Horse rescue groups struggle with hay shortage

BARRINGTON HILLS – Last month, the Hooved Animal Rescue and Protection Society began stockpiling hay in anticipation of a major supply shortage and drastic increase in prices.

But despite those efforts, Donna Ewing, the society’s founder and president, sees a “very, very grim picture.”

Across the country, horse rescue groups are grappling to take in a growing number of animals abandoned or neglected since the recession struck more than four years ago.

The drought conditions throughout the summer have had a significant impact on hay yields, compounding the struggle for horse caretakers.

Last year, Ewing bought hay, used to feed the horses, at $3.50 to $4 a bale. Now, she’s paying an average of $10 a bale, and she expects the price to go up into the $12 to $15 range in a few months.

Already, the society has spent $25,000 on hay. The barn, which can store 12,000 bales of hay, now has only 3,000 bales.

“I desperately need funds to accomplish what needs to be done,” Ewing said. “I’ve got brokers around the country who will work with me if I can afford it.”

“I’m doing the best I can, and if I get more help from the public, I can do much more.”

After the summer’s challenging drought conditions, horse owners and rescue organizations fear that the worst is yet to come this winter.

The Hooved Animal Rescue and Protection Society office, at 331 Old Sutton Road in Barrington Hills, fields phone calls every day from horse owners seeking to give up their horses to the nonprofit rescue, which currently is taking care of 50 animals, including horses and donkeys.

Come winter, the crisis will only get worse, Ewing said.

“[The issue of horse neglect] started way before this, two years ago with people losing their jobs,” she said. “[The price of hay] has absolutely magnified the problem tenfold.”

Leaders and volunteers at Destination Safe Haven Horse Rescue and Retirement in Marengo also feel the pinch.

At the Marengo farm, the “hay situation is bleak,” Destination Safe Haven co-founder Jennifer Finkelman said.

Although the rescue farm, at 1404 Busse Road, has enough space to house more horses, it lacks adequate hay to feed and properly take care of the animals. Soaring hay prices have kept the nonprofit organization from accepting more horses.

“Otherwise we’re no better than the person who’s abandoning them,” Finkelman said. “So donations need to go up or the price of hay needs to go down in order for us to take in as many abandoned horses as we can.”

The drought has taken a toll on crop yields in general, said Dan Volkers, manager of the McHenry County Farm Bureau.

Hog farmers are similarly dealing with increased prices for corn, which is used as feed.

As of Friday, grains futures rose on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Wheat for December delivery rose 17.75 cents to $8.9725 a bushel; December corn rose 2.25 cents to $7.4825 a bushel; December oats rose 2.75 cents to $3.76 a bushel; while November soybeans added 3 cents to $16.2175 a bushel.

“It’s a big topic, in regards to availability and price,” Volkers said. “Both those issues will definitely have an impact on the economy for a pretty significant amount of time.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

To learn more

Visit the following websites to learn more about area horse rescue organizations or to donate funds

Hooved Animal Rescue and Protection Society: www.harpsonline.org

Destination Safe Haven Horse Rescue and Retirement: destinationsafehaven.webs.com

Hooved Animal Humane Society: www.hahs.org

Want to help?

On Sept. 30, Destination Safe Haven will hold an event to raise more money for hay. The “Ride for the Rescue” fundraiser will take place at Rush Creek Conservation Area, 20501 McGuire Road in Harvard. The event, $25 a person, includes dinner provided by Wayne’s Country Market.

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