By KEVIN WALKER
CADILLAC, Mich. — An extension educator at Michigan State University is hoping beef farmers might do a little extra this year to help out struggling horse owners.
The problem is the lack of affordable hay and an outright lack of supply because of the drought last summer. MSU extension grazing and crop management educator Jerry Lindquist is hoping to get beef farmers to use more cornstalks for cattle and sell some hay to horse owners, whose animals cannot safely eat cornstalks. “Many people that planned ahead and knew this was coming think they have enough to make it through, but others just sort of put things off,” Lindquist said.
He said cornstalks have enough energy for a beef cow, if they don’t have a calf. “All the beef farmer needs is a small amount of additional protein to keep that cow nutritionally balanced,” he said. “They can utilize cornstalks; a horse cannot.
“Horses need something that’s easier to digest. As a university we’re not going to recommend that horses be fed cornstalks. Horse owners cannot afford these extremely high hay prices.”
Lindquist said cornstalks are plentiful and a gestating beef cow will readily eat and do well on them for the first two trimesters of her pregnancy, as long as one-third of the ration is still hay. He stated there’s still time to bale or graze many cornstalks.
“There’s a dollar to be made for beef farmers to sell their hay to horse farmers and use their cornstalks to feed their cattle,” he said. “For some beef farmers there’s apprehension about feeding cornstalks to cattle if they haven’t done it before. We’ve had a number of farms bale stalks of corn in March and April and feed them to beef cattle; cows, especially.”
Lindquist went on to calculate that at a price margin of $70 per ton for cornstalks and $175 per ton for clean, non-weathered first-cutting hay, a beef farm can profit even after baling, hauling and all loading costs are figured in.
He estimates a profit of about $25-$30 per round bale of hay sold. His estimates assume the beef farmer uses 25 percent more stalk bales weighing the same as the hay bales that were sold, because cows routinely use only 75-80 percent of the fodder in a stalk bale.
He said the beef farmer is making a little extra money, plus helping a horse owner by making more hay available at a reasonable price. In this scenario the hay price would be $4 per small square bale or $80 per large round bale.
Although the farmer can sell the hay for more, Lindquist hopes they will sell it for less in an effort to help neighbors. He said this feeding regimen will work because beef cows are routinely fed more hay in the winter than they need to meet their nutritional requirements.
“We’re trying to find logical solutions for some of these people,” Lindquist added. “There is no place to market horses right now. Some veterinarians have already started to put horses down because there isn’t enough feed for them.”
Tom Guthrie, an extension equine education specialist based in Jackson County, suggested feeding horses more straw than usual, since straw is less than half the price of hay in Michigan. He said if it’s fed carefully with high-quality hay and a complete horse grain feed, up to 25 percent of the diet can be straw.
Guthrie said it’s a matter of cost, as well as stretching the farmer’s supply of high-quality grain. “Horse owners are pretty concerned about this,” he said. “I’ve fielded several calls from across the state about this.”
Karen Waite, MSU 4-H/youth equine specialist, said there are some segments of the horse industry that are “really doing fine.” Those tend to be professionals who have planned ahead. She said it’s more the “backyard horse owners” that didn’t plan ahead and are now hurting for feed. It also may depend on where the horse owner lives. Generally, the southwestern part of Michigan was hit the hardest by drought, but she’s talked with people from other areas that also worried about having enough feed.
“Some people with older horses are making the decision not to keep their horses through the winter,” she stated.
She said horses eat about 20 pounds of forage per day. At $8-$10 for a 50-pound square bale of grass-alfalfa mix, the cost adds up fast. She said a person with only a few horses usually can’t handle the cheaper round bales, either.
She estimates the cost to have a horse euthanized and incinerated at $400-$600.