Animal rescues

Hay shortages strain animal rescues in Washington

A drought last year and a cold, wet start to 2022 has caused a new crisis for many farmers, ranchers and people who care for livestock: a shortage of hay, alfalfa and other forage crops.

This shortage caused hunger in some horses, cows and other livestock.

When the cost of animal care gets too high, it can mean more surrender to animal rescues like Pasado’s Safe Haven in Snohomish County.

“These are just a few of our 200 animals,” Pasado’s Safe Haven manager Stephanie Perciful said as cows Belle, Abbey Rise and Blue enjoyed hay in their barn. “We also have goats, pigs and alpacas, all of which rely on hay.”

Perciful says Pasado’s animals eat about 250 bales of hay a month.

“We buy every two months and 20% was our most recent jump,” she said. “We were lucky our supplier had some hay, but what we’ve seen is that prices are steadily increasing.”

She says they typically spend about $55,000 a year on hay at the sanctuary. Perciful says staff plan to increase the budget by $70,000 to $80,000 in the next fiscal year to account for the rising cost of hay.

She pointed to the shelter’s donkeys, Jacques and Ole, as an example of the impact of high prices. Perciful says they previously came to Safe Haven from Pasado from another rescue who could no longer afford to care for them.

“We were able to help another organization,” she said. “The hay shortage is something we’ve been focusing on for some time.”

Perciful says malnutrition is almost always a problem in cases of neglect. She says that when prices go up, animals that are abandoned often arrive at the sanctuary in worse condition.

“It’s inevitable that any time hay prices are so high, and we look at potential feed prices so high, animals are going to come to us in even worse shape,” Perciful said.

At Bob’s Corn and Pumpkin Farm near Snohomish, owner Bob Ricci stores equipment in the barn where the hay is usually stacked.

“In a normal year we would already have the whole first cup. It would already be complete,” Ricci said. “Usually end of April, first week of May. All the farmers are in the same boat, we are patiently waiting.”

He says the cold spring has delayed cutting for Washington farmers.

“We couldn’t harvest it because the rain and cold just won’t let go. We need a 3-day dry window, and it’s been hard to get that,” Ricci said.

Hay has been a high demand crop since last summer and fall due to wildfires that destroyed rangelands in the West.

“I had a guy call me from Northern California when the wildfires were taking over. It was burning their course,” he said.

Ricci says drought also wiped out stocks last year, forcing people to seek hay in other states.

“In Montana they didn’t get their normal yield. It was about halfway. It was so hot they only got one cut,” he said of the last year’s crop in that state.

Ricci says rising fuel prices will likely drive crop prices even higher in the coming months. He pointed to one of his tractors, adding, “It used to cost about $100 to fill up with gas and this year it’s going to be about $500.”

Ricci says that despite the cost, demand remains high and people have already started calling him for hay.

“I would be surprised if any hay actually made it to that barn. I anticipate a lot of it will sell out the day it is baled in the field, with people coming straight to the field and scooping it out of the field,” Rici said. “Everyone desperately needs hay. Once it arrives and is available, it will disappear.”