Hay and straw bales are hard to find around the state due to lower yields and increased demands. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Farmers and other keepers of livestock in Maine who waited too long to order their hay or straw for the winter could find they are out of luck. A combination of ongoing drought conditions and increased demand this year has created a serious hay shortage around the state.

“We are trying to get people to take a hard look at their situation and hay needs,” said Rick Kersbergen, of the Waldo County office of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “People are finding that a lot of suppliers are already sold out, and those who have not sold out have increased their prices due to the high demand.”

Kersbergen said he could not say what the current average price of a bale of hay is, but did estimate this year’s overall yields are down between 30 and 35 percent. At the same time, he said a lot of people decided this past spring to either garden for the first time or expand existing gardens. It was the same with livestock, with people getting animals for the first time or adding to flocks and herds.

“With the pandemic, people had concerns about the food supply,” Kersbergen said. “They wanted to be able to feed themselves.”

That, he said, has translated into the increased demand for hay to feed livestock and for straw used in poultry or animal bedding and for mulching gardens at the end of the season.

“People with animals who have not gotten their hay need to look at how many animals they are feeding and if they will be able to get enough hay for them over the winter,” Kersbergen said. “It’s a lot better to figure that out now rather than in February or March and try to buy hay or other forage then.”

To help farmers or others in need of straw or hay, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service has developed an online interactive forage directory. The Extension Service also has information online that can help calculate how much hay or straw is needed per animal.

Lea Thornwall of Chalet Farms in Hampden is in the hay directory, and as of Thursday, she was one of the few farmers in the state with hay left to sell. But she’s pretty sure she won’t have enough to meet the demand.

“We still have just a tiny bit of hay, and I am being inundated with calls from people looking for bales,” Thornwall said. “The only reason we have any left at all at this point is we decided to sell one of our goats so we can sell the hay we were holding back for it.”

Thornwall estimates her farm’s hay production is off 30 percent this year and blames the drought.

“It was a dry year and so different from last year when it was wet all the time,” Thornwall said. “We usually get a couple thousand [square] bales and this year we had 700 or 800 fewer bales.”

Most farms around the state did get two or three cuts of hay this year, Kersbergen said, but the yields were lower on each of those cuts.

At Chalet Farms, Thornwall said they were able to get a smaller second cut earlier in the fall on their 45 acres and were selling the hay as fast as they could bale it.

With many suppliers of hay and straw already sold out, Kersbergen said anyone needing additional forage may have to source it from out of state.

“Just don’t wait,” he said. “There is already a shortage and it’s not going to get better until next June.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.