First-time horse owners—First time hay buyers

Tips for purchasing hay in 2011.

After a long cool damp spring, summer has finally arrived. The weather presented a challenge in getting a quality hay crop made, especially dry hay in any kind of bale. Fortunately, in the middle of June, a window of opportunity opened up across the state to get hay cut, dried, raked and baled.

As with any year, hay quality varies greatly and there are the various types of hay which include alfalfa, grass alfalfa mix and grass hay. A lot of early first cutting hay was rained on and will have a browner color and reduced quality. There is also a lot of first cutting that was more mature than desirable when the weather allowed for harvest.

If you are a first time horse owner and hay buyer this may present a problem when attempting to buy hay of good quality at a fair price. Color and texture are a good indicators of quality. If hay is made properly, it should be green, soft, and flake easily. No mold or dust should be present. Some hay that is of light brown in color (rained on and bleached out) can be used as long as it’s no dusty and never moldy. When feeding lower quality hay, some minerals and/or grain will likely be necessary to feed as a supplement.

Hay that is baled with moisture above the desired level may mold when stored and it will heat and spoil. In some instances, it will get so hot as to lead to spontaneous combustion and fire. The biggest and most important tip about storing small square bales is that it should be stacked on edge, i.e.  with the strings on the sides, not the top and bottom. The hay will not compress the way it does when stacked with the strings on the top, and hay that might otherwise mold may not if stacked on edge.  Hay stacked on edge will prevent many storage issues that exist with small square bales of hay and it is also easier to walk on when tightly stacked.

Chances are good that the early summer weather conditions will lead to a smaller hay inventory for 2011. The wonderful growing summer of 2010 led to a huge supply of hay that drove down the price, but also contributed to record corn and soybean crop yields, convincing many farmers to plant more corn and soybeans and less hay. Bottom line is to expect to pay more for hay in 2011 and in the winter of 2011-2012. The price of fuel continues to rise and hay producers must pass along that cost. Don’t expect to buy small square bales in the $2 range, or round bales in the $20’s. If a hay producer is to stay in business he must get $3 to $4 plus, per small square bale, and in the high $30s to $40s plus, for round bales. 

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