Lee Pitts: It’s the Pitts 2-13-12
February 13, 2012
I don’t know about where you live but where I hang my hay hooks the price of alfalfa hay is currently $300 a ton! When feeding the cows a person might as well be throwing out bales of dollar bills: they’re green, made of cellulose and would probably cost less. I used to laugh at horse people when I would go to the local feed store and they were buying single bales of alfalfa for $17. No longer.
The high price of alfalfa has caused all sorts of aberrant behavior amongst ranchers in the area. Stockmen are actually padlocking the door to the hay barn and there was one unbelievable rumor that a cattleman in the next county covered his hay stack with something called a “tarp” so the hay wouldn’t get wet and moldy. I have heard about this being done but I myself have never performed the task.
Conversations with hay brokers have caused more people to swear than puberty. Recently, when a hay salesman quoted me the price for a truck and trailer load of hay I replied, “No you don’t understand. I don’t actually want to buy your Kenworth and trailer, I just want to buy the hay on them.” When the hay was delivered there was one bonded driver and two armed Pinkerton guards who accompanied it. After it was unloaded I swept off the bed of the trailers and put all the loose hay in plastic garbage bags. At $300 a ton I was going to get every last leaf I paid for.
Naturally, the formula for figuring out how much to feed the cows has changed along with the higher cost of hay. My rule of thumb used to be one bale for 10 cows fed every other day. One hundred cows would get 10 bales with maybe an extra bale thrown in on holidays. Now the formula has changed. The new math is that when the cows start eating dirt, or are staring longingly at the hay stack for hours on end, it is time to parcel out a few flakes of hay … but only to the thinner cows. Alas, the new formula has increased my vet bill due to injuries caused by cows running over their own calves to get to the hay truck.
The ridiculous price of hay has necessitated other changes as well. The wife no longer is allowed to drive the feed truck on the highway from the barn to far away pastures. Her fast driving caused too many leaves and stems to blow off the truck on to the road. I have calculated that it is cheaper to get a loitering ticket for driving 5-miles-an-hour on the freeway than it is to lose a smidgen of hay to the wind.
Cows are not allowed to waste any hay either. We feed them on a rock pile now and they don’t get fed again until they have licked the rocks to a shine. Any calf caught peeing on the hay is ostracized by the rest of the herd and I sell them quickly at the local auction. With $300 a ton hay there’s nothing worse than a bed wetter. But other ranchers in the area have caught on. They know the calf must be a leaker and they refuse to bid because they don’t want an animal that pees on $300 a ton hay either.
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Of course the most difficult problem caused by the high price of hay is knowing how much to order in advance. Just the other day I think I saw a cloud overhead (it might have been a mirage) and there is the remote possibility that sometime in my lifetime it might rain again and we could get grass high enough for the cows to eat. So I have to be very careful and not order too much hay at $300 a ton.
I’m desperately wishing for rain because I’m exhausted and I need my beauty sleep. I’ve been standing guard 24 hours around the clock over the four bales I have left in my stack. I can’t let my guard down for a moment. Even with high priced calves I’m not so much worried about cattle rustlers as I am neighbors in flat bed ranch trucks who could steal a significant portion of my net worth in the blink of an eye.