Hay bale heist near Hazenmore highlights difficulties Sask. producers face in hot, dry year

Twelve bales worth a combined $2,400 were stolen.

12 bales worth combined $2,400 stolen

Hay bales have doubled in price over the past year. (Joe MacDonald/CBC)

Saskatchewan's latest target for thieves isn't the neighbour's unlocked bike or the jewelry case at the local mall. 

It's round hay bales, which at nearly two meters in diameter and about 700 kilograms require more than your standard pair of black gloves and a getaway car to successfully steal.

"It is pretty unusual because you need specialized equipment and brashness to go ahead and do that," said Ryder Lee, CEO of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen's Association.

"It's different than ... crimes of opportunity."

Ponteix RCMP say 12 round bales worth about $2,400 combined were stolen from a farm near Hazenmore, Sask., 27 kilometres east of Ponteix, sometime between July 14 and July 30.

Moving round bales requires a tractor, trailer and know how, Lee said.

Hay bales have doubled in price from a year ago as producers across the Prairies scramble to find feed for their livestock after the unrelenting heat wave. One round hale bay is now selling for about $200, Lee said.

"It's disheartening what happens to somebody who's lost that feed. And it's just an indicator the desperate times for some people that they would choose to do that," Lee said.

Todd Lewis with the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan said the first cut of this year's hay crop was poor and the second has been non-existent, forcing livestock producers to make tough choices about their herds going into fall and winter.

"Hay is very short and with the weather we've had, pastures are in poor conditions, so feed is at a premium."

Lewis said farmers rely on hay crops to feed their livestock over winter.

Animals are going to market early as producers anticipate not being able to feed them over the winter, Lewis said.

"It's a desperate situation in a lot of the province."

Still, Lewis said, it's uncommon to hear of hay thefts in Saskatchewan.

Ray Orb, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), said his organization is trying to identify areas of the province where producers have either extra hay or good pasture land so cattle from drier areas can be moved to graze.

So far, none has been found.

Orb said producers are likely waiting to see if their drought-stricken crops are written off by crop insurance before turning them into feed for livestock.

"I've seen some people that are baling their crops. In particular barley and wheat crops that are being baled right now," Orb said.

"So those bales will be on the market if they aren't already."

Lewis said that even though theft of hay bays is rare, people will be keeping a close eye on their inventory.

"People will be paying closer attention to make sure the right people are taking that hay and that it's not being stolen."