“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” -Martin Luther King
It’s February in Virginia. And while it has been an unusually balmy season so far, it is still the middle of winter and not a a time of year when most Southside Virginia horses have abundant grass to eat. We began feeding hay back in October, as the grass began to die back. We bale square bales, because they are easier for us to store and manage.
If hay is of good quality and stored well, round bales can be economical. If you use them, you’ll need to consider how to keep them up out of the weather, so that your horses are getting a clean, nutritious food. But in addition, herd dynamics need to be considered carefully. What often happens in even small herds is that the alpha horses will plant themselves in front of the bales and not allow the more submissive horses to eat. The fat get fatter and the thin get thinner. In our travels, we often drive past small groups that contain one chubby horse standing next to the bale and thinner horses standing at a distance looking wistful- and hungry.
To avoid this problem, hay should be spread in individual piles, with plenty of room between them. The general rule of thumb is to put out one more pile than you have horses. We discarded that notion years ago because if you have one really bad actor, hay time can still become a time of anxiety and herd tension if everyone continues to make scary faces at each other and trade positions. We prefer a more harmonious existence and we think our horses do, too. So we we put out many more small piles to give everyone room to breathe and relax. We don’t use more hay, we just create more piles.
In the photo above, the White Bird Hay Spreading Team (Tom and Kate) demonstrates.