019

Big Trouble in Little Hayville

After years of determined effort, my husband and I reached a pretty nice place in the balance between our full-time jobs and horse-keeping. We installed heated auto-waterers (Miraco brand) which is the best nickel I ever spent. Seriously, if you can, install one.  No more frozen buckets, no more hauling water. They improved our winter horse-keeping immensely.

We also added great barn lighting, for those dark winter nights as we chip away, futilely, at frozen manure. We bought a Hay Hut that can accommodate big bales, and I fitted it with a small-hole hockey net, draped over the bale, for slow feeding. Thus, no matter what quirks occurred in our schedule, our horses were fed and watered. Voila!

It all came to a crashing halt when my big, and I do mean BIG, mare, Hudson, started showing a disturbing pattern of lameness. It matched the pattern I saw in our mustang, DeCato, may she rest in peace: Grass, even with a grazing muzzle, seemed to bring on the ouchies. Hard, frozen winter ground made the pain even worse. With DeCato, the laminitis became so painful, I ultimately opted for euthanasia (I'll tell you that sad story another time). With Hudson, when her X-rays showed some signs of inflamed laminae, my vet let me know that that weight loss would be key.

Ground Control to Major Hay...
You wouldn't think a horse could get so fat on just hay, but Hudson is talented that way.

So now I’m back to hay bags, three of them for each mare, doled out over the course of a day. Since starting with them a few weeks ago, both Hudson and Starlight have lost weight. Unfortunately, the process has made all of our qualities of life much worse in other ways.  Stuffing hay bags is inherently unhealthy for people, as even great hay has dust, so I wear a full-face, particulate-filtering respirator as I meticulously measure out 6-pound bags.  For the horses, even the slow-feed nets can’t prevent them from going for hours without eating. Seriously, Hudson can polish off six pounds of hay in a net in one hour.

All calm until Hudson finishes her bag and steals Starlight's
But, that’s where we are, looking once more for a better solution. There are automated slow, hay feeders on the market, but they are pricey. I can’t justify the cost for a mechanical bale feeder, especially considering that filling one means cutting a round bale. I know people do this, but to me it seems like it would be as easy as cutting a bucket of spaghetti with a fish descaler.  

A better option for the horses might be one of the automated feeders that doles out hay pellets throughout the day.  I’d still be stuffing bags, but at least they would have regular nibbles to quell the acid in their guts. 

If you have recommendations on products or practices, let me know! In the meantime, we'll take it one, bright-pink, hay bag at a time. 
Hudson's shark-like attack of the pink bag