CALEDONIA, Minn. – Last summer was not a typical season for putting up forage for Cole Hoscheit on his family’s dairy. The challenges from growing good quality forages last year continued through the winter and into the new year.
    “It was hard to put up good quality haylage,” Hoscheit said about the growing season last year. “We just didn’t get any good drying days, and we had some winter kill.”
    This has caused a shift in Hoscheit’s herd’s ration and puts feed in short supply for his family’s 300-cow dairy near Caledonia.    
    “We made the decision (last August) to chop more silage which was probably a good thing,” Hoscheit said. “Since my haylage is short, my silage is going to be short too.”
    This means Hoscheit has bought more hay than he has in the past. And he is not the only one.
    “The real high-quality hay is in high demand and is harder to find,” said Al Wessel, from Mid-American Auction Co. in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. “It wasn’t a perfect year for making optimum forage so the folks are digging in their bag of tricks to supplement with poorer quality hay.”
    Wessel said the highest quality hay most sought after by dairy farmers is selling upwards of $300 per ton with the second highest quality hay selling between $220 to $270 per ton during his business’s weekly auctions. Grass hay that has been stored inside and has a good relative feed value will sell close to $200 per ton, Wessel said.
    Mark Oberholtzer is also seeing a large demand and low supply of the highest quality alfalfa at his business, Oberholtzer Dairy Cattle and Auctions in Loyal, Wisconsin.
    “Good hay still sells quite well,” Oberholtzer said, whose business sells inventory by the bale.
    He said an 850-pound bale of top-quality hay sells between $110 and $130 while the best grass hay in 3-by-3-by-8-foot bales sells between $70 to $90 each.
    “I wouldn’t be surprised throughout March and April if we see it go up a little as people realize their stockpiles won’t quite reach until green grass grows,” Oberholtzer said.
    While the best hay is in short supply, there is not a lack in inventory of lower quality forages.
    “It seems there’s definitely more hay on the market than we were expecting,” said Oberholtzer, whose auction sells up to 1,500 bales every Thursday.
    Wessel agreed.
    “The last sale we had (March 5) was the biggest sale we had of the season,” he said. “The hay has been out there. It’s just that a lot of folks will wait until this time of year (to sell) thinking the market might spike a little bit.”
     Although Hoscheit’s goal every year is to buy as little hay as possible, he bought more and earlier than expected this winter.
    “We put up as much extra forage as possible, but we still bought hay last fall,” Hoscheit said.
    During a typical year, Hoscheit buys about one 8-ton load of hay per month starting in January or February for weaned calves. This year, Hoscheit is buying double what he normally does and for a larger number of animals.
    “Had I not put up more silage last year, I would be close to needing to buy a semi load per month,” Hoscheit said.
    Purchasing from a local source, Hoscheit is paying about $225 per ton but has heard of others in the area paying at least $25 per ton more.
    Having to reevaluate the herd’s ration and buy more feed has given the Hoscheits an extra challenge.
    “Since we put more silage in the ration, we have to buy more bean meal and more hay,” Hoscheit said. “We are doing a combo. It all comes back to the bottom line. It drives up the cost of production no matter how you look at it.”
    From now until late spring, Wessel expects inventory of all forms to tighten.
    “I think the supply will decline,” he said. “I think the demand will stay strong on the real good dairy hay, and I think the intermediate heifer hay will stay decent until we see some of these cattle go to grass.”
    Hoscheit is looking forward to this summer and hopefully being able to replenish feed supply.
    “Hopefully God will grant us with a nice year and can give us more hay,” Hoscheit said. “We will try to find more acres to harvest our own feed rather than buy it because to me it doesn’t make a lot of sense to buy it when I already have the equipment. It’s kind of silly to pay someone else to run their own equipment. We’re trying to actively look for opportunities to harvest our own forage. We’ll see how it goes. We are just trying to weather it.”