After being on the “sluggish side” through most of the winter, sales of quality horse hay picked up the last several months, reports Mark Randell, Wellborn, FL.

“It stayed pretty warm all winter long,” says the Coastal bermudagrass grower. “As a result, animals were able to stay out on pasture, and they weren’t burning as many calories. So they didn’t need as much hay.”

Cooler weather starting in late March to early April led to the demand turnaround. “We’re now sold out on last year’s crop.”

Randell puts up net-wrapped round bales and small square bales on 300 acres and sells to horse owners, feed stores and brokers serving the horse-owner market. He markets a small share to dairy and beef operations in northern Florida and also buys and resells hay.

This year’s crop is getting off to a good start. “Some of the neighbors were cutting last week. But we wanted to wait a few more days to let it get a little coarser. With first-cutting bermudagrass, the stems can be a little too fine, and horses will tend to over-consume.”

He expects this year’s prices to hold at 2012 levels, when he charged $50-55/roll at the barn for 700-lb net-wrapped rounds. For small squares weighing around 45 lbs each, his price was $5/bale. “We’ve been at that level for the last couple of years,” he says. “Our input costs really haven’t changed much. Fuel prices have backed down a bit, and fertilizer prices have stayed pretty steady. If we don’t get some kind of unexpected spike, we should be able to hold the line on what we charge this year.”

Long term, demand for horse hay in his area will likely remain fairly stable, Randell believes. “We went through a big demand shift about five years ago. A lot of people then were getting rid of their animals because they didn’t have the money to feed them. But that seems to have settled down now. The people who still have animals appear to be in it for the long haul.”

To contact Randell, call 386-208-2758 or email mrandell@windstream.net.

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