Hay is for Horses – Local Businesses Help each Other

May’s “Down on the Farm” article by Liz Barbour

Ask anyone to define “local agriculture” and they’re likely to suggest “row crops” or “orchards” and consider the question answered.   While both responses are correct, they only partly define our local agriculture.  For example, although Hollis was once home to several dairy farms, it now has far more horses than cows.   And, horse owners depend upon the local hay businesses to provide a source of feed that is grown locally and delivered directly to their barns.  This combination of equestrian and hay businesses is a big part of “local agriculture”, and plays an important role in the local economic value of agriculture and the maintenance of much of our open land.

To get a sense for the private ownership of horses and the business of horse farms in your local area, do a quick search on Google.  If you did this for Hollis, for example, you would find listings of five established horse riding businesses (though there are certainly more in Hollis and in the greater-Nashua area).  These facilities offer lessons, trail riding, and summer camp programs for area children.   Many provide boarding and horse leasing opportunities if horse ownership is not an option.  With so many opportunities for riding, local horse farms can cater to any level of horse riding experience.

Many riders belong to local equestrian clubs as a way of improving their skills and meeting other riders.  The Hollis Area Equestrians is a non-profit group that offers area equestrians organized riding events, participates in charitable riding programs, and maintains Hollis’s town riding rink.

One of the more charming scenes to encounter while driving is a horse and rider traveling along the side of a shaded road.  Horses travel on the same side of the road as a car, and space can be tight for both.  So, you should always slow down and move out away from the horse and rider, just as you would when passing a bike rider.  According to Stacey Bongiorno Ux, owner of “All in Stride Farm” in Hollis, “It is best to be cautious.  Horses can spook easily and can jump in front of a car if they are frightened.  Drivers should slow down when approaching and wait for the rider to wave them by.”   Rather than feeling inconvenienced by the slowing down and sharing the roads with horses, it is good remember that rural scenes like this help identify a community thru the tranquility of its open fields and farm settings.  And, equestrian businesses provide economic support of conservation land, open spaces, and farm land.

As any horse owner will tell you, the cost of owning a horse can be significant, and managing and maintaining a healthy horse requires a strong base of local horse-related businesses.  Feed stores, tack shops, fence suppliers, equine veterinarians, farriers, and builders specializing in barn construction are all needed by a horse owner.  Larger horse farms often employ local instructors, stable hands, and trucking companies to haul manure off the property.

Just as the horse farms depend upon these supporting businesses, they are often their main source of income.  This is especially true for the local hay farmers.   Leigh Kettaneh, who owns and operates Sports Nature Riding & Recreation Center in Hollis, is a great supporter of the relationships of local business that surround horse ownership. “I buy my hay locally,” she says and makes the point that “…agricultural businesses need the support of everyone if we hope to keep Hollis a rural community”.

Rural communities are often defined by large open spaces, and cultivated farmland offers some of the greatest expanses of open space.  But much of the open space we see is privately owned, and maintaining these open fields can be costly.   A previous “Down on the Farm” column talked about the partnership between agricultural businesses and local landowners.  In this arrangement, landowners allow local agricultural businesses to use their land in exchange for the land’s maintenance and upkeep. The beauty of this arrangement is that the private landowners can afford to keep their land while providing inexpensive access to land for farmers, meanwhile supporting the open space and rural character goals of the community.

There may be no better example of this than hay farming.  In addition to being a local source of feed for horses and other livestock, hay is a desirable option for environmentally conscious landowners.  As a sustainable crop, hay only requires reseeding and occasional fertilizing, and pesticides are rarely used.  And, the fields can be cut 2-3 times during the summer, thereby keeping the space maintained for the landowner.

According to Steve Jambard of Maple-Jam Enterprises, a hay supplier in Hollis, the old-fashioned barter system still exists today between landowners and hay farmers.   “I barter with many of my customers by trading cords of wood, plowing, and other services in exchange for the mowing of their fields.  They like the manicured look of the open field, and I bale the hay and sell it to local horse, alpaca, and beef farms.”

In summary, the interdependence of the hay farmers and the horse owners is vital to the continued strength of agriculture in our communities, while contributing, along with the support by local residents and landowners, to the maintenance of our open spaces.

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