Buying Jethro's dinner, several months at a time.
After Jethro worried the last little bristles of grass in our drought-parched fields down to bare earth the first autumn he was here, I realized he would never be able to survive on browsing alone.
For a greenhorn like me, buying hay is an anxious affair. There are certain kinds of hay a donkey shouldn't eat - alfalfa, or soy, or clover, for instance, or any hay advertised as "high quality horse hay" - all these things have too much protein and soy could kill him! (I found that out from the guy who sold me the fixin's for our electric fence - he inadvertently killed his donkeys that way.)
There is the additional problem that Jethro's quite picky. I thought donkeys were supposed to like thistles and weeds, and Jethro will eat some weeds with relish (crabgrass is his special favorite) - but watch him sniffing around with that big nose, delicately pulling out strands of preferred fescue from between weeds which I will later have to weedwhack down because he eschews them - now, that's annoying.
I bought his first load of hay before he ever arrived, from Tara at Stonehenge Farms. It was very expensive, timothy hay at $9 a bale, because it had come from up north - the drought around here had caused most of the hay fields to fail. Tara and her husband delivered a huge load and we stacked it in my shed. I felt lucky to have it.
The next spring, I tried some local hay - it was advertised as "oat hay" but it turned out to be mostly straw, or as they say around here, it was "stemmy." It was "first cut." I didn't know till I got a donkey that the spring grass is not very nutritious. It's the "second cut" that everybody waits for.
Sadly, because the first load had been such a hit, I just bought this oat hay sight unseen and the guy arrived with it and unloaded it, and then I suffered with Jethro through sorry months - he didn't care for it and day after day nosed through it dejectedly, trying to find the bits that were up to his standards. I had 62 bales! I gave him more and more at each meal and took the rejected bits away and put them on the garden or in the hen house.
The third time I bought hay was from Frankye Brooks, in December of 2008. Ezra and I had been to a "natural horsemanship" workshop at her place, and found out she had a whole lot of hay her horses wouldn't eat.
After my bad experience with the oat hay, I bought one bale from her and took it home for a Jethro taste-test. Jackpot! It was his favorite hay ever! I asked her what it was, all she could tell me was, "mixed meadow grass from up north." I stocked up and it lasted till just about - now.
Probably I'll never find it again.
Recently I started shopping for new hay. Ezra points out, it's sort of like our recent experiences testing wedding cake - except if you were buying cake that you would eat morning and night, almost exclusively, for several months...
On the North Carolina Department of Agriculture's Hay Alert page I found Roger Tate and drove out to his farm. The first bale we (Jethro and I) tried was, well I heard Roger to say "steamy" and thought he meant it had been harvested after the rain, but what he really said was "stemmy" and Jethro gave it the thumbs-down (so to speak), again sadly nosing through it to find the good bits.
Roger told me that a couple days later he'd be cutting orchard grass, and suggested I go out there at 8 this morning. Well, I negotiated for noon instead and came home with 18 (that's as many as I can get on my little truck) lovely fragrant bales of "leafy" (that's the good kind) orchard grass hay which Jethro dove into nose-first with a snort of contentment.
Roger has 18 more bales and I hope to go get them on Monday. Maybe I'll ask if I can have a look at his chicken houses, where he has 40,000 chickens!
And this is the sort of adventure you don't get to have if your pet is a cat or a dog.