Hay Storage And Feeding

rsz hay storageAnother item to consider when planning your farm is hay storage. Opinions differ on whether hay should be stored in the main barn or a separate building. Storing hay in the main barn makes feeding more convenient, but may not be covered by insurance companies due to the increased fire hazard.

I store my hay in a storage shed located close enough to the barn that it is convenient. Plan to have ample storage space for your hay. This allows you to buy in bulk with enough to get you through the season. If you don't tend to buy locally grown hay, a large storage space will allow for larger deliveries. Some companies sell by the ton, not the bales and may have minimum shipping requirements. You can stock up on good quality hay at competitive pricing before the winter shortages affect the hay market. In my area, the average square bale of hay weighs approximately 40 pounds. A 12 X 20 storage shed will hold about 180 bales. An average horse in winter will eat 20 pounds (or half a bale) of hay daily. If you have 6 horses on your farm, that means you will be using about 92 bales per month during peak hay season. A 12 X 20 storage shed will then hold around 2 months of hay. If you purchase by the tractor trailer load, that contains about 700 bales of hay. You need a lot of storage space to store a tractor trailer delivery of hay, but it may save you a significant amount in cost and keep you supplied for the entire winter, depending on the amount of horses you have and their hay consumption.

Hay should be fed by weight at a rate of 1-2% of the horses body weight. In the milder months when grass is available, less hay can be fed. In the winter, hay is an important source of calories as well as a crucial way of keeping the horse warm. Ideally, hay should be fed free choice but this can lead to wastage. I use the small mesh hay nets to minimize waste and to keep hay constantly available. Having a near constant access to hay helps prevent ulcers, as well as mimicking the horses natural eating patterns. Since switching to using the small mesh hay nets, I rarely notice any of the horses chewing wood.  I feed hay mulitiple times daily in an effort to have the hay constantly available. For a 1200 pound horse, I've found the average hay consumption to be about one pound per hour, which correlates to about 24 pounds of hay daily in the winter months. Usually I will put 5-6 pounds of hay in the net during daytime turnout hours, then put out another 5 pounds in the net for early evening hours and a 10-12 pound haynet for the night time. Smaller horses may not need as much so I usually go by the 2% body weight rule. I have 3-4 haynets per horse and fill them up in the morning during chores so all I have to do throughout the day is hang new haynets as needed. If there is hay left in the net from the previous feeding, I will often leave it so the horses can finish it overnight if they desire. There does seem to be less waste if you don't have too much hay available at once. It seems some horses like to pull some of the hay out of the nets and leave it on the ground. If they have some time between getting new haynets, they will tend to eat the hay on the ground. If not, sometimes that hay gets wasted.



I use a luggage scale to weigh the hay nets.


For horses that like to fling the hay nets, I use the nets with the metal rings on the bottom. A snap hook is attached to the net and then attached to an eye hook on the column (or wall) via an elastic strap with hooks on both ends. The elastic is "forgiving" if the horse is aggressive with the hay net and helps prevent breakage of the hay net.



I also hang the hay nets inside the stall during the summer so the horses can eat while taking advantage of the stall fans. I mount a screw eye fairly high up on the wall (approximately 6 feet) and attach both ends of an elastic leg strap to the screw eye. I can easily pull the elastic strap down in order to attach the hay net. I use a double ended snap around the top of the hay net after the string is pulled tight and secured with a quick release knot. Even with a filled hay net, the double ended snap is easy to attach to the elastic. I might knot the elastic half way so I can attach the hay net higher or lower, depending on the horse. The elastic also allows the hay net to rise as the horse eats more of the hay, hopefully keeping it out of harms way. How high or low you mount the hay net depends on your preference. A net mounted high does run the risk of dust and chaff from the hay irritating the horses eyes and/or airways. A net mounted too low may run the risk of a hoof getting caught. It does seem that the small mesh hay nets *may* be safer in this respect, but caution is advised in either circumstance.

Haynet mounted on elastic leg strap. Haynet is mounted higher than shown here for taller horses.