Livestock owners make tough choices as hay prices go ‘through the roof’

Special Reports

Small yields are forcing hay farmers to up their prices, leaving animal owners to pay more per bale

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The price of hay has gone up significantly in Oregon and Washington in 2021, causing some equine and livestock owners to decide between paying more to feed their animals – or getting rid of them. 

“I kind of feel sorry for the animal owners,” said Eugene Maul, a hay broker and owner of Maul’s Hay Farm in Battle Ground. “Around here they’re holding pretty good yet, but it’s just going to be a struggle.” 

Maul has been farming hay in the Battle Ground area since 1986. The prices he’s seen per ton in 2021 are blowing him away. 

“Hay prices have really gone through the roof; it’s really raised. Most of my suppliers have raised anywhere from $60 to $100 per ton,” Maul said. 

He said the price per ton plus the price of fuel this summer is making hay business an expensive operation. 

Maul farms 400 acres in Southwest Washington, but buys hay from all over Oregon and Washington. With prices the way they are this year, he said he’s received inquiries from people as far away as California and Montana looking to purchase from him. 

However, Maul doesn’t have much hay to spare. 

The yield from the fields he farms is down about 50%. Typically, in August, he said his hay barn would be filled to the brim. Instead, there are gaps among the stacks of bales. This is the first time Maul has ever been afraid he’ll run out of his own hay. 

Diminished yield is an issue for farmers across the region. Maul said people on the west side of the Cascades, who usually rely on rain to water their fields, have been struggling during the dry summer. On the east side, where they irrigate, farmers have been challenged by limited access to water. 

When they can’t grow as much hay as they usually do, Maul said they have to raise their prices. 

Suzi Cloutier, owner of Zeb’s Wish Equine Rescue, says the high price of hay is taking a bite out of her non-profit’s budget in 2021. Photo taken Aug. 18, 2021. (KOIN)

The high price per ton is hurting people like Suzi Cloutier, who owns Zeb’s Wish Equine Rescue in Sandy. Currently, Cloutier is caring for seven equines on site and is also providing food for 14 foster animals. 

Cloutier said this year, for a bale of hay, she’s paying double what she’s paid in the past. 

“Less than half of the hay barn is filled. So we had to go to Eastern Oregon to purchase commodity hay,” Cloutier said. “Whatever they charge we’ll have to pay because we need to fill the barn to make sure everybody’s cared for.” 

Cloutier said her non-profit is careful to have rainy-day funds saved up, but the current price of hay is taking a bite out of her budget. 

Zeb’s Wish also runs a hay bank to help animal owners who are experiencing financial difficulties. With only half their barn filled with hay, Cloutier is worried about their supply. She’s also concerned the high price of hay will cause equine and livestock owners to surrender or neglect their animals. 

An elderly donkey walks through a pasture on Zeb’s Wish Equine Rescue on Aug. 17, 2021. (KOIN)

“We probably get a call a week, maybe two calls a week, sometimes three calls a week asking for us to take animals,” Cloutier said. 

In Southern Oregon, Fred Simon, a hay and grain farmer who lives near Malin, said limited hay yields and increased prices are causing cattle owners to sell their herds early. Drought in the region caused state officials to place regulations on water usage for irrigation and farmers like Simon said they don’t have enough water to maintain their crops. 

“The cow guys with pastures, they never got a drop of water on their pastures. They’ve been feeding cattle since July and usually they don’t feed cattle until October, November, so they’re using their winter allotment of feed up now and hay’s too high for them to buy,” Simon explained. 

He said a friend of his owns 200 head of cattle and is planning to sell half the herd because he can’t afford to feed them all. 

In an effort to help his neighbors, Simon has been working with the conservative political group Timber Unity to gather donated hay from across the state and bring it to people in need in the Klamath Basin area. 

Fred Simon stands in front of his hay and grain truck. Photo courtesy Fred Simon

“Who we’re helping out is the people who really need it, they’re either burned out or they have no water,” said Timber Unity President Mike Pihl. “We’re not giving it to people who actually have enough hay. It’s the people who really need it.” 

Pihl said Simon reached out to Timber Unity asking for help. He said residents from the Klamath Basin area brought hay to the McKenzie River and Molalla area after the 2020 wildfires and he wanted to return the favor. 

So far, Timber Unity has delivered nearly 1,000 tons of hay to the Klamath Basin region and it’s all been given away for free. 

“It’s Oregonians helping Oregonians, which is the way it should be,” Pihl said. 

He said if they continue to get donations, he might consider organizing another hay delivery. 

Maul said he hopes the current hay situation is “just a one-year thing.” His advice during this time is to purchase hay sooner rather than later. He said it’s only going to get more expensive.

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