Drought, hay prices putting pressure on horse owners

Via The Denver Post

By Howard Pankratz The Denver Post

The  is state wide drought is sending hay prices skyward and forcing horse owners to make painful decisions. Many owners, who struggled to keep their horses through the economic downturn, are giving up their animals — either selling them for a pittance, euthanizing them or sending them to Mexico or Canada for slaughter. “The drought has really decreased the amount of hay,” said Scot Dutcher, chief of Colorado’s Bureau of Animal Protection. “It is basically simple economic rules of supply and demand. When the supply is high, the price goes down. But when the supply is low, obviously the price goes up — and it went way up.” The price of hay in Colorado, which once was $120 a ton, now ranges from $250 to $350 a ton, Dutcher said. Before the price more than doubled, “any horse owner could afford to feed a horse,” he said.
Susie Wallden of Kiowa is among the owners who are surrendering their horses because they can’t pay for hay or prepared feed. Over the course of the past year, Wallden has gotten rid of three of her horses, placing two on what she and other owners refer to as “the killer truck” to be sent outside the U.S. for slaughter, while a third was sold at auction, a purchase she suspects was also for slaughter. Because of the drought, Wallden said she can no longer grow hay on her Kiowa property and can’t keep up with the rising prices being charged by other growers. “A decent ton of hay used to be right around $120 to $150,” she said. “It’s now over $300 for a ton of hay. It’s not feasible. I have the kids. Keeping food on the table and keeping the house — they are way above the horses.” Nonetheless, Wallden said she was heartbroken to part with the horses. She has kept one horse, who has been with her family for years. “He is like one of the kids,” said Wallden, who juggles three jobs, working as a secretary, cleaning houses and selling items from her Kiowa wood shop.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office has noted that many horse owners are from lower-to-moderate income households and are less able to withstand the effects of economic instability. The GAO said that up to 45 percent of horse owners have an annual income of between $25,000 and $75,000. Dutcher said some people who don’t have the money or heart to euthanize their horses will abandon them
thinking they can survive. But the horses often die from starvation or dehydration.

Debbie St. Pierre of Kiowa said owners used to be able to get a good price for their horses at livestock auctions. But today, she said, people get nothing or perhaps $100 to $125 for a “well-broke, good horse.” “Horses worth thousands … are worth nothing now,” St. Pierre said. Juliana Lehman, co-founder of the Colorado Horsecare Foodbank, which is now handing out free horse feed to Black Forest horse owners affected by the recent fire, said she is getting numerous calls from people throughout the region who can’t afford the price of hay. Lehman worries that the limited supply of hay is leading to price gouging by some sellers. But Kiowa rancher Randy Britton, who buys hay from producers in the state, says growers are honest and simply responding to demand. He said there is a small group who occasionally will “sit on the hay,” hoping they can sell it for $2 or $3 more if hay becomes more scarce. Sometimes their bets pay off, sometimes they don’t, he said. “The guys that produce hay for a living are the ones I like to deal with because they are the ones who are going to go with the market. If they don’t, they won’t sell it and won’t make any money,” Britton said. “If everyone around you is selling hay for $8 a bale and you try to sell it for $10 a bale, you aren’t going to sell the bale.” Britton said that in the Longmont-Fort Collins area, the first cutting resulted in a bumper crop of good hay — the best in six years. However, Britton knows other parts of the state are suffering severe drought. That has been the theme for farmers throughout the state, who say that conditions are good north of  Interstate 70 while farmers to the south are struggling with bone-dry conditions.
The situation has prompted McGuckin Hardware in Boulder to stock horse feed for the first time, selling products from Ranch-Way Feeds in Fort Collins to customers who can’t find affordable hay. “We are just trying to fill a need,” McGuckin employee Louise Garrels said. “We know our people are relying on feed.”
Howard Pankratz: 303-954-1939, hpankratz@denverpost.com or twitter.com/howardpankratz

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