By KEVIN WALKER
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Although prices on hay are up and supplies are down because of drought in the region, producers, as always, are coping and recent rains in some areas have lessened the crisis.
”The hay shortage is not just something for horse owners, it’s all livestock owners,” said Phil Kaatz, a Michigan State University extension educator in Lapeer County.
“We broke dormancy in late March. (Temperatures were) in the 80s in March.”
He explained half the hay crop was lost on the first cutting.
Most hay producers, Kaatz said, get two cuttings per year, except for alfalfa, where there are several more. Horses, sheep and cattle all eat forage, and he stated livestock producers this year are being “pretty aggressive” about finding feed early. He said farmers typically find feed as they need it, but this year they’re planning ahead.
“With a limited supply, price is going to go up,” he said. “It’s kind of like the price of fuel. I think we’re going to have enough feed in Michigan where people aren’t going to be liquidating their animals. Some parts of Michigan were very, very dry. Michigan is a long state, so there’s real differences in the amount of rain we get between the Upper Peninsula and the lower counties.”
As of last week, Kaatz said there’s still a little hay being harvested. Ron Lemenager, a researcher at Purdue University, owns cows and manages pasture and production. He hasn’t had to buy any hay this season. Since last winter was mild, he was able to feed his cows less hay and was able to carry over some hay for this season.
He’s been hearing reports of large round bales selling locally for from $40-$60 and said bales can vary in weight from 750-1,400 pounds. “With the return of rains in late August and early September, the price of hay has actually moderated,” he said.
Lemenager said small square bales as horse hay have been reported in the $8-$12 range. Those bales are about 50 pounds.
“I know of some large round cornstalk bales selling in the $40-a-bale range,” he added.
His advice to those cutting hay is to wait until after the killing freeze to do the final cutting. “Obviously, we had a lot of producers feeding hay in early June and some of that was probably their winter supply,” Lemenager said.
“Since the rains, we have gotten enough moisture. They’re going at an amazing rate. I’m not quite ready yet to say the drought’s over, but it’s not too late for forage growth. I’m a little concerned about late harvest and when the hard freeze is going to hit.”
Lemenager said it’s all about managing risk. “Normally, last harvest is early to mid-September,” he said. “The alternative is to wait until after the hard freeze.”
He said by “cutting late” – that is, by cutting too close to the hard freeze but before it occurs – the grower runs the risk of not replenishing the carbohydrate and nutrient reserves in the root structure of the plant.
“If you’re too close to the freeze, then you’re better off waiting until after the killing frost to do the last harvest. I’ve made hay in November after a killing frost by using freeze-drying. It’s freeze-drying just by sitting on the ground.”
Lemenager said hay can also be turned into silage by putting it in an airtight container. That way it will go through fermentation, which will prevent mold growth.
“The good thing is, I think we had most of our growers geared up for this,” he added. “A lot of our farmers did some culling. A lot of farmers made cornstalks or corn stover to make up for the lack of hay.” He also said without the generous amount of rain starting in late August things would have been much worse.
David Hake, owner of Rochester Hills Stables along with his wife, Sharon, has been in the horse business for 45 years. So far, he isn’t having any problems getting hay. He’s been using the same supplier for many years, who’s also in northern Oakland County in southeastern Michigan. “This reminds me of 1988,” Hake said of the drought this year. “It was worse then.”
He said his supplier acquired a couple of extra fields recently. Hake has been buying small square bales of hay for $4.50 for the 80 horses they own on their two farms. They run a large riding school for children.
According to recent figures from the Internet Hay Exchange, average prices for hay are higher than that: they include small square bales with no alfalfa for $6.35, small square bales containing alfalfa for $8.55, big rounds (all types) for $49.25, hay per ton without alfalfa for $140.63 and alfalfa per ton for $236.06.
According to Bruce Clevenger, an Ohio State University extension agent based in Defiance County, average prices on the Internet Hay Exchange are based on prices for hay listed in all the participating states.