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We Are Flying Solo

January 26, 2020

What Happens When Scientists Own Farms

We can't help ourselves.  We do this:

Why yes, that's a box plot of hay consumption from the past six years on Flying Solo Farm.  For the non-scientists, each box represents summary statistics for that month.  The t-shaped lines extending up & down represent maximum & minimum values.  The boxes themselves show the distribution of the data in quartiles (25/50/75 percentiles), with a horizontal line in the middle for the median. 

For example, in May I always have grass, so rarely feed any hay.  That box is very narrow, showing that the range of values over six years is very small (i.e. they're all about the same).  In February, though, generally our nastiest, coldest, most unpredictable month, you can see the long box, indicating there's a wide range of values.  One year I fed 17 bales, one year I fed over 40 bales that month.

I also plotted the deviation from overall average of the last three years.  This interested me because I changed hay suppliers in January of 2019.  The new hay does cost more but it is MUCH nicer & I felt like I was feeding less of it, justifying the cost, but I needed to see the data.  As soon as I plotted it, it was immediately apparent that yes, every single bar after the switch was below the average.  Win!

Some of this is just geek gratification, but I do find that tracking my hay use is VERY helpful in planning how much to buy & whether I need to resupply.  I have a paper planner that I use for everything (work & farm) & I just note for each feeding how much hay I fed.  It's an estimate, such as 0.3 bale.  Then I add up each week in a little chart, which goes into a spreadsheet.  I also include any notes of unusual things, like when Solo was on pen rest for his tendon injury in 2016 & ate up a bunch of my winter hay in fall (which is what is skewing the average up in Aug-Oct).
2019 planner chart of hay nommed
Weight would be a more accurate way to measure it, as the variation in bale sizes does introduce slop in the data, but I just keep that caveat in mind when I interpret the numbers.  Less work.

Those aren't even the only charts I have...     


  1. I deeply appreciate this post and your dedication to the craft ;)

    That’s also a nice advantage of having full control over the process. I have a hard enough time convincing staff to give the appropriate volume of hay, let alone trying to get them to keep a record LOL!

    Related : if you do decide to try reducing noise by feeding hay by weight, you can find hanging fish scales for as little as $10 that hang from ceilings and can easily hook a net

    1. I know those scales well, being fish biologist. :)

    2. lol duh, i shoulda known ;P

    3. LOL, no worries, I don't expect people on the internet to keep tabs on what I do to earn horse food money!

  2. I love this!! I just went to a nutrition talk and the nutritionist really encouraged us to feed a variety of hay types that work for our horses (eg very lush green leafy hay and also clean but stemmy, lower "quality" hay) to give horses choice and encourage lots of fiber consumption for microbie diversity and gut health. It was so fascinating! I'd love to see what consumption of different hay types over different months too. A harder question, though.

    1. Wow, that nutritionist must live in a world with lots of money & storage space, haha - it's not necessarily easy to store multiple types of hay so they are all equally accessible unless you can afford to build a bunch of things.

  3. Ahaha! I love this. It's something I would totally do if I had to buy my own hay. I basically did something similar to break down feed costs month over month to justify moving to a more expensive, but all inclusive, barn. Data science 4 eva!

  4. Replies
    1. Now if only the horses would occasionally bring me dinner...

  5. Since I do not take care of any horses myself, I have to ask the stupid question. How do you decide how much to feed them? Like do you put out two flakes per horse and if it's gone in X number of minutes they must need more? Or is it free choice and you just see how much they ate? I honestly do not know. Thanks for 'splainin!

    1. Not a stupid question, a good question! Technically, you are supposed to base it on weight, with a starting point of feeding 1-2% of the horse's body weight in hay per day for an adult horse to maintain weight. I might do that if, say, I didn't have an actual job or was so wealthy I could afford to hire staff, but this is not my reality.

      I don't always use individual flakes as measurement either because they can vary a lot in size, even within a single bale (although this also depends on the supplier). But generally, with my current very fat flakes of timothy/orchard mix from New York (which is delicious & full of goodness), each horse gets 1-2 flakes with a meal. You want to try to have the majority of the diet be forage. Even in winter, my pastures still have grass to nibble on, even though it's short, so they can pick at that all the time.

      My "gauge" is if they are maintaining their weight. I also will add more when it's very cold (below 30F) so they can keep their bodies warm.

      Keep in mind, I also include alfalfa pellets & hay cubes in their diet to help stretch my hay supply. I add fat sources if needed (like omega plus). In the grand scheme, it is probably cheaper to feed more hay, but acquiring & storing large quantities of hay is not always easy & varies seasonally. I can buy a bag of hay cubes (either tim/alfalfa or straight alfalfa) any day of the year for the same price & store it easily in one of my feed cans.

      Free choice hay is the trendy thing right now, but Solo can demolish a round bale in a week. It would probably be a good thing for Echo, but puts me back at that money/acquisition/storage crunch. Plus I have no way to move round bales & prefer to scatter my piles of hay around the pasture so they keep moving.

      Short answer: it's a long, complex answer. I didn't even include the use of different types of hay.