Hay is a costly expense that cannot be avoided if you own a horse. Paying for hay year after year can quickly cost you and your wallet. If you want to control your horse’s hay needs yourself, you might consider growing your own.
Of course, growing hay is not something to be approached suddenly. It does take some knowledge and expertise, which is why we created this article on the best tips and tricks for growing quality hay for your horse.
To find out how to grow high-quality hay for your horse, read on. We’ll give you two different planting options, as well as provide tips for planting, harvesting, storing and feeding hay. Let’s dig right into growing your own hay for your horse.
Choose Your Soil: Renovate or Seed Your Own
If you are thinking of growing hay for your horse, it means that you have access to a fairly large area of land. You will usually find yourself in one of two scenarios: you have an old hay field that has not been used for a long time or you have land that has never been used for hay.
If your land used to be a hay field, you may just want to renovate the land. Otherwise, you may have to go through the trouble of sowing the soil yourself. Let’s learn more about both cases below.
1. Land Renovation
If your property used to have hay fields, you may be able to restore the fields without completely starting over. Often, retaining the solid layer that forms can help with erosion problems, making them the preferred choice. At the same time, overgrown fields usually have a high number of weeds, making it difficult to obtain high-quality hay.
To get rid of weeds without sacrificing the quality of the hay, you must start by mowing the grass consistently. When you mow frequently, grass grows back faster than weeds and prevents weeds from reaching maturity. This will cause the root system of the weed to rot and die. At the same time, the hay and soil will remain nutrient-rich.
2. Your Seed
If your field has never been used for growing hay before or there are too many weeds to deal with, you will need to start over. Start by choosing the type of hay you want to plant. The three most popular types of hay for horses are Alfalfa, Timothy, and Bermudagrass.
Alfalfa hay is very high in protein, offering plenty of minerals and energy for your horse. If your horse is inactive, this may be too much energy for them, causing them to gain weight quickly. On the other hand, Timothy hay and Bermudagrass hay are lower in protein but less calorie dense. This is a great choice for horses that eat out of boredom, but may not be enough for working horses.
Once you’ve decided what type of hay you want to plant, you need to prepare the soil. If you just revitalize the hay field, the soil will be of just the right quality. When starting from scratch, you will need to test the soil to learn its acidity.
Depending on the type of hay you choose, you will have to shoot for different levels of acidity. For example, Timothy hay should have a pH of 5.5 to 7, while Bermuda grass should have a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Alfalfa has the highest level of acidity, ranking between 6.5 and 7.5.
You can increase the acidity of the soil by adding lime six months before the seeding process begins. Be sure to maintain nitrogen levels and continue to test the soil to rule out any guesswork. Make any changes you deem necessary.
The time of year you should plant your hay depends on where you live. We recommend talking to locals in your area to get the best insight into your hay field. You can never find something that answers as accurately as you ask a seasoned local.
Depending on where you live, you may want to start planting hay in late fall or summer. The time of year can also fall between the seasons. Again, just ask an expert who lives near you and they will be happy to help.
Whenever you plant seeds, don’t plant them too deep. If you plant them too deep, they may not germinate. Forage should only be planted inches or inches deep. In fact, it’s okay for some seeds to be on the surface. You may find a seeder to help.
With your seeds in the ground, wait and see until harvest time!
How to Harvest
Like any other crop, the timing of the hay harvest depends on the hay you choose. For best results, cut your hay before it reaches full maturity. This straw will have more leaves and more nutritional value. Of course, it’s okay to feed your horse hay that’s fully ripe. Just wish the hay would be more stemmed, have fewer leaves, and have less nutrients.
Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time to go into detail on the complex topic of harvesting. Instead, here is an overview of the four steps to harvesting hay properly:
Cut: The harvesting process starts with cutting the hay. Use a tractor and lawn mower to cut the grass a few inches above the ground.
Dry: Dry hay using sunlight and low humidity. This will remove the moisture, turning the green leaves into crunchy hay. Use hay tedder to spread the hay more, making the drying process faster.
Rake: Return to the field with your tractor and rake. This will turn the straw over, allowing the other side to dry as well. It also creates windrows which make the baling process go faster.
Bale: Use a tractor and a window baler to compress dry hay into tight bales.
Storing and Feeding
Once you have successfully harvested the hay, all you have to do now is save it and give it to your horse. Even if the hard work is done, you can’t neglect saving your hay, or you can waste all that time and energy. Storing the wrong hay can cause it to become moldy and inedible.
Wherever you store hay, make sure it is protected from snow and rain. It also needs to be well ventilated so it can continue to dry. Often, it takes weeks if not months to dry completely. You’ll also want to keep the hay safe from critters looking to build nests out of hay.
Once the hay is completely dry, you can start feeding your horse as needed.
Growing quality hay for your horse can help you save money on his diet, but it takes a lot of hard work and effort. Whether you’re starting from scratch or revitalizing an old hay field, expect to put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into your horse’s hay.
Don’t despair during the process. As with any other gardening option, growing hay takes a lot of time and experience to get it right. Whenever you get discouraged, imagine how happy your horse will be with the delicious and nutritious hay you’ve grown yourself!
Featured Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay