Don Off has been a farmer since before he could walk.
Off, who was born and raised in Yampa, remembers his father taking him to the barn and teaching him how to milk dairy cows.
That was nearly 80 years ago, and since then, Off said, he has experienced his share of droughts.
However, he said this year is different. On his 12-acre Henderson farm, Off said, he recently put up a sign to advertise 60- to 65-pound bales of hay for $7.
“It scares you to death,” Off said of the hay prices as he walked through his freshly plowed field. “I’ve sold hay at $3 a bail lots of times, but at $7 a bail, it’s crazy. I don’t know how people can afford it.”
As the drought continues to plague the state, agricultural and livestock producers have seen feed prices skyrocket, causing many of them to thin their herds. That action may provide some temporary financial relief to consumers nationwide but also contributes to long-term concerns, experts say.
“When you reduce the size of your herd because of stressful conditions, you don’t rebuild that herd overnight,” Ron P. Carleton, Colorado Department of Agriculture deputy commissioner, said. “It takes time to build it back up, so we’re going to see the level of cattle probably drop here for at least a period of time.”
He said low precipitation and snowpack rates, combined with higher-than-normal temperatures, contributed to a low hay yield statewide.
As a result, Carleton said, hay’s scarcity has forced stores to charge twice as much, if not more, for the crop than in other years.
At the American Pride Co-Op store in Brighton, farm store manager Dave Swanson said the store is currently charging customers $14 for a bale of alfalfa hay, $1 to $2 higher than last year. He said the store has enough locally produced alfalfa hay on hand for the winter months, but is only receiving about half of the cheaper grass hay that it would get in other years.
What’s more, he said the large demand for hay, combined with the lack of it, has caused the store to issue a five-bales-per-day limit.
However, Coloradans are taking it mostly in stride.
Jennifer Tucker, a Colorado State University Adams County extension small acreage coordinator, said this drought is not the first for Coloradans.
“We’re going to see this, but we’re very fortunate here in Colorado in that we have been through drought cycles many times,” Tucker said. “While this is uncomfortable and no one wants to see this happen, we don’t have the sky-is-falling mentality that other states might be dealing with because we’ve already been there, and we understand how this is going to play out as livestock producers.”