HORSE owners tend not to be hit as hard by fodder shortages as farmers can be. However, this year concerns have been raised over the shortage of fodder coming into the winter.
There are some steps which are worth considering now before the pressure starts to build.
Start by assessing what stock you have. Do you have the option to sell on horses now rather than keeping them for the winter? Weigh up the costs of what they are worth now and the expense of feeding them for another five or six months. It might make more sense to sell them for slightly less now.
Maximise grass growth by applying fertiliser and removing any surplus grass as bales. Once rain return in high enough quantities, grass growth will get back to normal levels.
The current price of hay and straw is high and it only seems to be going up. It is hard to tell what way the prices will go but it is unlikely they’ll drop. If you can stock up on supplies now it is worth doing. If you are stocking up be sure to have somewhere dry to store fodder, there is no point in buying it to have it get wet and end up being unusable.
Across all of Ireland straw is one of the most sought-after commodities. Supplies are down on previous years and prices are going up. Straw does make very good bedding, however it might not make financial sense to use it this year especially if you are likely to be running the risk that supplies might run out. Other forms of bedding should be considered if you are concerned.
The current price of straw bales is between €20 to €35 for a 4x4 round bale. Average prices at the moment are close to €30 per bale.
If you have the storage space available, getting loose shavings or sawdust in in bulk might be an option for bedding.
In general, being able to buy in bulk, regardless of what type of bedding you are using, will be the most cost effective option.
Water supplies came under strain this summer. Increased demand and decreasing reservoir water levels are likely to cause water pressure to drop. Wells and pumps have also suffered in the dry spell and may require additional attention.
Check for leaks and be conservative with how you use water. Avoid any unnecessary washing and check that all water troughs and drinkers are working correctly and not wasting water. Try to collect rain water where you can or set up a storage tanker.
The dry summer has put increased stress on pumps and their components. Maintaining your pump as well as you can will help its longevity. If you notice that your pump is not operating as normal it may be a sign that there is a leak – check it yourself or get an expert to service your pump.
If you are coming under severe pressure and have run out of options, you can take water from natural watercourses. It is very labour-intensive to take water from river and lakes using a tanker but it is a last resort. Anyone in the unfortunate position of having to do this should be very mindful of the habitats that may be disturbed.
Water should not be taken where there is a known endangered fish habitat. Always leave adequate levels to protect the aquatic habitat and do not clean tankers on or near the river bank.
Consider what you need to do with your horse, have a plan for the year ahead and work out your feeding requirements. If you plan on giving your horse some time off during the winter, you can reduce the amounts of concentrates being feed.
By adding chaff to your horses’ feed you can make sure bulk it up without feeding a high energy feed and with less expense. Take stock of all the feed options available, including roughage, and formulate a plan from there.
Look at what grazing you to which have access. See if you can rest some paddocks while others are in use. If you have a paddock that gets very wet, graze it now while the land is drier and then rest it during the worst of the winter.
Make sure that you give yourself a break. Between the snow over the winter and a very hot summer there has been little time to rest. Put yourself first for a few weeks and enjoy some down time and recharge. If you think it is weighing you down there is help out there, always talk about any issues or worries you might have.
Information and advice contained in this article is taken from the fodder supplement in the Irish Farmers Journal (August 11th edition).