Hay shortages putting strain on Washington animal rescues

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

That shortage has caused some horses, cows and other livestock to go hungry.  

When the cost of caring for animals becomes too great, that can mean more surrenders to animal rescue operations like Pasado's Safe Haven in Snohomish County.  

"This is just some of our 200 animals," said Pasado's Safe Haven Director Stephanie Perciful as cows Belle, Abbey Rise and Blue enjoyed hay in their barn. "We also have goats, pigs and alpacas, all of who are dependent on hay." 

Perciful says the animals at Pasado's eat through around 250 hay bales per month.

"We purchase every two months and 20% was our most recent jump," she said. "We’ve been lucky that our supplier has had hay, but what we’ve seen is the prices steadily go up."

She says they typically spend around $55,000 on hay yearly at the sanctuary. Perciful says the staff is planning to increase the budget to $70,000 to $80,000 in the next fiscal year to encompass the rising cost of hay.

She pointed out that the haven's donkeys, Jacques and Ole, are an example of the impact of high prices.  Perciful says they previously came to Pasado's Safe Haven from another rescue that could no longer afford to care for them.  

"We were able to help out another organization," she said. "The hay shortage is something we’ve been focused on for quite some time." 

Perciful says malnourishment is nearly always an issue in neglect cases.  She says when prices climb, the animals that are surrendered often come to the sanctuary in worse condition. 

"It’s inevitable that whenever hay prices are so high, and then we are looking at potential feed prices are so high, the animals are going to come to us in even worse condition," said Perciful. 

At Bob's Corn and Pumpkin farm near Snohomish, owner Bob Ricci is storing equipment in the barn where the hay would typically be stacked. 

"A normal year, we’d already have the whole first cutting.  It would already be complete," said Ricci.  "Usually the end of April, the first week of May.  All of the farmers are in the same boat, we are patiently waiting." 

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

"We have not been able to harvest it because the rain and the cold just won’t let go. We need a 3-day, dry window, and it’s been a struggle to get that," said Ricci. 

Hay is a crop that's been in high demand since last summer and fall due to wildfires that destroyed rangeland in the West.  

"I had a guy call me from Northern California, when the wildfires were taking over. It was burning up their range land," he said.  

Ricci says drought also wiped out inventories last year, causing people to search for hay in other states.  

"In Montana they didn’t get their normal yield. It was about half.  It was so hot they only got one cutting," he said of last year's crop in that state.    

Ricci says rising fuel prices likely will cause the price of crops to go up even further in the months ahead.  He pointed to one of his tractors adding, "It used to cost about $100 to fill it up with fuel and this year, it’s going to cost about $500."

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

"I’ll be surprised if any of the hay actually makes it into this barn. I foresee a lot of it selling the day it’s baled in the field, people coming right up to the field and picking it out of the field," said Ricci. "Everybody is pretty desperate for hay. Once it comes in, and it’s available, it’s going to go."