Hay availability low, prices high

Jan 20, 2012

Winter feeding and the headache of procuring hay is here. And if you’re looking for hay in the droughtstricken Southwest, it’s probably more like a migraine. With the hardships faced by many states in the western half of the country and the increased demand for hay during the winter months, resources are stretched thin and costs are up accordingly.

Data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service shows that the December 2011 hay stocks were down in most of the western states as compared to December 2010 numbers. Texas was the heaviest hit, with 60 percent less hay in 2011 than in 2010, this due to the extensive droughts and wildfires from this summer and fall. Other southwestern states whose hay stocks were hit hard in 2011 were Oklahoma, with 38 percent less hay than in 2010, and Arizona, down 34 percent.

Many other western states had reduced hay stocks in 2011, though not to the extent of the states facing droughts with their losses ranging from 9 to 24 percent. A small handful of western states, such as the Dakotas, New Mexico and Oregon, escaped the issue of depressed hay stocks. Utah was noteworthy for its 35 percent increase in hay in 2011 versus 2010.

Recent USDA market reports for hay in Texas show some qualities of hay—good to supreme small square alfalfa—being so scarce as to have no pricing data all over the state. Large bales or large rounds of grass hay sold, delivered, for as much as $270 (large round of prairie grass hay in the Panhandle).

Last month’s hay auctions in Fort Collins, CO, show a similar predicament. Small square, third-cut alfalfa was available, but selling for upwards of $450 per ton. Grass hay ranged in price from $131 per ton of 3-foot square, 839-pound (lb.) bales to $372 per ton of small, square, 47lb. bales. Other hay feeds such as Sudan-grass, oat straw and cornstalks sold with the high being $215 per ton for 1,390-lb. square bales of cornstalks and the low being $67 per ton for large round cornstalk bales. These prices did not include delivery.

Given the hay shortage in many areas and the high prices, producers must get clever about making haydollars go farther. Minimizing feed waste is a relatively easy way to stretch a winter feeding budget because wasted feed is money lost. Feeding to minimize waste Hay loss due to waste during feeding or spoilage in storage is unavoidable and expensive. But there are ways to limit the amount of hay lost via strategic feeding practices.

According to Robert Kallenbach of the University of Missouri Extension, some of the best waste-reducing feeding practices include feeding small amounts daily, spreading feeding locations around the pasture, the use of feeding racks, and avoiding the use of loose-hay feeding methods.

Small square-baled hay fed daily using feeding racks comes with the lowest estimated losses at 3.9 percent.

Loose-hay methods with a week’s supply of roundbaled hay unrolled on the ground come with anticipated losses from 30 to 40 percent.

The loss due to wastage at feeding—hay being soiled or ground into snow or dirt— is in addition to whatever loss occurs from spoilage in storage. Kallenbach suggests feeding hay stored outside before feeding hay stored inside. Outdoorstored hay is more likely to be lower quality due to spoilage or damage from weather than hay stored indoors.

If cattle are started on higher-quality, indoor-stored hay, they may refuse the lower-quality, outdoorstored hay later, which would represent significant waste losses. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor