The BC SPCA and some Langley horse owners are sounding the alarm about difficult times in the equine community as a result of skyrocketing hay prices.
Last summer’s drought has led to a shortage of available local hay, with farmers and livestock owners having to buy outsourced bales at nearly double the cost.
“I’ve heard of some people selling their horses and others not feeding their animals as much this winter,” said Langley hobby farmer and horse rescuer Teresa Townsley, owner of Festine Lente Farm. She is also a member of the Horse Council of B.C.
Townsley said online forums have been lighting up with the concerns about feed costs.
“The situation is really bad and going to get worse,” she said.
“A bale of hay should cost about $8 to $10, but now is $18 to $24. It’s having a huge impact.”
A thoroughbread horse can eat a bale a day, she said.
Marcie Moriarty, BC SPCA manager of animal cruelty investigations, said the agency has never before had as many horses in its care.
“The availability and pricing of hay has been on our minds a lot lately. We know there are more cruelty investigations when this occurs,” said Moriarty.
She said there is already equine winter starvation syndrome to be concerned with.
“With colder temperatures, it takes horses more energy to maintain their body temperature, which means they are burning more calories so they actually need to eat more in winter.
“A horse with a body score index of below three requires intervention by us. Ideally, we want to see four or five.”
Moriarty said dealing with horse welfare in B.C. is a co-operative effort and only in extreme cases do they seize horses and recommend cruelty charges. But as with all rescue organizations, the SPCA is hoping that the horse community will help out neighbours in need.
Townsley agrees with that sentiment.
“Don’t be too proud to ask for help,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to help feed a horse now than to rehab one that is malnourished.”
Townsley keeps one stall open for horses in need of help.
She works with the veterinarian medical association to provide specialized care for extreme cases of animal abuse and neglect.
She has kept Harry, who arrived at her barn three years ago so malnourished and badly treated that she estimates he was two days from death.
“The trauma (had) left him hairless when he arrived with us. He was only 750 pounds. A normal horse should be 1,300 pounds.”
The horse’s lower jaw didn’t develop properly because he was never given the opportunity to stretch it out to eat grass. This makes him harder to feed and has resulted in dental issues.
Townsley said Harry is part of the family now and is “really sweet, a nice guy.”
It isn’t just horses that rely on hay; goats, alpacas, cows and sheep do as well.
Townsley said this crisis should show everyone how important food security is and how important it is to keep agricultural land in Langley.
“I live on 16 Avenue, near a lot of those beautiful rolling grass lawns people drive by. But what people don’t realize is those are actually meant for food. That grass is our hay fields.
“With 16 Avenue being expanded, some of those precious fields may be expropriated.”
Kelly Coughlin with the Horse Council said hay prices have been increasing for years and it depends on who you talk to about whether there is a hay shortage or not.
Otter Co-op feed wholesale manager Brad Hannah said there is a shortage of local grass, so it does become an issue of supply and demand.
“Maybe a few stores have some, but not many.
It’s going to be really slim pickings come March.
“The first local cut of grass isn’t until June so it depends on how much you had stored over winter for availability,” he said.
At Otter Co-op, they offer concentrates and grain-free feeds to complement the hay.
Hannah also does hay analysis to make sure a horse is getting the right kind of hay, with the right balance of sugars and fibre.
The BC SPCA said it encourages Langley residents to call or email them if they have concerns about a horse’s welfare.
They also encourage people to view the horses they currently have up for adoption.
“Horses add great value to people’s lives. We have some amazing horses looking for forever homes,” said Moriarty.