Local equine rescue groups are getting a leg up from a national charity to pay for hay, the cost of which has gone from $40 for a round bale to $150 or more.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Tuesday announced grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 for Texas and Oklahoma rescue groups hit hard by this year's extraordinary drought. In the first initiative of its kind, the New York-based group awarded $250,000 in all for the "Hay Bale-Out."
"These grants may mean they don't have to fundraise for that need," said Jacque Schultz, senior director of the society's equine fund.
The society has given grants to equine groups for the past several years, and responded to animal needs in emergencies, such as "boots on the ground after the Joplin tornado," Schultz said. But this is the first time the society has offered assistance on this scale.
"Really, we were responding to the emergency," Schultz said.
Ranch Hand Rescue, of Argyle, received $5,000. Director Bob Williams said his group paid for two semi-tractor trailer loads of hay to be trucked in, in anticipation of the grant.
"We've already given away 11 rounds," Williams said. "Animals are starving out there."
One of the conditions of the grants is to share with the community, where possible, to keep horses at home, Schultz said. She expected that some of the other animal control and humane society grantees would be passing on grant money or hay to their constituents.
The Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas received $10,000 to help feed 80 horses at its equine facility in East Texas, since some of the animals there were rescues, Schultz said.
While the Girl Scouts might not be a typical beneficiary of the society, "we don't want those horses back in a rescue setting either," Schultz said.
When there is little grazing available - which is the case for much of Texas and Oklahoma, in record drought conditions since July - a horse will eat through one round bale per month, according to Hugh Aljoe, of the Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla.
In fact, ranching experts at the Noble Foundation are recommending that livestock owners resist the temptation to turn animals out to graze so that rangelands can recover more quickly next spring, he said.
Climatologists are predicting a drier-than-normal winter, he said, something the region has not seen for a while.
Eddie Baggs, an agent with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service office in Denton County, noted that there is no local hay to be found at any price. Those local producers who were able to get some with the first cutting are keeping it for themselves, he said.
Feed stores are bringing in round bales from as far away as South Dakota and Nebraska, paying $4 a mile for the trucking.
"You can ship cattle for the same price," Baggs said, adding that was why so many ranchers who can have sent their cattle north for grazing.
But that option isn't really available to horse owners.
"They are like you and me - when you cross the Red River, you go looking for a blanket," Baggs said.
A horse that has spent years adapted to a Texas summer can't acclimate to winter the way cattle can, Baggs said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .