Hay Availability Disaster

Drought causes a viscous cycle where both the rancher and consumer lose

By Kate Borton

Our low snowpack, early melt off, lack of spring rainfall (25 percent of normal), continuing unusual heat, drying winds, and extreme low humidity in Northwest Montana (west of the continental divide and north of the I-90 corridor), has impacted the availability of life-sustaining hay. Drought causes a viscous cycle where both the rancher and consumer lose, but ultimately the animals.

Montana has been designated a Natural Disaster area due to the current extreme drought conditions. The state program to help with financial recovery will now go in to effect, opening up emergency assistance for livestock, honey bee, farm-raised fish ranchers and farmers. Simply put, we do not qualify. We are not producers, we are consumers.

The dry farmer and yes even irrigation has been affected by the extreme decrease in our water supply. Our grain supply has not only been affected locally, but due to the unusual storms and flooding in the Midwest, agriculture products that we utilize from there are also at extreme risk.

Farmers/ranchers are turning to barley hay, or even making hay from their wheat crops in desperation. As a consumer, there is no real way to tell if their decision to do so was made earlyenough.The beards (awns) on bearded wheat can cause oral problems in livestock if the heads are fully developed and mature causing sore, even bloody mouths.

This is the bottom line for us: last year we paid between $126-$160 per ton. This year we are $200-$250 per ton. We use about 83-93 T large bales & about 61 T small squares. You do the math. None of our regular suppliers have hay to sell, much less donate. In our hunt for hay, those honest farmers have no supply; those that remain are price gouging. We finally found an honest hay broker that is shipping in grass hay from the Bozeman and Billings areas, south of the I-90 corridor, where they received slightly better rainfall.

We are at risk of not being able to pay for the hay we need to feed the critters already under our care. We do not receive any government grants, relief or subsidies. What we have available comes strictly from individual and a few small corporate donations. I have already received more than 50 calls from people looking for, and not finding, hay for their animals. I have seen the extreme increase of ads from people trying to sell or give away their livestock. Next, they will be reaching out to us to take them and we will not be able to feed more, unless more contributions come in quickly.

Kate Borton, All Mosta Ranch Montana