Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Bellwether Hay Bales

(post by Jason) Every year in late October or early November depending on the pasture situation I put the first couple of large hay bales of the season in our mare and pony pasture. This is our bellwether group and for whatever reason it is completely pointless to put hay out anywhere else until the mares and ponies are up and at it.

The ritual is always the same. For the first few minutes after the bale is out they all jockey for position and eat hay like they have never had a meal before in their lives. After a few minutes of eating like complete pigs they slowly begin drifting away. Within an hour everybody has gone back to eating grass and they have apparently completely forgotten about the bales. Over the next several days I will see one or more horses nibbling at the hay but mostly the bales just sit there uneaten. Until one day it looks like literally overnight the bales have been more or less completely devoured. That's my signal that no matter how much grass remains in any of the pastures....and in a couple of them it is literally still knee deep right now.....it's time to put out hay for everyone else. This year that day came yesterday and I spent a couple of hours putting hay feeders back in all the pastures before filling them with hay.

How much hay the horses consume is heavily weather dependent. Right now they aren't eating very much. Typically during December, January and February our average 24 hour temperature teeters right on the edge of dormancy for cool season grasses. As such when the weather is cooler than average we go through several short periods of semi-dormancy and when the weather is milder we go through several periods when cool season grasses will actively grow. At the extreme end of the scale if the ground is snow covered and if it's cold enough for the snow to last a few days we can go through four thousand pounds of hay a day. Fortunately we don't have very many of those days. More typically we feed between fifteen and thirty large bales per week depending on how much the grass is/is not available for winter grazing. The bales have an average weight of 500-600 lbs.

Now that the bellwether bales have been eaten and all the pastures have hay we'll have to switch to "winter chore" mode. This means that in addition to keeping horse clothing nearby and available we will have to keep our eyes on the state of the hay feeders in every pasture every day. It's the rural version of "As the World Turns" minus the intrigue and (thankfully) most of the drama.


Lightening, Thor, Fabrizzio, Noble and Walden enjoying a beautiful fall day

B-Rad, Lighty and Darby

Sam, Johnny and Chili 

Oskar and Rampal

Lotus, Silver and Titan

George and Asterik

Snappy and Silky

Zeus and Winston having some early morning playtime

1 comment:

RuckusButt said...

Interesting! Is it because the nutrition content changes that the mare/pony group will eat the bale rather than the grass which is still plentiful? I swear if barns around here paid more attention to pasture maintenance they wouldn't go through as much hay in the summer/early fall months. I can't even conceive of how much four thousand pounds of hay is!