No one wants to run out of heating fuel for their house when it’s the day before a holiday or there’s a blizzard bringing subzero temperatures. A barn’s hay supply should be as much a priority as oil or propane. Waiting until the last minute can make it challenging to find the right quality and quantity of hay.
“We had a customer call us the day before New Year’s Eve asking for a delivery, and we had weather closing in,” said Chris Johnson of Eastern Hay Corp. in Pawling, New York. “It was a good customer of ours, so we got a delivery out to them, but it makes it challenging for them and us.”
Although large suppliers such as Eastern Hay Corp. plan inventory levels so they won’t be completely out of hay, it might be necessary to substitute varieties. For example, Johnson said if there’s a situation where alfalfa isn’t available, he’ll recommend a different type of mixed hay that offers the same protein levels.
Smaller sellers and local farmers might not have the same storage or sourcing capacity and could run out altogether. Don’t wait until winter to talk with a grower. Start conversations in the summer or fall and work out an arrangement to cover your needs until the next growing season. In a pinch, asking neighbors for help is a solution in an emergency, but one that shouldn’t be over-used.
“It’s kind of like borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor,” he said.
For barns unable to store a year’s supply of hay, Johnson encouraged stable owners to check the loft or storage area with regular frequency to monitor the farm's hay supply supply in order to avoid running out of forage.
“People get really busy, so we’re putting in a system where we can communicate with our regular customers when it is getting close to their reorder time to remind them to check their storage shed,” he said.
When your regular supplier is out of hay, you’ll have to get creative. Talk with other stable owners to find sources for growers who have a winter supply to sell. Reaching out to beef or dairy farms can be an option. If they have an excess of hay that would be suitable for horses, they might be willing to sell you some.
“Just remember that hay is like a sponge, it picks up odors. So, if it’s stored above cattle, hay will absorb the manure smell below,” he said.