Do you have enough hay to make it until spring? Many Equiery readers are struggling and hay farmers, if they have any left, are pulling out the old, not so great stuff from the way way back of the sheds. Trying to find a source for 30 or 40 good quality round bales is like trying to arrange a drug deal. No one will reveal their sources! So we asked Maryland’s Dean Emeritus for hay, Les Vough.
Why Can’t I find Good Quality Hay and Why Is It So High Priced?
by Les Vough, Forage Crops Extension Specialist Emeritus, University of Maryland
Most market reports indicate that there is a more than adequate supply of hay available throughout most of the country. If that is true, why then are horse owners in the mid-Atlantic area having such difficulty finding horse hay? What the market reports do not take into account is quality – they only look at the amount of hay harvested and in storage on farms. Yes, there is hay out there but most of it is not suitable for the horse hay market.
Last summer was a repeat of several years in a row of difficult hay making weather. Frequent rain in May and early June resulted in a lot of the first cutting hay crop being cut late (thus over mature, stemmy and lower quality), being rained on after cutting, or being both cut late and rained on. Then some areas were dry in July and August, limiting the yields of mid- and late summer cuttings. Some parts of the region experienced cloudy, wet weather in September and October that limited the amount of late summer hay harvested. We went into winter with an abundant supply of lower quality hay (commonly referred to as “cow” hay) but a very limited supply of good quality horse hay.
The abundant supply of lower quality hay and short supply of good quality horse hay is reflected in the auction prices at the Westminster Hay Auction. I have gone back and looked at the weekly prices for the various types of hay since early August. The range in prices for any given type of hay has been quite wide. In one example that I found, timothy ranged from $1.25 to 6.25 per bale on the same sale day. I would say that the lot that sold for $1.25 per bale was likely cut late, had significant rain damage, and may have had some weeds in it as well. The hay grower that got $6.25 per bale cut early, hit a good hay drying window, and was able to put up nice quality horse hay. But the $5.00 range in price indicates to me that there was a limited supply of higher quality hay available and buyer competition for the limited supply of that type of hay drove the price range wider. This wider range than normal in prices has occurred the last 3-4 years due to limited supplies of good quality hay but may be even more prevalent this year.
Hay prices at the Westminster Hay Auction softened some after mid-December and remained that way until the heavier snow falls in mid- and late February, after which prices moved back up again. If March tends to be blustery and cold, that will delay initiation of pasture growth and continue to put more pressure on the hay market and tend to keep prices somewhat higher than normal.
Where can you find hay? Rumors that the Westminster Hay Auction closed after the fire are untrue. The hay auction continues to function. At this top of this article is the link for The Equiery’s Hay & Straw Directory. Some other places that horse owners might look for hay include:
- Internet Hay Exchange
- Carroll County Forage List
- Frederick County Virtual Farmers’ Market
- Harford County Farmers’ Market
Spring is on the way. Let’s hope for both your sake and the hay growers sake we have good hay making weather this year for a change!