Continuing with the weekend Ag topics… What about being a hay farmer? This can be a good business, but just not here in Dried Salmon County. With the combination of our weather, soil and the types of grass that will grow well her, hay production is very limited. Usually only one cutting and the nutrients just aren’t here, which makes our grasses and hay poor quality and generally used as fill. Cows will eat it, many horses will not.
The further east you go the better the hay gets. Birkenfeld hay is highly regarded among locals as inexpensive hay that most horses will eat. When you get into the Willamette Valley you start getting into mild orchard grasses and timothy. Timothy is horse food. Horses love the stuff, sheep, too. Valley orchard grass will be taken or left by some picky horses. It depends on their mood and how hungry they are.
Now when you want to talk about the premium stuff we have Eastern Oregon orchard grass. This stuff is so good that horses will go crazy for it. I’ve seen horses ignore grazing a pasture just to eat Eastern Oregon orchard grass. I’ve also see it become very and maybe too nutritious over they years. It’s like it’s supercharged. Kind of like remember how pot was in the 70s and then if you tried any in the 90s it was like it was suddenly super-charged. Some orchard grasses are now too potent for horses and need to be mixed with lesser grass hay.
Alfalfa is also sold as hay, but it is actually a leafy legume. It is very green and stemmy and has a very strong smell. I see people feeding to horses all the time, but it is so super-charged that horses will often start acting up like if you just gave a ton of sugar to a child. It also messes up horses hoofs. Ferriers don’t like to work on horses who’ve had too much alfalfa.
Cows can eat just about anything, since they are ruminates, as are goats. Horses do not have stomachs like cows and unable to vomit, so their hay must be the best quality possible. No moldy hay allowed.
Cutting a filed of hay has stages to it. It is cut, raked in a pile and left to dry. If you bale wet hay it will rot and kill your horses. After it is dried sufficiently it is gathered and baled and stored. There are normal 2 string bales, and heavier 3 string bales. There are also big square bales that are about the size of a mini van. There are round bales and there are also compressed bales which are about a quarter of the size of a normal bale, but just as heavy.
As for what the prices of hay are, local grass bales go for about $2, alfalfa goes for about $9 per bale. Alfalfa goes for about $11 a bale. Nice orchard grass from Eastern Oregon goes for about $14.50 a bale right now. There are also mixtures where they might combine two or three of the choices into one. They are usually over $10 per bale.
My advise is if you want to get into the hay business, do it in Eastern Oregon.