CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Cassandra Campbell of Clovis loads wheat hay Monday with help from Austin Hale, an employee with One Stop Feed. Campbell, who owns four horses, said her hay prices have increased $1.50 a bale in just the past month.
Without rain and in light of high demand, the cost of hay is rising, supply is going down and, by the end of summer, those in the feed business estimate costs could double for consumers.
As of Monday, alfalfa hay — the hay of choice for most horse owners — was selling for about $10 a bale in Clovis, up from $8.50 as little as a month ago, and if Knox Cortese’s and other feed suppliers’ predictions are right, that’s only the beginning.
Much of Clovis’ alfalfa supply comes from the rich Pecos River Valley of Fort Sumner, where Cortese has owned Cortese’s Feed and Supply for 20 years.
But this year, Fort Sumner alfalfa producers are struggling against drought and producing only about 60 percent of their normal amount, Cortese said.
Because the valley is the source of the alfalfa he sells, Cortese said his costs are a little less than Clovis’, but if a bale is costing $10 to a potential of $12 or $13 wholesale, $15 a bale to the customer is a near reality.
“I think that 10 dollars a bale is probably cheap today. We’ve seen hay high but never like this. They’re selling as fast as they can bale it … If we can get some rain and they can produce some hay maybe availability will be a little better. There just isn’t a whole lot there,” he said.
“We think it’s high today, (but) if it stays dry and the demand stays strong like it is today, all it’s going to do is go up.”
And Cortese said cattle grade hay is near impossible to find.
The spike in hay costs is just another hit on the heels of rising grain prices, said Lovita Frusher, owner of One Stop Feed and Supply in Clovis.
This year, grain-based animal feed jumped to new highs in keeping with rising commodity prices.
Add to that the higher cost of hay and drought conditions, and “everybody’s concerned about what the possibilities may be,” she said.
“We’ve never seen it this high … I will not be able to keep it at the same price all summer. I don’t expect it to go down.”
With continual increases in fuel and other costs, she said even if the drought went away, the higher prices would probably continue.
“It would take an awful lot of rain in order for us to make a difference because we’re so dry,” she said. “It’s just not looking real positive.”
Frusher said the impact of economic hardships and rising costs, is that less and less people are owning large animals strictly as pets.
“We see a lessening of the backyard animals but we’ve seen that problem for the last year. People, they’re not going to be keeping as many,” she said.
“They’ll have some difficult choices to make.”
Customers are definitely noticing the price jump, said Coli Hunt, part-owner of Joe’s Boot Shop in Clovis.
“We’ve had to raise our prices a dollar (a bale) in the last 60 days. It was $8.50 for a while, and everybody was content with it as long as it was good hay, (but) we’re getting people starting to say something about it (and) wondering when it’s going to go the other way,” he said.
Already some areas in east Texas are seeing prices as high as $16.50 a bale with people paying up to $6 per animal, per day, Hunt said, and looking for ways to save money, like lesser quality hay and feed.
As the increases continue, some may be faced with deciding to sell their animals, but Hunt said he believes most people will just adjust.
“I view this deal kind of like gas. It’s too high, but we have to adjust to the situation … we still have to fill up our cars, (and) they have to eat,” he said. “You’re either at the point where you have to sell them or buy hay them. Until it rains, this hay price … it ain’t going to change.”
Cassandra Campbell said when her family was moved here from Florida about two years ago because of an assignment to Cannon Air Force Base, she initially boarded her four horses.
In Florida she said she was paying $425 a month per horse but it included hay and grain, stall cleaning, feeding and other services. Here, she said, she has to furnish her own hay.
When costs began rising, she decided to save money by moving them from a boarding facility to a friend’s property where she is not charged a fee.
“If we still had to buy hay right now and had to board, we’d probably end up selling some,” she said.
But one way or another, she said they will find a way to adjust.
“I’m going to pray we get rain,” she said. “We always put our horses first. If I had to cancel cable so all my horses are fed then I would do it.”