The price of a bale of hay out here in Southern California is getting absurd. In a little over one year the price has skyrocketed from about $11.95 a bale to over $20. One of the reasons is that some of the hay growers in our state have opted to sell their water rights to other farmers. Right now that manuever is more profitable than keeping their water allotment to irrigate their own fields. Add to that gasoline prices for transporting the hay to the feed store. As my friend Linda says (she owns one of the largest feed stores in town), "There are so many horses for sale right now because people can't afford to feed them."
A look at the bulletin board in Linda's feed store verifies that fact. It's plastered with ads and snapshots of family type recreational horses. Few of them are remarkable in their beauty or conformation, but they all appear well-loved and sweet-tempered. Prices range from several thousand dollars to open ended comments like, "Must Sell/Please Make Offer." The saddest cases? Pretty young yearlings and unbroke two-year-olds that were hand-raised in someone's backyard. Now, without money to pay the mortgage-- we have countless homes in foreclosure around here-- there's even less money to pay for training. And $20 a bale for hay? Forget it.
From my viewpoint, the high cost of feed becomes even more infuriating when the gourmet "meal in a bale" includes more than I bargained for. For example, few things irk me more than getting halfway into a bale and discovering some kind of artifact that makes the rest of the bale unfit for equine consumption. I'm not just talking about clumps of suspicious weeds but also about bizarre things like clothing (I found a stained man's t-shirt once) and dearly departed dead animals. You can read about the dangers that might lurk within a bale of hay in this Horse Channel article:
"Hay! What a Surprise!"
The botulism poisoning mentioned in the article is a real concern to horse owners. It was only a couple of years ago that a number of horses at several Southern California boarding stables died of botulism toxicity. The culprit? Alfalfa hay cubes that were all milled at one particular company. Turned out that squirrels had been "incorporated" into several batches of the cubes. The horses ate the cubes and were infected with Type C botulism. That's why any bits of animal hair or even feathers should serve as an alarm to toss out any remaining hay in a particular bale. It's simply not worth the risk.
Anytime I find something unusual in a bale, I return it to the feedstore for another, less exciting one. I can't blame the feedstore owner or even the young guys who load the bales onto the delivery truck. Much of the time the hidden treasures are so compacted within the flakes that they aren't revealed until feeding time. Maybe my diligence at dinner time is why I usually come in from feeding with a dusting of alfalfa and orchard grass all over my clothes. My husband makes me brush myself off with a whisk broom that's kept stationed at the back door. Ah, the troubles we go to in order to keep our horses healthy!
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