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September 4, 2023
Aspiring to Green Horsekeeping
By Amanda Renouard
In February of 2020, France went into ‘confinement,’ or you may understand it as ‘lockdown.’ My family and I duly followed the rules and congratulated ourselves on our decision 13 years before to buy a farm in rural Deux Sevres, France, where we live in splendid isolation with our horses at Haras Du Ritz.
Joining us on this journey and along the way has been a growing menagerie of equine friends. We breed dressage horses and, in 2020, we had four foals due in the April. Depending on the sales, we can have up to 25 horses on the farm and for over 10 years we had used big bale haylage as our main energy and fibre source for our brood mares, youngstock and the five or six horses in training and preparation for competition.
Little did we know that green horsekeeping would be a big part of our adventure!
Lockdown and the Pile of Plastic
We have a high-sided trailer that goes on the back of the tractor or pick-up and it was full of plastic. Splendid isolation was and is wonderful, but what in my own small way was I doing to the planet?
Lent arrived and although I am not particularly pious, I always give up something for lent. As a child it was sweets. As an adult, I have given up wine, crisps, alcohol and the least satisfactory -- I once gave up coffee. That was a bad one.
In 2020 I decided to give up plastic.
Making Hay vs Buying Haylage
In our bid to be the modern day ‘Good Lifers,’ when we first arrived at our property in 2008, we made hay and quickly learnt that poor grass is not miraculously made into wonderful, delicious hay. Horses ate some and left the rest.
So, when we started purchasing haylage and realised
1. We could store it outside.
2. The horses ate all of it.
3. Having a very small son shooting bows and arrows into the plastic and piercing it was extremely problematic and expensive.
4. The plastic wrapping was never ending.
My 2020 Lent quest meant I refused to buy any fresh food wrapped in plastic. I stopped using plastic pods for the dishwasher and washing machine and went back to using powder, selecting brands that sold their goods in cardboard.
I started using bars of soap for washing rather than fancy liquid soap packaged in plastic and I can promise you washing horses’ tails with bars of soap is challenging to say the least. The most annoying item served in plastic: have you found horse supplements that are not sold in plastic?
Plastic Out To Pasture
So in 2020 we stopped buying plastic-packaged haylage and went back to growing our own hay. That 2020/21 winter was tough. Some horses were happy on the homegrown hay that I admit was much better due to 10-plus years of grass land management by us.
But we still had some that were not tolerant to the dust and tiny fractures of grass that float about as you open a big bale. A livery arrived with the Haygain HG 600 Hay Steamer machine and I realised this was a game changer.
I quickly started to do my research. Not only did the science benefits start to stack up, I appreciated how much less mess and, therefore, less labour was involved when using a steamer rather than soaking hay. Added to which my ‘green’ quest felt justified as I read up on the statistics:
Soaking hay uses between 60 -100 litre of water, Haygain uses 4.5 litres of water, and a steam cycle takes 60 minutes, and the kilowatt of the boiler are similar to the kilowatt consumption required by the boiler per steam cycle. E.g., HG PB boiler with 2.3 kW needs 2.3 kW per hour. (I am still consulting with solar panel companies to go off grid)
Soaking hay means lots of water -- stinking water -- that you throw away after every soak. That water can contain more contaminants and filth than raw sewage. It basically means that soaking hay can be very hard on the environment.
It was hard on my hands, hard on my clothes, and the horses still coughed and did not rush to eat their forage in the mornings.
Steaming hay means up to 99% of mould dust and other allergens are removed. Steaming hay can reduce the risk of colic. It also increases moisture content by up to three times, which supports digestive health. We all know a healthy gut is a healthy horse.
The increase in moisture was a massive boost, I write this in January 2023. It’s threatening snow and the wind chill is enough to make me hibernate. But our glorious French summers since arriving in 2008 are get hotter and drier. The grass burns off and I am always paranoid about the horses getting dehydrated or having compaction issues. I start feeding sloppy mashed feeds so I love the fact the steamed hay gives the horses something moist to munch on.
Adding More Steam…
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