Colorado horse hay for sale
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2014 Western States hay pricing and Colorado hay forecast
Colorado hay production is all about water, and as storms blow through the Rocky Mountains and the rest of the nation, it looks like we will have a good water supply for the 2014 irrigation year. At the time of this writing (February 2014), the Colorado snowpack ranges from 91% of average to 143% of average compared to other years at this point of the winter. The drought in Colorado has eased, though southern Colorado, which has much of producing hay acreage in the state, is still drier than normal.
However, there are factors that are still constricting the Colorado hay supply. Yes, the drought in Colorado has eased, but a lot of that is due to the incredible floods that we experienced last August. Remember those devastating floods in Boulder and along the Front Range? That had two effects—it wiped out a lot of growing hay crops, and wiped out a lot of hay that was already stored in barns. The net effect was to decrease the availability of Colorado horse hay.
Another factor in easing the drought were the “monsoon” rains that came in July and August of 2013. In western Colorado, it rained and rained and rained over the latter part of the summer. While moisture is good to grow hay, it’s not good when you’re trying to cut and bale hay. There were very few periods of sunshine long enough to get a second or third cutting of hay put in the barn. More than a few farmers were still trying to get that second or third cutting of hay put up in late September and into October, which is far too late. The alfalfa was stemmy and had lost its leaves, and the grass hay became rank and unpalatable.
In the vast hayfields of the San Luis Valley, there were literally thousands of acres of freshly cut alfalfa that couldn’t be baled. It lay in the fields for weeks while the rains pounded Colorado. Once it was finally put up, it was good only for “cow hay”, or feeding moldy hay to cows whose stomachs can digest it. The dairies in the Texas panhandle and northern New Mexico had to find other sources of hay. Speaking of Texas and Oklahoma, they are also starting to recover from the drought, but those states are on the southern gulfstream and haven’t been receiving as much moisture as Colorado.
The big news is California, where two-thirds of the state is in “extreme” drought condition, and 2013 was the driest year on record. If you think this doesn’t mean much to Colorado hay prices, think again. While we get four cuttings a year on a really high-producing Colorado alfalfa hay farm, some of the farms in the Salinas Valley produce up to 12 cuttings a year. That production will likely be completely lost in 2014. There are many dairy farms in California, and they will be buying hay from the closest source—which may be Colorado.
And then there are other factors. The Midwest is still in full throttle growing corn for ethanol production because of the federal government’s insistence on burning food grains in our gas tanks.
So here’s my prediction: Colorado hay farmers will have a great water year and will produce a good—maybe even bountiful—crop of hay. Texas, Oklahoma, California, and Nevada will pull hay out of the state and cause prices to rise. At this point of the Colorado winter, we’ve been pummeled with several good storms, blanketing the state with snow. The deeper the snow, the more ranchers have to feed their cattle, so hay inventories will be used up over the winter.
While Colorado hay production will be good, weather permitting, the days of $4-a-bale hay are long since over. With decreasing acreage, the California drought, Midwest corn production, and the vestigial effects of Colorado’s epic flash floods, Colorado hay will be in high demand and prices will be good—my estimate is $8 a bale for grass/alfalfa mix on the low end, and $12 a bale on the high end. This translates to $240-$360 a ton for quality horse hay. Book your orders early and get them on the way, because there will be competition for high-quality Colorado hay.
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