December 28, 2012



Hay is a staple here at The Elephant Sanctuary. While the Girls make full use of their habitat for fresh browse and grazing, hay is a vital part of their diet and healthy nutrition plan, with each Girl receiving about 1 bale of hay per day. And, boy, do they love their hay!  Whether the Girls are eating it, wearing it, or sharing it, hay is used in a variety of ways throughout the seasons. In the summer it is popular among the Asians to wear as sun and bug protection. They are often spotted tossing flakes on their heads and backs, sometimes hitting a specific horsefly with great accuracy, and then wearing the hay around for hours thereafter.
The Africans mainly stick to one use for hay—eating! Flora will typically sift through her hay, picking up clumps and shaking out bites and chew with calm, almost sleepy, eyes. Tange, always one to be ready to be on the move, will typically pack a flake “to-go” by wedging it between her trunk and her tusk, sometimes one on each side, and then leisurely pull bite-sized nibbles with her trunk as she walks around. 

According to Caregivers, Debbie loves hay the most! If she were given 10 bales a day, she would eat them all! She can't have a drink without having hay in her mouth, she can't eat her produce or grain without having hay in her mouth. She sometimes even prefers hay over treats!

On the other hand, Ronnie loves to wear her hay. Before she begins to eat, she will often throw a flake on her back first, saving it for later, and has been known to walk all the way back to her barn from deep in the habitat with hay on her back without losing a single piece. Ronnie also loves to steal hay! She will gather as many flakes as possible before Debbie arrives to her meal. She'll throw one on her back, put one hanging out of her mouth and two in her trunk and walk away with all the hay she can carry! Caregivers have even seen her keep a flake of hay horded in her mouth while she is dusting herself with shavings.
Playful Minnie likes to throw her hay at her Caregivers. During the colder months, when the girls are inside the barn more frequently, Minnie likes to entertain herself and watch her Caregivers duck for cover as she throws hay at them. This is never an aggressive act, it’s really just for her amusement. She creates her own enrichment sometimes!
Frieda is the biggest grazer out of the threesome. She will sometimes choose to graze on the grass rather than eat the hay her Caregivers leave for her. But she does love her hay! She is the first to get to every spot there might be hay. She gets her takings first, leaves the rest for her sisters and then goes off looking for more!
Billie will eat anything, and hay is definitely one of her favorites! She will usually go around to her sisters, Frieda and Liz, and see if she can scavenge for leftovers after a meal. 
Tarra uses hay as an excuse to socialize with her sisters. Being the enthusiastic eater that she is, Tarra will travel around visiting everyone, approaching them back end first, making her trade mark "er-er-er" noise and then settle in with them to share a snack. Shirley, who loves to be outside even when it gets cold, appears to use the calories from the hay to keep herself warm. Throughout the winter Shirley typically gets two full bales a day all to herself.

They all have a unique way of arranging each bite to their suiting. For example, Shirley will pick up a bite and shake off the straggling pieces, then run it through her mouth gently to get out more of the stragglers before eating the now tightly packed bite. Tarra usually doesn't take the time to sort out perfect bites—any bite, as long as it's headed to her mouth, is just perfect!

Some of the girls like to mix their hay with the grain and produce, fixing their preferred recipes. For instance, Misty, Shirley, and Winkie will typically gather a bite of hay along with the sweeter pieces of produce, like bananas. Sissy will sometimes mix the salt we put in their barns with her hay for a more savory flavor. Tange on the other hand, prefers her hay and produce and grain not to touch each other.  If you serve them too close to each other she will move the hay away with a sweep of her trunk.

Tange - wearing hay as a hat!
Tange with her "hay hat"

No matter what time of year, some of the ladies will use hay as decoration.  Dulary is often seen proudly sporting a perfect clump of hay on her head. Lizzie is famous for her love of hats, especially hay hats! She is seen very often with a nice big flake of hay sitting right on top of her head. It amazes Caregivers to watch her throw the flake all the way up onto her head with such perfection, despite her partially paralyzed trunk. Nothing stops Liz from being an elephant. She will even throw her trunk up in the air and grab flakes that she had hidden up high in the branches of trees in her habitat.

Though they have acres and acres of fresh browse and meadows for grazing throughout their habitat – which they use to their hearts content - the Girls still go through at least one bale of hay every single day.  That’s 14 bales of hay multiplied by 365 days a year, totaling over 5,000 bales – now that’s a lot of hay!  And because we buy the highest grade of Timothy hay available, to ensure the best nutrition for our Girls, it costs a lot of dough – over $60,000 a year is needed to purchase and transport our hay. Trucked in and unloaded by staff, one tractor trailer at a time, the staff unloaded 9 tractor trailers full this past year. With each bale weighing around 70lbs, this is a time-consuming and back-breaking job for staff. We managed to catch some video of the Sanctuary staff hard at work unloading the hay trucks this Fall. No matter how fast staff unload it, the Girls are always right behind, making quick use of all the hay they can find.


We recently added a Hay Elevator to our Wish List to help make this job just a little bit easier. What a special New Years treat that would be for the Caregivers and Maintenance staff – and Billie, Frieda, Lizzie, and all the rest of the Girls will appreciate it as well.  They do love their hay!
Click here to make a donation to underwrite part or all of the Hay Elevator.

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