NEWBURYPORT — When 32 malnourished miniature horses needed help, the folks at Colby Farm in Newburyport didn't hesitate to lend a hand.
The farm was one of five in the state that produce hay as a commodity that stepped forward with a donation of hay to help the unfortunate equines that were rescued last week from a small farm in West Boylston.
Now, 19 of the horses, which were voluntarily surrendered by their owner, are being treated for malnutrition and other ailments at Nevins Farm in Methuen.
"These guys are all just hams," said Melissa Ghareeb, manager of the MSPCA Equine and Farm Animal Center on Route 28. "They love attention."
Workers with the MSPCA and Animal Rescue League of Boston rescued the horses March 8. Their owner, a veterinarian, was overwhelmed by the number of animals and could not care for them properly. The horses in the poorest health were taken to an Animal Rescue League facility in Dedham. If rescuers hadn't arrived last week, Ghareeb said some of horses might have died.
"There were definitely some very at-risk animals in the group," said Ghareeb.
But the little animals presented a big problem — not enough hay to feed them. Finding good hay this time of year typically isn't easy, and there's even more of a shortage due to 2011 being one of the wettest growing seasons on record. Because of all the moisture from summer storms and the snowfall in October, hay didn't dry properly in the field, according to the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation.
On top of that, not all hay is created equal. First-cut hay tends to be very fibrous and difficult for mini horses to digest, the federation says. Second-cut hay is rich in nutrients and more suitable to their dietary needs.
The Farm Bureau Federation was notified of the situation and reached out to its members for assistance. Within hours, the organization was able to secure donations for an ample amount of hay to nourish the abused animals.
The Colbys — Lisa, William, Scott and Heather — of Colby Farm on Scotland Road were among those contributing the more than 220 bales of hay to aid in the miniature horses' recovery. Farmers from Dunstable, Littleton, Stoughton and Taunton also pitched in. Colby Farm offered 25 bales of the second-cut hay.
"We try to help out whenever we can," Bill Colby said.
At Nevins Farm, the horses are now being fed six small meals of alfalfa each day. They're also being treated for intestinal parasites, lice and skin infections.
Ghareeb expects the horses will stay for several weeks. When healthy enough, they'll then be transferred to outside rescue groups or taken to permanent homes.
"The task is big," Ghareeb said. "But it's definitely made more manageable. We've had a great response from people willing to help.
Heather Robertson, MSPCA community outreach coordinator, said calls, emails and Facebook messages are pouring in from people looking to help the horses. Yesterday, a volunteer farrier stopped by to repair the horses' overgrown and chipped hooves.
"Word is already spreading that they're here," Robertson said. "For some reason, I feel this group of horses has really galvanized the community."
Robertson said it doesn't hurt that the miniature horses are cute.
"I don't think we've had a case where we've had this type of overwhelming response before," Ghareeb added. "It's just incredibly touching."
Donations can be made online at mspca.org/minihorses.