Willowtrail Liberty headed off to her new home last evening. A two-year-old Fell Pony filly, Libby left on a Nationwide Horse Transportation truck, and I was very proud of how easily she loaded for the company personnel. One of the requirements of shipping with Nationwide is that I have to provide a bale of grass hay. Usually providing a hay bale and getting my ponies to walk up the truck ramp are equally easy, but not this time. Libby walked up the ramp easily; it was securing the hay bale that proved much more challenging.
I have shipped enough ponies with Nationwide that I knew a hay bale needed to accompany Libby. My usual challenge is that the grass hay I have on hand is in 4x4x8 foot bales, and of course the shippers want a small bale, so I have to buy a bale specifically for a pony being shipped. There are still a few ranches in my county that put up hay in small bales, but not many, and none of them are set up to sell a single bale, so I usually buy the hay in Fort Collins where I meet the truck. There are a number of retailers who sell single bales there.
Fort Collins, of course, was on the edge of the huge and devastating High Park Fire earlier this summer. A large number of horse owners lost their hay when they lost their homes and barns. This obviously put a strain on the local supply of hay. Then the drought that we have been experiencing has yields down to barely half of normal, so the local supply is very tight indeed. I was so focused on getting Libby to her transport, though, that these things didn’t enter my mind until I started calling around the morning of her departure to find the necessary hay bale. It took until #4 on my list to find grass hay, and that bale ended up costing me $14, nearly twice what I typically pay.
Two of the other retailers had no hay at all, and the third only had a grass/alfalfa mix. Nationwide prefers grass hay because it is the least common dietary denominator for the horses they transport. A friend had told me recently that she had had to buy alfalfa hay because she couldn’t find any grass hay where she was, so I was thankful to find at least one place that could sell me what I needed.
We met the Nationwide truck in the parking lot of a livestock auction company because it is easily accessible from the highway and it accommodates large trucks like those that Nationwide uses. When we arrived at the parking lot, we found it busy with preparations for an auction taking place today. When I told the Nationwide truck driver how hard it had been to find a hay bale for him, he looked at me dubiously, and it was then that I understood the irony of my comment. The auction being held today was for hay, and we were surrounded by hay bales!
While we were waiting for the truck to arrive, we walked through the stacks of hay. I will be interested to see what the hay sold for today, since some of the hay was pretty rough looking. Most of it was alfalfa or grass/alfalfa mix, and a little less than half was in small bales. I know one of the ranchers near us has priced his hay at $400/ton for large bales, expecting prices to skyrocket in the next month or so. The auction results will indicate if he’s betting right. I hope I don’t have to pay that much next month when I bring in my hay for the winter.
Another irony of dealing with hay yesterday was at the feed store where we bought the bale. By then I’d realized how scarce a commodity I was purchasing. I also realized that I hadn’t put enough hay in the trailer to keep Libby occupied until we met the truck. I noticed that there was a bunch of loose hay near the hay stack from which my precious bale was taken, and I asked the store clerk if I could collect some of it to feed Libby. She said I could take all I wanted since it would be swept up and thrown away later that day. There was enough hay there to give my entire herd of ponies at least one feeding, but in the middle of town, loose hay like that is a waste product, not a commodity. How ironic.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012