Bales of hay dotting fields, waiting to be harvested. It's an iconic image. Yet, while prices for hay skyrocket, farmers are becoming more and more leery about hay left unguarded in their fields. The drought plaguing the nation has turned hay into one of their most valuable commodities.
In Oklahoma, the price of a bale of grass hay has gone from $15 to $25 before the drought to between $65 and $70. A bale of alfalfa has risen from $45 to $60 before the drought to between $140 and $150. And prices just keep climbing.
According to NPR, these historic prices have turned stealing hay into a lucrative business. In Kansas, “sheriff's deputies are being ordered off the highways and onto county roads as they try to stop a big problem. Thieves are stealing thousands of dollars in hay bales." (KAKE-TV)
Missouri Farm Bureau president Blake Hurst says, "thieves are actually targeting those big bundles of hay that are left out in fields prior to being harvested, hauling them off and selling the valuable commodity."
For those with grazing animals who have fields dry and barren, supplementing with hay is a necessity. “People have had to make decisions like, ‘Can my kids go to the dentist or can I keep a horse?’ according to Ohio’s Last Chance Corral shelter operator Victoria Goss. This has had a huge impact on rescue organizations that specialize in helping grazing animals since it's limited the number they can take in.
Colorado’s Longhopes Donkey Shelter spent $7000 on hay for their shelter’s rescued donkeys in 2011. Last year, that figure shot up to $22,000. In 2013, with the drought tightening its grip on Colorado, assistant director Kelly Walters projects it will top $30,000. Few rescue non-profits can cover 400% increases in a necessity like hay.
As feed prices soar, calls for help do, too. CBS reports that Illinois Horse Rescue of Will County has seen its rescue calls jump from 4 a month to 20. They aren't alone. When shelters fill up, owners are abandoning their animals on the side of the road. Some poor animals have been rescued after starving for as long as 3 months.
Texas and Oklahoma saw horse abandonment in record numbers during last year's drought. “When the land is so parched, there are no pastures to graze, no hay has been produced, so prices sky-rocket, and the price of keeping a horse per month doubles. The worry is that it's going to get even worse this winter as owners go through their winter hay -- high prices will go even higher -- and many rescue organizations believe more owners will give up their horses.”
As the situation becomes a crisis, hope is that more and more will step up with donations. A state by state list of sanctuaries in dire need of help, accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, can be found here. If Mother Nature won't provide, perhaps it's time to rain money on charities whose animals are bearing the brunt of this devastating drought.