Large volumes of hay have been flowing through Steffes Group’s quality-tested hay sales in Litchfield, MN, since the start of the year.

“Normally, during the winter, we’ll see 65-70 loads at each of our sales,” says Randy Kath, auctioneer and hay-and-livestock specialist with the twice-monthly auction. “This year, though, we’ve been getting 85-90 loads/sale. Almost all of the difference is because we’re getting a lot more western hay (from Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming) and also more hay from Manitoba and Saskatchewan.”

He attributes the hay movement to several factors. “In a lot of those places, they had a pretty good production year. But their markets are limited.

“A lot of livestock producers there grow their own hay, and this year they had enough to meet their own needs. So people with excess hay to sell sent it in our direction.”

With that influx of hay, prices for some hay types have drifted downward. Until right before Christmas, large square bales of top-end alfalfa were selling for just under $300/ton. At recent auctions, the price has been closer to $235-240/ton. “Other feedstuffs have cheapened so much. As a result, dairy producers can buy the cheaper alfalfa because there are lots of other protein sources they can use as a substitute in their rations.”

Auction prices for round bales of grass hay have also steadily declined through the winter, now hovering around $80/ton. “With the long and horrible winter we’ve had, I thought maybe prices would steady some. But there seems to be an endless supply of grinder or feeder hay. And there aren’t enough cows to eat it all up.”

The prices of alfalfa-grass hay in medium and large square bales have been the one bright spot for sellers. “They’ve stayed pretty solid all the way from October-November until now at $200-225/ton,” says Kath.

“We’re only 60 miles out of the suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul, where there are a lot of horse people. Many of them are starting to see the advantages of the bigger bales. They can be finicky, but if they find something they like, they’re not afraid to pay a good price.

“They really seem to like the Canadian hay because it has a little softer texture.”

Kath looks for the prices of large squares of alfalfa and alfalfa-grass hay to stay “pretty consistent” between now and new crop. The market for grass hay in round bales is likely to soften. “There’s just too much of it out there.”

Steffes Group’s hay sales are held on the second and fourth Tuesdays from September through May, starting at noon. From June through August, once-a-month auctions are held. For details, visit the company’s website. Sales results from recent auctions are also posted.

Kath can be reached at 701-429-8894 or Randy.Kath@steffesgroup.com.