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.