"Feeding straw as a substitute for a portion of the hay in a horse's diet is one alternative," says Tom Guthrie, Michigan State University Extension
equine education specialist. "Straw is less than half the price of hay across Michigan, and if it's fed carefully with some quality hay still being fed along with a complete horse grain feed, up to 25% of the diet can be straw."
"Another creative idea is to ask the local beef farmer to come to the rescue," says Jerry Lindquist, MSU Extension grazing and crop management educator. "We have an abundant supply of cornstalks in the state that the gestating beef cow will readily consume and do well on for the first two trimesters of her pregnancy as long as one-third of the ration is still hay. There is still time to bale or graze a lot of cornstalks, and if that feed supply is fed, extra hay could be freed up and made available for sale.
"At the price margin of $70 per ton for cornstalks and $175 per ton for clean, non-weathered, first-cutting hay, the beef farm will profit even after baling, hauling and all loading costs are figured in—around $25 to $30 per round bale of hay sold," he estimates.
His estimates factor in buying 25% more stalk bales weighing the same as the hay bales that were sold because cows routinely utilize only 75 to 80% of the fodder in a stalk bale. Still the beef farm is making some extra profit by shuffling its feed resources, and farmers are potentially making new friends or cementing old friendships by providing a hay resource to horse owners. In this example, the hay price would be $4 per small square bale or $80 per large round bale.
"These beef farms can charge more, the market is higher," Lindquist notes, "but if they can sell locally for a decent profit and it maintains more of the animal industry and infrastructure in their community, maybe the decent profit is enough," he concludes.
The reasons this works nutritionally is that most beef cows are routinely fed hay in the winter that is above their nutritional requirements. Cornstalks with a little protein, which in this example is the protein in the hay, will grow the calf embryo and maintain the cow's body condition. Cornstalks are still a good value in this Michigan market, and the current price spread between them and the high demand for hay makes it work economically. It is a win/win for both parties.
For more information, contact MSU Extension grazing educator Jerry Lindquist at 231-832-6139.