Hay season 'disastrous'

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— Yampa Valley ranchers Doug and Janet Camilletti are feeling the squeeze that a late freeze and a dry summer have put on the hay market.

Janet estimated that the family ranch in Moffat County is 600 tons off the 1,500 tons that is usually produced annually.

"It's a pretty disastrous year for agriculture," she said over the phone Tuesday.

Disastrous because low hay yields, coupled with a dry summer, are causing a ripple effect through the local agricultural industry that inevitably will be felt in the pocketbooks of many people in the Yampa Valley.

Routt County Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said irrigated hay is 30 percent off, while dryland hay is anywhere from 40 to 100 percent off.

"I say 100 percent because, for some people, there just wasn't enough out there to justify the equipment to cut it," he said.

Prior to the dry summer, a May freeze killed much of the irrigated fields and also is to blame for the low yields, Mucklow said.

Now hay prices on the Western Slope are at a premium. The price per ton is anywhere from $100 to $150 for good horse hay, compared to the $90 a ton it usually goes for. That's good for the people who have it, but not very many do, Mucklow said.

Plus, lower quality hay, which is used to feed cows, just can't be found in the Yampa Valley, he said.

That means ranchers who hope to feed their animals locally may have a dilemma when winter hits.

First of all, most ranchers grow a significant portion of the hay they feed their livestock. Since yields are down, some are faced with buying all their cow hay, which commonly runs around $60 a ton.

However, nearly all the hay that is available in the valley is the higher quality horse hay, going for $100 to $150. It doesn't make economic sense to feed that to cattle.

"We can't afford to buy horse hay," Camilletti said.

The alternative is to put cattle out to pasture, but the dry weather also has had an impact on grazing areas.

"Basically, Mother Nature took $50,000 from us to start with," Camilletti said.

Now, some ranchers in the valley, including the Camillettis, will be forced to sell a portion of their breeding stock to avoid breaking the bank feeding the animals through the winter.

"We'll have to sell some," Camilletti said. "We'll sort hard."

That will put a big dent in good breeding stock that can take years to build.

Routt County rancher Mike Hogue is estimating to be 50 to 66 percent below his normal hay yields, but he's not expecting it to have a drastic impact on his herd.

"I won't have to sell cattle," he said.

That's because he harvested oats and alfalfa early for himself.

"I just don't have the hay I usually have to sell," Hogue said.

Low hay yield also affects the horse boarders in the valley.

At the Thorpe Mountain Morgans, Beverly Mason has stopped signing up boarding customers because she just doesn't have the hay.

"I've put people on a waiting list," Mason said.

Boarders always buy some hay, but usually Mason has 20 tons on hand. However recent rains reduced the quality of that hay, forcing the boarders to buy more hay at this year's high prices.

That means Mason's boarders may see a $10 to $15 increase a month for the boarding service.

At the Wheeler family's Sagewood Western Horse Facility north of Steamboat, they didn't even try to cut their small alfalfa fields to contribute to the 71 tons needed to run their boarding business.

"It would have been more expensive for us," Dorinda Wheeler said.

Because of that, the Wheelers had to buy all the hay they'll use this winter. Usually they buy locally, but their normal hay grower didn't have anything to sell.

The Wheelers finally found hay in Walden for $95 a ton.

However, Dorinda said, she still may have to raise boarding prices by $10 a month to compensate for the hay lost this year.

Prices for horse hay in other areas of the state, like Walden, are better than the Yampa Valley. Jerry Alldredge, the soil and crops agent for the Weld County Extension Office, said that good hay on the northern Front Range can be found for $85 to $95 a ton. The mostly irrigated hay in that area of the state didn't get rained on at the end of the summer and spoiled.

"We also had a little carryover from last year," Alldredge said.

But it would be difficult for agriculture producers in the Yampa Valley to take advantage of those low prices because of the cost to transport the hay.

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