The Equiery welcomes legendary hay man Les Vough to our pages; in print and online. For 34 years, Les served as the Extension forage specialist, first for Oregon State University and later for the University of Maryland. Recently retired, he now serves as a consultant to federal and state agencies. Les will offer his analysis and prognostications of the current and coming hay situation in Maryland.
After moving upward in early October, hay prices have generally remained stable or even moved somewhat higher, especially for the higher quality grass hays. As I have said in previous articles, the supply of high quality hay this year is limited and dwindling with each week that goes by. That is likely the reason that prices for high quality hay, especially grass hays preferred by horse owners, keep rising.
If you want high quality hay but have not yet secured it, do it soon. The sooner you buy hay to meet your needs for the entire winter, the better the selection of higher quality hay available for purchase and the lower the price is likely to be. The longer you delay purchasing hay, the less the amount of high quality hay you will have to select from and the higher the price will be. Although they still have hay in their barns or hay sheds, some hay growers have already committed their entire year’s supply of hay to buyers and are simply storing it for the buyer for later delivery. Some local growers cut off sales a month or more ago.
Fuel prices, freight rates and new trucking regulations have all impacted the amount of hay coming in from other states and Canada. Pennsylvania, New York and Ontario have historically been major sources of hay coming into Maryland, but it has come from as far away as Idaho. Today, where hay comes from is largely determined by how much a buyer is willing to pay, the size of the bale desired (40, 80, 1,000 or 1,400 lb bales) and the size of the load. For the most part, hay from the western states is going to be 3’x3’x7’ ft or 3’x4’x7’ bales weighing 1,000 to 1,400 pounds and in semi-tractor trailer load or railroad boxcar quantities.
Some of the larger, high end farms that can store tractor trailer sized loads are still ordering hay from the western states, despite the economy – especially farms in the south (such as Florida) that won’t feed bermudagrass or other locally grown hay. A lot of the hay going into Florida used to come out of New York and Canada, but it is my understanding that the Florida farms are pulling more and more of their hay out of the western states and have actually put some of the large hay growers in New York (and probably Canada) out of business.
Local prices throughout much of the Midwest and Western States are really quite reasonable. However, depending upon where it is originating, the cost of trucking is probably 2-3 times the cost of the hay.
The Decline of the Racing Industry
Despite the ratcheting back of the racing industries in Maryland (both Standardbred and Thoroughbred), the loss of these farms does not appear to have had a noticeable impact on the local hay market. The larger race operations were often supplied either directly by larger out-of-state (PA, NY, Ontario, etc.) hay growing operations or through broker/dealers. We do not have hay growers in Maryland large enough to supply the larger horse farms and the farm managers are not interested in dealing with 6, 8 or 20 different hay growers to supply their needs. So, I would say that most of those operations got their hay out-of-state and were not impacting the local market to any significant extent. It is the pleasure/sport horse operations and smaller training stables that tend to make up much of the local market.
Mind Your Pastures
Now is the time to be trying to protect your pastures. Having just had 1-2 inches or more of rain in many areas, our pastures are saturated with water and easily damaged by horses’ hooves. Times like this are when it is good to confine horses to the barn or a heavy use area (sometimes referred to as a sacrifice lot) to reduce damage to the pastures. Once the soil surface dries out again the horses can be returned to the pasture. Click here for more information on heavy use or sacrifice lots.
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