Rain extends haying season into autumn in Yampa Valley
Steamboat Springs — Even though Tuffy Sheridan got three cuttings of alfalfa off his ranch in Rangely this summer, he bought grass hay from Routt County this month.
“I just need more hay,” Sheridan said during a break from loading a flatbed semitrailer with tightly wrapped round bales of Routt County’s finest.
Sheridan, who will feed 200 mother cows through the winter, has such a trusting relationship with the farmer who custom cuts his hay that he agreed to buy it without fixing the price.
Routt County Extension Agent CJ Mucklow confirmed that there is an abundance of hay for sale with a good supply left over from 2009, when yields were up 100 percent.
Erika Sorenson, who tracks market news for the Colorado office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported Sept. 2 that although hay prices are steady, trade activity is slow, and demand for all classes of hay is light.
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She said the latest price for large bales of premium grass hay produced in the mountains and Northwest Colorado is $130. Small rectangular bales, which are more convenient for horse owners, bring a premium price of $170 a ton (about $5.50 a bale).
Area hay farmers commanded as much as $165 a ton for large bales in 2008, but shrinking dairy and thoroughbred horse herds in 2008 and 2009 reduced demand nationally.
The hay harvest was a little late in 2009, but in some cases later this summer. There was mown hay on the ground from Clark to Egeria Park during the first three days in September.
An inch of rain that fell on Aug. 20, when many hay farmers and ranchers were hustling to put their crop up, didn’t help. Mucklow said the frequent threat of rain caused plenty of hay producers to delay cutting a field.
“Just the forecast of rain can cause them to wait,” he said.
Once a hay field has been mowed, precipitation increases the chance it will get moldy and make it less desirable.
Mucklow said as haying dates are pushed back, the protein content of the standing crop declines gradually, but even a September harvest of Routt County hay yields a high-quality crop.
The Colorado office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture rates any grass hay with more than 13 percent crude protein content as premium quality. Protein content in the range of 9 percent to 13 percent yields a “good” rating. Hay that tests at 5 percent to 9 percent protein content is rated fair. Anything lower is dubbed “utility” hay.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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