The horses at Free Spirit Sanctuary have all been spared from neglect or slaughter. Some of the animals at the property northwest of Cochrane were rescued from wild horse culls and others have come from cash-strapped owners.
“The auction was heartbreaking when you go there and you see people can’t keep their horses,” said Dr. Sandie Hucal, founder of Free Spirit Sanctuary.
Hucal wonders how she’ll get enough hay to get these horses through the winter. Normally, the herd would have grazed on the pasture into October, but the drought depleted food sources by August.
“Not only is the hay way more expensive than last year, but we’ve had to start feeding weeks earlier than we normally do,” Hucal said.
Hay that was once $80 a bale is now going for around double the price. To make matters worse, a supply Hucal was supposed to get from a Bowden-area farmer fell victim to the dry conditions.
“The farmer said it wouldn’t have been worth the gas to try and harvest what grew in his area,” Hucal said. “So he didn’t make any bales.”
Many ranchers are taking cows they can’t afford to feed to market. There’s more hay in northern Alberta, but the delivery costs make it a pricey option.
“It’s been a tough year,” said Charlie Christie, chair of Alberta Beef Producers. “Our supplies have been less than half in this area. Some areas to the north are extremely good. Some cattle will move up there to feed but that adds a huge cost to your feed.”
Hucal is scouring websites for deals on hay and ramping up fundraising efforts. She’s determined to see her horses fed but worries others might not be so lucky.
“I can’t even imagine what’s happening this fall,” Hucal said. “I can’t think about it too much. Horses that probably have loving homes and people can’t afford to feed them.”
Contributions to Free Spirit Sanctuary can be made online.