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Wyoming facing hay shortage

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“There’s a shortage of quality hay right now because there’s no carry over of inventory due to the really cold winter,” said Kelly Burch, a Casper rancher and member of the Casper-Alcova Irrigation District.  

As the cost of production steadily rises, consumer hay prices will likely increase. “It costs so much to produce hay right now,” Burch continued. “Every input this year has gone up, specifically fertilizer, fuel costs, repair parts and machinery.”  

While Wyoming and other western states are experiencing back-to-back droughts, farmers and ranchers alike have production concerns, including a shortage of quality roughage to feed. With poor pasture and range conditions, producers are left worrying about decisions like keeping enough hay, while also producing enough hay to sell. 

Along with an increased cost of production, an expected increase in hay demand this fall will also contribute to a rise in consumer hay prices.  

Summer 2021 

The persistent drought over much of Wyoming has also changed water usage for many producers. Water demands are higher than the amount of available water. This is due to a decreased amount of snowpack, and higher temperatures resulted in snowpack melting rapidly and early.  

“Those irrigating are doing what they can, but along the North Platte River we have seen water is limited when it comes to screen irrigating,” shared Converse County Commissioner and Rancher Rick Grant. “The river is much lower, some pumps are out of the water and others are drawing just enough to make everything run.”  

Ditch banks from this year’s dry spring are soaking up additional water, and heat intensifies evaporation. With small amounts of precipitation, there is little to no extra water to be dispersed to those irrigating and using water.  

Cattle condition  

Livestock nutrition will likely be affected by lower hay quality. For those purchasing hay, it is important to make sure more than enough hay is purchased to cover feeding livestock.    

Nutrition implications could be seen in body condition score, along with calf performance on cow/calf operations. University of Wyoming Extension Educator Chance Marshall shared the hay shortage has the ability to impact current herds, but also cattle in upcoming years.  

“Don’t short the animals now, as there are long-term implications which could affect the performance of the cow and calf this fall and next spring,” said Marshall. 

Making a plan  

“If the drought persists, some people will be forced to sell livestock,” noted Burch. “If there’s no grass and no hay, something will have to be eliminated. Some states, such as the Dakotas, are already selling cattle.”  

Producers should reconsider their grazing plans for the summer if the drought persists or intensifies.  

It’s important that cattlemen have grazing plans,” shared Marshall. “We use the hay resources we have and are supplementing accordingly. If in a bind, however, there might be a difficult choice to consider and make.” 

He continued, “Unfortunately, we see producers sell cows after hay prices have started climbing and markets are at a steady low.” 

Creating a drought plan might save a ranch’s bottom line.  

Cameron Magee is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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