---- — HOWELL (AP) — The long summer drought caused a severe hay shortage in Michigan, and prices for the commodity have skyrocketed.
As a result, farmers, rescue groups and private owners are struggling to feed their stocks. They're cutting budgets, turning to outside help and even going out of state to purchase hay.
Cindy Ashley, the barn manager at Horses' Haven, a Howell-based nonprofit group that cares for aged, abused, rescued and neglected animals, said the cost to feed their dozens of horses has nearly doubled since last year.
"It could be back-breaking" if prices rise any higher, Ashley told The Detroit News for a story published Saturday. "It could be a matter of: 'Are we going to continue to go on?' We've been in business since 1995, and we've never seen a year like this." The Michigan State University Extension estimates overall hay yields dropped 15 to 30 percent in the Midwest.
The lower yields forced prices upward. Hay costs $2 to $6 per bale in a normal year, but now is anywhere from $6 to $15, said Don Coe, a managing partner of Black Star Farms in Leelanau County. Coe sits on the Michigan Commission of Agriculture & Rural Development.
Horses need to eat at least 1.5 percent of their body weight in feed daily to function normally, said Dr. Tanja Molby, a veterinarian and president of the Michigan Equine Foundation. For a 1,000-pound horse, that can top 15 to 25 pounds of hay.
Beth Weise and her husband, Paul, run Northern Michigan Horse Rescue and Rehabilitation in Gaylord. They have traveled the state in search of the best deals on hay, but still end up spending $1,000 a month to feed their 18 horses.
The supply goes so fast and the chance of stocking up beyond two months is so low that the Weises have started mixing "extenders" — apples, carrots and bread — in the daily hay to make it last.
"We're not going to let the horses go hungry," Beth Weise said.