Updated: Aug 4, 2019
Last year grass hay was difficult to find in our area and when you did find some, it was either of poor quality, really light bales, and was selling for anywhere between eight and ten dollars a bale. If it was decent, heavier baled grass hay, it was really high in cost (from ten to fifteen a bale). To save some money, we pay attention to the weather and start buying hay early to get the loft filled for winter.
This spring we have had so much rain that farmers could not get into their fields until much later than normal. That made the first cut hay more mature and has a lot of thick leaves and stems. It's not great 1st cut hay this year but it's not horrible either. Farmers do not think a 3rd cutting will happen this year so this makes the prices of hay trend higher too.
We put about half of our hay up with first cut hay that we start feeding in summer and through the fall months when our Nigerian Dwarfs and our Nigerian Dwarf Kids can be out on pasture eating. This year 1st cut hay is selling between $5 and $6 dollars off the hay wagon. This year we are buying a few more bales of first cut hay as a precaution of another bad hay year for 2nd cut hay and the reality of no 3rd cut hay. It's always a balancing act that is dependant on the weather.
Normally we feed 2nd cut hay during the winter months. Second cut hay is usually a sweeter, finer leaf, richer and greener hay and normally more nutritious than 1st cut and costs a little more per bale. 2nd cut grass hay is what we prefer to feed.
Our goats definitely prefer second cut hay but it's a balancing act. Every year we have to weigh the risks of buying first cut hay that is OK but not great so we have hay in the barn, or waiting to see if the 2nd cut hay is available and at a decent price.
As an example of what is happening this year, this past Saturday nice heavy bales of grass hay sold at auction for $7 to $8/bale and Alfalfa mix was selling for $10/bale and we aren't even close to the end of the season. As more farms start looking for hay, the prices will go up. If the weather stays wet and the 2nd cut hay is late being baled, 2nd cut may not be as nice this year either.
While there is always the option of going to the auction house if things get desperate, at the auction house it's buyer beware. You need to be Leary of the hay quality of the interior bales. You could end up with moldy, dusty, funky bales that are hidden in the larger stacks.
Smaller stacks of hay go for a lot higher prices because you can see what the bales inside the stack are which means more people bid on them and therefore sell for more money.
I'm not a fan of auction house hay. I'd rather deal with the farmer direct since we can't bale our own hay just yet.
This year looks like it will be a lot like last year - higher hay costs and possible hay shortages. We will be buying more first cut hay than normal and staying on top of getting the barn filled with 2nd cut as soon as farmers are in the field.
I'd love to know how, when and where other small farms buy hay - Let me know!