Equine Factor: Hay is for horses

Posted Oct. 07, 2011, at 4:44 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 14, 2011, at 5:24 p.m.
Cassie Elia
Courtesy photo
Cassie Elia

Ask anyone who owns horses and they will tell you that the two biggest worries and expenses involved with keeping them are hay and shavings.

Hay is absolutely necessary in winter. Horses live on hay. Grains and feeds are supplementary to long-stem forage. Horse hay must be clean. free of without weeds, dust, mold, snakes, soda cans, etc.; green, not yellowed or brown; and dry, as wet hay molds and is a fire hazard. It is not easy to find hay that fits all three criteria because of the finickiness of Mother Nature in Maine.

Hay begins with grass which has to have adequate moisture, sun, fertilizer and protection from insects to grow. Then there has to be a span of days that are hot and sunny to allow for cutting, curing and baling of the hay. A farmer who makes hay has to be a scientist, meteorologist and a gambler.

Shavings and sawdust are needed for bedding in stalls. It provides a cushion for lying down. Horses lie down to sleep if they feel safe and comfortable. They can doze standing up, given their subconscious ability to lock their patellas, with rare exception. I owned a horse for many years who was not physically able to lock her patellas. Whenever she fell asleep, like London Bridge, she would fall down. That horse learned some of the most complicated dressage maneuvers but never figured out that she ought to just lie down when she grew sleepy.

Many people are aware of the standing-up-sleeping part, but not the lying down, which leads to phone calls by worried passers-by to horse owners that there is a dead horse in a field. People often are shocked to see a horse flat out in the field, eyes closed and looking, to the untrained eye, like a corpse.

Other than giving horses something to lie down on, stall bedding absorbs urine, making the stall a much more sanitary place to hang out. Stalls have to be cleaned daily, with soiled bedding removed and fresh added. That gets expensive. Shavings and sawdust are commercial byproducts so one would think they would be cheap to buy.

One would be wrong. Like the genius who first bottled water, someone came up with the idea of selling what was left over from lumber sawing. Horse people cringe when they hear of sawdust being used as fill or piled up in the woods to rot. We covet sawdust. We are after shavings and sawdust like gold prospectors — there’s sawdust in them thar lumber yards!

Buying it neatly packaged in bales quickly drains a bank account. Buying a truckload of loose bedding saves a bit, but then it has to be stored somewhere, and not all horse people have a spare storage facility or room in the barn for a dump-truck-size pile of sawdust.

Alternatives are available for bedding. Wood stove pellets, shredded paper, peat moss, straw and chopped corn husk are some of them. Those choices can be hard to come by or much more expensive than run-of-the-mill byproduct.

My hope is that there is a gaggle of woodworkers reading this who have byproduct (or, as we like to call it, gold) in their shops and are needing to get rid of it. To the gaggle: Please get in touch with a local stable or your neighbor who has horses and offer your sawdust. Or, if you are industrious, bag up that waste product and sell it for a buck or two. It’s not going to solve the national debt problem, but it will make some horses and their people very happy.

And if there are any gamblers out there, think about growing us some hay too.

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