Environmentally friendly hay production Colorado grass horse hay
Wildlife-friendly agriculture and hay production in Colorado
At Grandview Ranch, we work very hard to produce really high-quality hay in the most environmentally friendly manner possible. How do you do that? First, we share this ranch with lots of other animals. Though we want as many acres of land in hay production as possible, we have also set aside areas for wildlife, with tall cottonwoods, willows, tall reed canary grass, and wetlands. Wildlife species that we consistently see on our ranch include redtail hawks (we have a nesting pair in one of our cottonwoods), bald eagles (during the migration seasons), ducks, pheasants, mule deer, pheasants, kestrels (small hawks), raccoon, fox, coyotes, leopard frogs, salamanders, voles, and mice. Those creatures wouldn’t inhabit our ranch if we weren’t making things friendly for them.
Irrigation water—-the lifeblood of any productive Colorado farm
Irrigation water is the lifeblood of any productive Colorado farm, and we’re blessed with an abundance of it. However, efficiently using the water we have is of utmost importance, and that’s why we installed a very sophisticated irrigation system with the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Our system has both center pivots and gated pipe so that we can efficiently cover almost all of our 118 acres.
Why does this make better hay? Well, if a hay crop has a steady water source, it can grow thicker and more consistently, with broader, more nutritious leaves and grain heads and less stem. Also, if a crop is stressed by a lack of water (which results in stemmy, yellowish hay), it has much higher sugar content, which is a bad idea for inactive horses. High sugar content causes laminitis and founder.
Our property has small ridges and valleys, which are very hard to irrigate with flood irrigation. A center pivot sprinkler works like rainfall—it covers every inch of ground underneath the sprinkler. You don’t have dry high spots and swampy low spots, which results in consistent lush hay production.
We have excellent ditch water rights and we also own 144 acre feet of reservoir water, so our irrigation season lasts well into the fall. We can often get three cuttings of hay. Where other farmers may have inconsistent water and little production some years, we almost always get a bountiful crop.
Low weed content means lots of work, time, and careful attention
We have very few weeds in our hay, but you should know that some weeds are actually toxic to horses and cattle. In our hay, you might find a thistle here and a milkweed there, but we work very hard to keep our weeds controlled. It should be important to you that we ship weed-free hay to you, because you don’t want
~ 2 ~ weeds popping up in your pastures from hay that we sent you. This means work and a careful eye. In a perfect world, we would never spray with herbicides. We dig many weeds out by the roots on our daily irrigation rounds. But imagine that there are 33 football fields, complete with end zones, in a 40-acre field, and we own almost 120 acres—or about 98 football fields. Imagine walking that expanse every day and digging out every weed you see with a shovel. It’s an impossible task. So we carefully spray weeds, the great majority of which are on the margins of our hayfields. We choose the times of year—usually early spring and in the fall—that we spray so that there is no question that our hay is contaminated by chemical spray. If you have good control of weeds, as we do, spraying is largely unnecessary.
Fertilizer—do we use it?
Do we fertilize? Absolutely. If we didn’t, our hay yield would be half of what it is. What is wrong with fertilizer? Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is composed largely of nitrogen. The air we breathe is 78% nitrogen, so you can’t say you’re against it. Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is highly soluble in water. The problem with ammonium nitrate comes when it is introduced into watersheds and then into lakes and oceans. Ammonium nitrate causes algae to grow, and when excess algae growth “turns over”, or uses up all the oxygen in the water, it can cause fish and invertebrates to suffocate for lack of oxygen. Otherwise, it’s a very mild fertilizer. We spread fertilizer on our fields early in the spring, taking care to stay away from the waterways on our property. Then we turn our sprinklers on, dissolving the fertilizer right into the soil and producing great plant growth. We have very little runoff from our fields, so the impact on the environment is negligible.
Organic hay for sale in Colorado, organic horse hay for sale
Would you prefer buying organic hay, with no fertilizers and no herbicides? Excellent. We’ll be happy to grow it for you. Call us a year in advance and reserve our whole crop at three times the regular price, because that’s what it will cost us to grow it. We’ve had this conversation many times with many buyers, who are convinced that organic hay is the only thing they can feed their horses. But they aren’t willing to pay for it. Think about it—it costs the same amount for water, labor, fuel to cut, bale, and stack the hay, machine time—with half or a third of the yield. You’ll have to trust us to know that we do our very best to grow high-quality hay and do it in an environmentally conscious fashion. Better yet, come visit us and see how we do it. Anyone who is advertising organic horse hay is most likely unable to produce certifications showing proof of organic production, and let me be honest—if they are advertising organic hay for sale, it’s probably because they didn’t have the money to fertilize. It’s expensive, but worth it. If you would really compare organically grown hay with fertilized hay, you (and ~ 3 ~ most of all, your horse!) would choose the fertilized hay every time. It’s thicker, greener, more lush and nutritious. Typically, organic hay has less leaf, less nutrition, and more stem.
Waterways, stream flows, and ponds on our Colorado hay farm
We have the opposite problem of many Colorado hay farms and ranches—we often have more water than we can use. We’re at the end of a ditch, which means sometimes upstream users are taking more water than they are due, but more often than not, the opposite is true. Upstream users shut off their dividers because they are haying, they are out of town and don’t want to irrigate—who knows why, but we get more water than we can use. Sometimes there are storm events that result in huge flows in the ditch. While our water right calls for us to receive 1.5-2 cubic feet per second (CFS) of water, we’ve had more than a few occasions when we had 10 CFS or more flowing through our property. That’s basically a small trout stream. Consequently, as part of our irrigation plan, we had to find a way to divert that water through our property without causing damage. We chose a natural watercourse that had historically carried water, and then we expanded it by building a series of step-stone pools through our property—19 in all. Combined with two fairly large ponds, it makes a great “water feature” that is home to frogs, trout, salamanders, and ducks.
In addition, we dedicated a 15-foot wildlife zone on either side of the streamcourse to give cover and nesting areas to species such as blackbirds, marsh wrens, waterfowl, Wilson’s snipe, and all kinds of other species. The bottom line is that we have all kinds of songbirds, waterfowl, and invertebrate species in the middle of our hayfields. If you get an occasional bale with some willows in it, that’s why—we are trying to take care of wildlife and grow hay at the same time, and willows love to grow where there is water.
We love our land, we love horses, and we love growing hay
We know why you’re looking for the highest-quality horse hay, grown in an environmentally conscious fashion—because you’re just like us. You love animals, you love horses, and you love the land. We add one more element—we love growing hay. The smell of flowering alfalfa, the sound of bees feeding on the flowers, the scent of rain coming in the evening—we love the farming life. As you read this, it’s hard to say how many horses we own. It could be 10, it could be 20, but we have owned as many as 45 for years at a time. Bottom line? Search high and low, we’d love to meet someone who gives the care and attention to hay production that we do.