Hay at Normandy Farms
By Stan Penton
Ever since my Thacher High School equestrian days, I have continued to receive feedback and stress about hay, its quality and in the end; its price. While I am not a trained “farmer”, I have done a lot of study on this topic and devoted a lot of time and energy towards feed questions over the years. Ten years ago Normandy had veterinary and feed professionals in regularly to discuss feed, horses, body composition and more….. regularly. Our horses never suffered from the attention and infact did VERY well with a barn balanced feed program.
Despite our best efforts, a number of boarders consistently wanted to do there own thing, and that is where the balanced program ended. At that time we had two types of feed pellet, a complete and a senior. Now, the mice grow fat and our new barn cats grow just as fat on mice amongst the 1000’s of pounds of a variety of feeds stored in trash cans. We have thought to discontinue our complete pellet due to lack of interest.
It is time to get back to basics a bit, and you as horse owners play a huge part in this process. We believe your horse should be fed what it takes to keep them in good condition for the amount of work they do. As professionals we have decided to have purely grass hay or purely alfalfa as our forage, and a complete 14% pellet to finish. There are a fair percentage of our borders that do not have a sense of the simplicity of a horse. There are OWNERS are out of control, feeding a wide range of supplements and schemes, and noting upwards of twelve flakes of hay per day on feed charts. We urge you to become well informed. I have never personally believed in a lot of supplements and it shows. There is a stark difference in quantity of supplements and additives on the West side versus the East side of our stable. Our three barn cats concentrate on the West side for obvious reason! I have thought to address this subject many times when low and behold I received a note from a boarder that “…we should have better hay…”; so here I go.
Normandy Farms is obviously a small suburban agricultural operation; we do not have the land nor the resources (i.e. buy 80 acres someplace else) at present to grow the grass hay and alfalfa our boarded animals consume. We have estimated that we would require a minimum of 80 acres farmed to supply just our annual needs. So as most operations we have sought out quality partnerships for this need. It is often better to partner with an expert than to do it yourself.
When we first arrived at Normandy Farms some 14 years ago, hay was brought to the property catch as catch can; purchased by a seemingly endless stream of hay growers with a few bales in the back of the pickup. Over the years we have received hay primarily from Colorado but also Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas. These loads arrived in pick-up trucks, small trailers, box vans, small flat beds, retrievers, and semi with unloaders. In the olden days we stored about a month supply in the hay loft of our old barn. We were naturally concerned with 22 tons of hay and the storage danger it involved, so over the last twelve years or so we have stored only a month to six week supply on property, tarped outside. In really “bad” times we purchased “rebaled” hay, and in “good times” sometimes found a “deal” and loaded up on as many as 3000 bales; a 5-6 month supply tarped on pallets outside. With such large quantities, what may have been a deal may end up in the dumpster as old hay in our climate spoils, bleaches out, or molds. From 1999-2005 we had our huge truck and flatbed, and received our hay from the same farm, with ease and no supply problems.
With the beginning of our most recent drought cycle, we lost this supplier. This is a long story, but we were sad that this relationship ended, as they abruptly could not fulfill our year round needs. Since that time we have received loads small or large from all over, always seeking a consistent supplier for the long term. Almost every load we received has been from a separate individual, supplier, field or state. Much has been of dubious quality and in the process; the hay price has increased 92% to as much as $250 per ton. This price may or may not reflect heavy transportation costs. In short we have been screwed, jerked and abused for about the last three years. We have been part of COD deals straight out of The Sopranos. We have turned loads away and have gone to the feed store for days on end paying retail rather than be at the mercy of unscrupulous dealers and middle men. In short we have not had consistency or hay quality testing.
This past season things appeared to be looking up. We have had enough water, and we began received several loads during this past fall of mountain hay from the North Park, Colorado area. This hay was fine stemmed, of good appearance and barn stored. Randie even conducted hay testing on this hay as we believed we had found a reliable consistent supplier. The hay tested in the 8% CP range, nothing stellar, but something consistent. Alas, for three months we could not get a trucker to deliver from this ranch. They were good guys, bringing small trailers every few weeks, but we have too large a need to be forced to “look” and beg for every bale; will it arrive or not?
That is until we were approached by our long lost farm that supplied us for 1998-2005.
That’s enough history, lets move on the quality.
Crude protein is an important measure of quality. Crude protein is composed of amino acids, nitrogen, and nonprotein nitrogen. Amino acids contain nitrogen and are necessary for the synthesis of body protein in meat, wool and milk. This generally accepted measure of hay quality does not indicate how efficiently the protein will be digested or utilized. Digestible (available) protein is a more realistic measure of forage protein value. In fact, crude protein values for heat- stressed or fermented hay are not always a reliable indicator of available protein. The marketability of heat-stressed hay is impacted more by excessive levels of mold and reduced values of TDN or digestible dry matter (DDM). Current hay sample indicates a 10.4% crude protein, which is a good hay percentage.
Neutral detergent fiber (NDF) contains the total fiber content or cell wall fraction of forage. Chemical components of NDF include cellulose, hemicellulose, legnin and dea-damaged proteins. In general as NDF decreases, potential forage intake (per unit time) increases. NDF is the best overall indicator of feed intake because of a relationship to both digestibility and density of forage. Current hay sample indicates a 64.2%- this is in the prime 4 range.
Acid detergent fiber (ADF) is considered a good indicator of digestibility and contains the same chemical components as NDF except for hemicellulose. Potential digestibility of a forage increases as ADF decreases. Current hay sample indicates a 38.2% this is in the prime 1 range.
Total digestible nutrients (TDN) and net energy (NE) are measures of a feed’s energy value. NE is a more comprehensive measure of energy than TDN. Current hay sample indicates a 59.79 TDN and .61 Mcal/lb NE.
Relative Feed Value ( RFV) is an index that combines potential intake and digestibility into a rapid method to determine feed value. Current hay sample indicates an 86 RFV this is in the prime 4 range.
Calcium and phosphorus content is often important. The National Research Council suggests that dietary Ca:P ratios between 1:1 and 7:1 results in normal performance provided phosphorus consumption meets livestock requirements. Sometimes high levels of calcium must be offset with consumption of adequate phosphorus levels. Current hay sample indicates Calcium is .26 and Phosphorus is .25, a 1:1 ratio.
Forage quality characteristics and standards
In 1998, the USDA Hay Market News Task Force improved uniformity of hay pricing information by adopting a modified version of the American Forage and Grassland Council (AFGC) standards as follows.
Legume or legume- grass hay mix
Standard RFV ADF%
Supreme >180 <27
Premium 150-180 27-30
Good 125-150 30-32
Fair 100-125 32-35
Normandy alfalfa quality is in the supreme range. As we say it is “like dynamite” high protein hay.
As we said earlier last year some of the mountain grass we received looked pretty good, and had only a fair CP%. There are a variety of nuances, hay quality can be too high, too low and sometimes hay is prime for either CP or RFV, but not both. In each case these values also vary by cutting location and cutting itself (1st – 3rd). Grass hay frequently ranges from 6- 13 percent CP again dependent on species, stage of maturity at harvest and nitrogen fertility. Current grass hay sample indicates a 10.2% CP.
Baled hay can be visually inspected to determine maturity at harvest, but an analysis for ADF and NDF is more conclusive evidence of forage quality. In visual inspection the stage of maturity, leaf capture and retention, rain damage, hay color, heat stress damage, mold, texture and weeds are all indicators of quality. As an example, although hay color is a strong clue to environmental conditions during harvest, it is not a reliable measure of either nutrient content or potential hay intake by livestock. Bright green hay usually indicates a rapid cure, no precipitation and minimal exposure to sunlight. Sometimes bright green, well cured, mature hay is lower in feed value than a less mature, slightly weathered or fermented hay. In short great quality hay weathered and browned excessively by precipitation is significantly diminished. Generally, horse hay buyers are more concerned with hay condition and color than with nutrient content.
Normandy Farms (Stan) tries to be concerned with hay condition and color and nutrient content. This has been an almost impossible and all consuming task. We have found that it is best to broadly focus as even horses themselves can be fickle finding one bale/load more palatable than the next. We strive for a good- premium range of grass hay.
Annual testing of our current hay provides us with useful information. This information is positive, indicating that we have met our goal of good- premium range of grass hay. We again have a supplier that has undergone a tremendous irrigation effort, is close at hand; with near 1000 acres in hay producing 85,000 bales per season. Furthermore the hay is always barn stored and can supply our continued annual needs. Overall this can be a happy relationship; we hope can carry on for many years. Perhaps the most important factor is that we have a relationship and history, we personally know the Dad, the Mom, the Son and we have visited the farm many many times. That said, we can always get a few bad bales, a weed, a stick or cow poop and we are constantly on the look out. The big supply picture is much improved, we do not know what price will be paid and ultimately borne by you the owner due to the reduced cropland for hay and the huge transportation cost increases.
We hope that each of you have made it through this information, and will use it to its best benefit. Our goal is the betterment of your horse and its actual nutritional needs, with little waste. We are looking for a vast clean up of the West storage area by way of reduction and elimination. We will be conducting several feed sessions with vet and our feed manufacturer over the next several months. We hope you will participate and be best informed. We also hope to plan a unique familiarization trip and picnic to Longmont for a tour and explanation of haying prior to the 1st cutting in July.
Source: Hay Quality and Marketing in the Rocky Mountain
Front Range and High Plains
University of Wyoming- College of Agriculture
B-1088, Alan M. Gray January 2001