Thunder Bay

Hay shortage impacting farmers across northwestern Ontario

A beef farmer in Emo, Ontario says a lack of hay is causing concerns for many farmers right across northwestern Ontario.

Bad weather and drought weather in 2018 to blame

Kim-Jo Bliss, says a lack of hay in the region could mean some scrimping for farmers this spring. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

A beef farmer in Emo, Ont. says a lack of hay is causing concerns for many farmers right across northwestern Ontario.

Kim Jo Bliss, who also works for the University of Guelph, at the research station in Emo, said the hay situation could be a lot better.

Bliss said she has been hearing from farmers from Dryden and Thunder Bay who are looking for help finding hay to feed their animals.

"I think hay is extremely tight," she said. "I've been getting calls the last little while looking for hay and sending out emails to a large distribution list, to find some. Hay has been trading in our district."

Bliss said poor conditions in late summer and fall of last year are mostly to blame for the shortfall. She said the weather in 2018 made it harder for farmers to get a good crop of hay.

"It was sort of a strange season last year," Bliss said. "It started out wet, then we had drought. We weren't getting the second and third cut yields ... or even any at all. We have no control about that weather."

Bliss said the cost of buying hay can also be expensive for farmers, especially when transportation of it is rolled in.

She said hay is a major component of farming for those who have cattle as it is a primary food source during the winter.

Kim Jo Bliss, says she has been getting calls and emails from farmers looking for hay. (Kim Jo Bliss)

Bliss said the amount of hay an animal will eat is dependent on weather, breed, cow size and other factors. However, the appetites — like the animals — are big. "Generally, speaking you usually plan to have eight to 10 round bales per animal for winter," she said.

Bliss said a cold winter like we have just had can also increase food consumption by livestock. There is an old farmer saying that it's best if you have half of next year's hay left over from the winter, she added.

"It really is a good feeling when you are not scrimping by," said Bliss.

However, Bliss said this spring, few farmers she knows will have a surplus of hay for their stock. "Personally, I plan to feed till the first of June," said Bliss.

"If the cows go out before that and there is enough growth, awesome." Bliss said a late spring would compound the problem, as it would push back the start time for when cattle can graze.

She said letting cattle out to pastures too early, before all the snow is gone, can lead to overgrazing.

Yet the animals have to be fed. "The last thing you want to be doing is looking at that calendar and going 'oh man, I need to squeeze in another day,'" she said. "That's not all that fun."