The short supply of hay in 2012 is placing farm families and other owners of hay-consuming farm animals in difficult situations as much of the United States begins entering the winter. Hay yields for the year were down 20 to 50% across many states because of drought and reduced hay acreage.
This year the hay supply is very low, and the corresponding price for hay is up two to four times what it was a year ago. Livestock operations can cull the herd back to a level that matches the feed resource and receive a good price for most animals sold because demand for meat remains high. They also can graze or bale feed sources such as cornstalks before winter truly arrives to fill the hay gap.
Horse owners, on the other hand, do not have these options. There is not a U.S. market for horse meat for human consumption, and with these high hay prices, it is next to impossible to give an average horse away, let alone sell it. Cornstalk consumption by horses can lead to equine health problems such as colic and laminitis, which are caused by excess mold and grain consumption.
A family owning horses may be caught in a difficult situation. They will either spend thousands of dollars more to buy the extra feed or give away the horses for virtually nothing.
"We are getting calls weekly from families that thought they had a hay supply lined up or that thought this hay shortage was being exaggerated, and now they are entering winter realizing they do not have enough hay to feed their horses," says Karen Waite, Michigan State University 4-H/youth equine specialist. "Economically and emotionally it will be devastating for them."
There are alternatives for these horse families that may help bring more of their horses through the Michigan winter.