Monday, June 23, 2008

The adjustment cometh..........

I have mentioned before that I feel that horse prices here in Alaska are artifically high. Mostly this is a false threshold that is established by the expectations of the sellers. If the majority of the sellers have the idea that their horse is worth "x" amount of money, then that becomes the entry level for that caliber of horse.

For many years, this has been roughly around $1500, and anything with saddle time (loosely described as training) being "worth" at least a thousand more. Show experience, points, additional training, sought after performance pedigree, etc, would add quite a bit to the horses' relative value-and still does today. A well trained and accomplished horse is always going to be at a premium because people do recognize the investment in time and training that takes. Marketable horses even in poor economic conditions are always well trained.

Which leaves the large number of "green" horses to change hands. When I see "well started" and "green broke" horses on the market for month after month, I have to wonder about the expectations of the sellers. I learned the hard way some years ago, that some horses have no "value" whatever in the Alaska marketplace. In this category I would put seniors with special needs, foals and weanlings of marginal ancestry, or any part bred that is unstarted.

Just above that, is the green broke or barely started horse, or any with serious behavioral issues. This is true across the US as I have picked up from sales websites, traders, dealers, rescuers, and trainers. When OTTBs go to the kill buyers for $25 to $50 each, and the same for 100s of paint, quartherhorse, TWH, Arab, (any breed, age, or mix, actually) in the L48, a person has to wonder why they become magically worth more money here in Alaska, where the care and feeding of such horses-and training too, for that matter-is easily twice the cost of elsewhere.

And when veterinarians, farriers and our rescue group have lists of people looking to give away horses (or nearly so), one has to wonder about the future of horses here......After horses are on the market for months, the seller starts to get desperate and starts dropping the price-which will raise questions in any prospective buyers' mind of course. I surely don't envy anyone attempting to sell or rehome a horse this summer and fall-it's going to be fairly tough to place any horse unless and until, asking prices are adjusted to reflect the true market. Which is, of course, "what the market will bear".

And we aren't there yet, sad to say :(

My point is, if you are reading this with a horse you would like to sell-get out there and start working with it. The better manners, the more training it has, the better chance your horse has at a good home. If it's beyond your ability to do that, invest in your horses future by hiring a professional! There are a number of qualified individuals up here who can start and/or finish a horse, call one and get started :)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

And the flip side.....

In the producers' defense, I swear if I hear one more time a whiner wail "I can't find any good local hay!" I am going to scream, or go blind, or something! (And of course I confess to doing the same, from time to time, lol)

Argh, you dolts! It's freaking May (Or December, January, whatever month)! Did you think the farmers would have a pole barn full to the top of perfectly cured, green leafy hay that they forgot about, or what? Heck no, anyone who found great hay, bought every single bale they could! Where were you when it was harvest time? Couldn't find a truck and trailer? (Like you don't know what time of year hay is harvested???) Didn't have any money? (Again, you don't know what time of year you need to stock up-so you did not save the money??) You want the farmer to subsidize your recreation? Really? How is that working for ya? Couldn't find the time? Hmm, those excuses are pretty lean rations for your horses, now aren't they?

And I hear this refrain pretty regular: "I got a really good deal and now the hay is no good" Um, hello? There is a reason a particular hay is much cheaper than the going rate....and you can bet it isn't because the farmer "likes you". Nope, its because the hay is marginal to start with, hasn't been fertilized, is shot full of weeds, or any number of conditions that conspire to cause hay to mold...maybe its all of them, the end the result is the same-you have a stack (or a large amount) of hay you cannot give away to other horse people. So if you are lucky you can find someone who will feed it out to feeder calves for basically less than the gas and time it took to go get it.

And just how much of that disaster is of your own making? A lot, I bet. You drug the trailer home, and maybe left it sit for a day or two-sucking up dew on top. Or maybe you unloaded it into your barn-wedging it all in, not leaving any room for air to circulate. Maybe you even closed the doors and found a pile of mushroom sprouting, smoking crap in a couple weeks, who knows. Maybe you didn't think that tarps actually conduct rains, or that visqueen causes things to heat up underneath. Maybe your Costco tent blew away and the stack got filled with blown snow-and you didn't tear apart the stack to feed out the snow laden bales first.....any number of things can happen to hay after it leaves the feild-but first it has to get picked up.

If you speak with a farmer and tell him you will be there for a certain number of bales-be there! I know I have seen guys get pretty upset when it gets to be 9 o'clock at night and they are looking at 100s of bales and only a couple people to get it picked up. Having bucked hay past midnight for this very reason I can tell you, you probably won't ever be called again to come get hay out of the fields. Plan ahead, and make it happen, and be a good customer. Bring cash if you can, and never ever write a check that cannot be honored-another sure fire way to burn your bridges with your hay grower. Leave your dogs at home, and your small children with a sitter. A hay feild with large equipment is NOT the place for toddlers!

And for heavens sake, stop whining about the price of the hay! Are you paying the property taxes? Are you paying for the equipment maintenance and repairs? Are you buying the fuels, filters, lubes, twine and whatnot? Did you write that whopping check for the fertilizer? No? Then just be quiet. These people risk tens of thousands of dollars every single cutting, betting the weather will hold out for cutting, tedding, raking and baling-and that the people who called and pleaded with them to be "put on the list" actually show up like promised. And guess what? They can loose it all, with one rain!!

Every year that I walk onto a hay feild that has crop down, I feel the strong pull to be on a tractor myself....its amazingly hynoptic and rewarding at the same time for myself. But truthfully, there are many other ways to make money, than growing hay for finicky, flighty, and untrustworthy "customers" who want everything for nothing and whine about it too. Funny how I don't hear about these same folks donating their time to get that hay up.......

Second verse, same as the first

Okay, off on a rambling rant....

I cannot tell you how frustrated I become when I observe our local "farmers" making such idiotic, monumental mistakes.

Every year, more than half of them screw up big time, and lose the crop or just flat bale up crap. And their "business" suffers not just from poor quality hay either. They do not inform their customers when they plan on cutting, or baling, let alone which field they are in. They don't bother to ask anyone else to do that for them many customers who might otherwise have saved them the work of picking up from the fields are frustrated also. Not a one of them uses a scale (okay maybe one or two!) so everyone just guesses what the bales weigh. This is not good for the farmer, OR the buyer.

They don't pay close enough attention to weather patterns, and don't look beyond what is showing on the Kenai radar-hello, try looking at what's forming off the Chinese mainland, would ya? That is where our highs and lows are generated as they move across the Pacific and please look at the jet stream, ok? And would you invest in a moisture tester AND a weather station for the field? And NOT bale when the relative humidity is high? Please?

And then there is the hot seat of making the decision to cut or not. Trust me, I have been there too, and I know exactly how it feels. The majority of hay farmers here wait and wait and wait....typically until around the 4th of July. Why why why? One guy confessed that he knew exactly how many more bales that grew each day *rolls eyeballs* if he waited! The taller the grass, the more bales! Well buddy, let me tell you, the longer you wait, the crappier the it? More stem equals more bulk, and reduced protien overall. More stem means greater chance the hay will mold because the joints on that straw are bigger! Trying to get around this by making the bales smaller only means you are ripping off your customers twice, got that too?

There is no comparison whatever between the premium hays grown in the L48 and what passes for timothy "hay" here in Southcentral. I have had more than one producer stop by as I was unloading vans of real grass, look enviously at it, then brag on their own production. They don't test their hay, most of them, so they have no idea how it stacks up against imported hay. Most aren't even aware what their fields lack, or even what the window for harvest is after application. They don't understand the stress that a too low setting on the mower does to the plants. Dudes and dudettes, I am here to tell you, it's about 40 to 45 days after application. Which puts the optimum cut time somewhere about mid June, or even earlier if the field was fortunate enough to get some early May rains. It does not mean waiting until the stalks are nearly standing cured it is so over mature!

They should know, every last one of them, what makes for quality hay. Even the weekend farmer, who has invested tens of thousands of dollars into equipment and fertilizers. And especially the "professionals" out there, producing many 1000s of bales. It really bites to loose it all to mold, as everyone knows. If you must bale to get that nearly dry hay up before a rain squall, for heavens sake *get off your tractor and loosen the bales*, would you? Trust me, every horse owner up here would rather buy smaller, looser squares (for a buck or two less) that stand a better chance of properly curing (instead of molding off) and adjust the price accordingly. Better to have satisfied customers who will COME BACK WHEN YOU CALL, then resentful people attempting to dump moldy hay back into your barn.

And guess what? Round ables should not be moldy either! I know many many people that would buy round bales, if they were of decent quality. But it's normal to have the farmer switch from a square baler over to the round baler, when they get tired of running squares and don't think they have the manpower to get it up. Wrap the darned stuff if its questionable and do not try to pass it off as "cow hay okay for horses" Trust me on this, some of us know better than to waste our money on over mature, straw like hay thats molded on the joints-it for darned sure is going to mold through.

And a final note: Dusty hay is not usually dusty. It's mold, 90% of the time. Don't believe me? Get out a magnifying glass and look carefully at those stems. See for yourself, if the yellow/brown color, stale and sour odor, and broom straw like appearance does not convince you of this. See the joints on the stems? That black stuff? See that fluff like looking grey/green stuff on the blades? Mold, mold, mold.

It just infuriates me that we could produce good quality hay, but don't. Yes I know our weather is more challenging than many areas of the US. But did you know you could shorten drying time by cutting earlier? Cutting earlier also drastically reduces weeds, too, an added benefit. Cutting earlier also allows the plant itself to recover, and provides a much greater chance at a second cutting as well.

You want to charge a premium for your hay? Go organic! Yes, you can really do this, there are things you can apply to your fields that are both economical and beneficial. Your yeild might be down a bit, but you will have a waiting list of customers, eager to purchase it. If you feed the land, it will feed you.

Words to remember from this rant, if nothing else applies to YOU.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Uncertain times

The two word title above seems to stay in the forefront of my thoughts lately.

Being pessimistic by nature, I am finding the current state of affairs nerve wracking. Some days, it takes a concerted effort of will not to slide down into anxiety and its baser companion, outright panic. I see a perfect storm of challenging, epic proportions coming to a head over the months to come.

First, we have the skyrocketing fuel prices. As anyone knows that lives up here, fuel prices equal shipping costs, and darn near everything is shipped in from points well south of the Port of Anchorage. Ever heard of fuel surcharges? No? Basically this is an extra fee that the freight company clips you for, over and above established rates. Fuel surcharges are over 30%, and I expect they will continue to rise at a pace commensurate with crude futures speculation activity. This means that (for example only here) a cargo van whose established freight is $3000, the actual cost is over $3900. It's not uncommon for companies to arrange the shipping of their container, and not know how much the freight will be until it is actually loaded onto the ship.

Second, the high price of fuel. Yes, I know I already said that ;) But, fuel prices directly effect the cost of fertilizers on all crops-and it isn't the increased cost to harvest and ship that crop either. Many areas of the US have seen the price double over last year or two, and this is true here in Alaska as well. Consequently, some farmers up here have confessed to me in private, that they could not afford to apply fertilizer in the amounts they have done in previous years-some, not at all. With the closing of the Agrium plant on the Kenai (not enough natural gas, remember?) that local source of fertilizer is not available any longer. It must be brought up from the L48-again subject to those surcharges.

Third, the weather. Perfect storm, indeed. The unusually cool and cloudy weather we have had here in Southcentral, has played out in the PNW also. Speaking to growers down there, I am hearing that there is expected to be as much as 30% less hay and grains harvested this year, over last. In some specific locations, premium dairy grade hay is double the cost of last spring. Dairy operations and cattle farmers (plus feed lots, etc) are having a very difficult time finding affordable forages....and this is true for the large hay brokers such as Anderson, who ship many tousands of tons of hay and grain offshore. It hasn't been better for the MidWest either. Late spring frosts and snows, and now flooding (or searing heat with no rain in some areas) have literally decimated corn, soybeans, beets, etc. These are the same crops that not only feed our herds, but are used in large part in our horses' grain rations. If you haven't been hearing about this, you should pay attention....we are not an island here, and what affects the phenominal production of the Amercan farmer, affects us here in Alaska too.

Fourth, the weather again. Weather plays a huge role here in Alaska as far as hay and grain production goes. Notice how cool it's been this summer so far? Have you taken a really good look at feilds you have chanced to drive by? See how short they are? All those clouds, and very little rain. A very cold spring with a late snow and farmers were unable to get fertilizers down or crops in by the usual time. And hardly any "growth days" as far as temperature either. I see this in my own garden where it took nearly three weeks for the green beans to sprout. It's only been the last week or so that I haven't had temps into the upper 30s overnight. I still haven't seen any potatoes up, and its obvious that the ground is still too cold for some things to germinate-like carrots. Likewise, the hay is short.....we need a few weeks of real summer weather to bump the yeild-farmers may very well opt for a single cut due to this. Expect a late first cutting, is what I am hearing. The very few who have irrigation will be able to avoid this, but many 100s of acres out at Pt MacKenzie are not irrigated, as an example.

Fifth, market adjustments. I am absolutely astounded that the horse market here has not corrected itself yet. While the rescues are overwhelmed with huge numbers of abandoned or seized horses in the L48, and auctions are overrun with horses selling for a pittance, you can still find plenty of "projects" here for thousands. >rolls eyeballs< Check out fuglyhorse and read about what's happening across the L48. Pay special attention to auction reports-it's sobering. It's not uncommon to see a horse advertised here all summer long with a price tag that only a finished show horse would bring at sale down south.....and it will have minimal training and likely has behavioral issues to boot. Even on that cheapest of marketing tools, Craigslist, you can find horses listed every day for ten times (or more) than their counterparts command down south. Owning a horse here has never been so costly, and never so challenging. Ask any vet or farrier, I am sure they have a lengthy list of horses needing homes right now, and most of those will be reasonably priced, or free.

The coming perfect storm of rising costs. It used to be, I knew plenty of folks who counted on their PFDs to stock up on hay and grain for the coming year. This summer, most people I have spoken to, plan to use their Dividends to pay for home heating costs. Just how they are going to make it through the winter months with their horses they haven't thought through. The only formal rescue group we have in state (Alaska Equine Rescue) can no longer accept horses which are healthy for any reason. They save their resources for the truly seriously needy, and also have a list of horses available from private parties. On the one hand, this is a good thing-it forces people to deal with their horses themselves.......this is especially true for the infirm and/or aged horse with health issues. On the other, this means that their limited resources are stretched beyond the breaking point. And of course, they do not get nearly the community support they deserve and merit.

I too, am nervous about the coming winter. I have already turned down five horses for free. First cutting is still a week or two out, and thus the sticker shock to come-I estimate the doubled fertilizer cost to increase the price of hay off the feild by about $2, roughly. I have a hunch this is going to push those owners who were scraping by so far, right over the edge. When the choice must be made: heat or feed-who do you think will suffer?

Uncertain times, indeed :(

Thursday, June 12, 2008


A very brief recount of where we are in this:

Wingnut continues to improve! We have been turning her out into the arena, where she playfully exercises herself for at least 20 minutes ;) And yeehaw, I forgot how much ground she can cover, wow can she move out! After she blows off steam, we just allow her to meander at will, and I don't plan on asking her to really "work" until next week. The newly deposited fat is very gradually beginning to disappear-it doesn't get turned into muscle of course, it's replaced with muscle. She's looking pretty good but I can tell I need to bump her nutrition ever so slightly to compensate for the additional activity. It is rather a balancing act, because I do not need to have her "pinging off the fences" with excess energy, either :) Her coat is wonderful but she still pins her ears flat at feeding time-I have a hunch this is probably not going to go away. Many horses who have been starved exhibit similar (or worse) behaviors.

As of next week, I would say she is ready to start work. To that end, I convinced the gravely ill owner to consider a "half lease" and sent out an email about her. I am hoping someone with experience will jump on the chance to ride a horse without the big purchase price or big boarding fee. After all, she was well started professionally last year and only needs a short "tune up" to hit the trails. I really do think that whoever takes a chance on this young mare, is going to be pleasantly surprised. She's personable, smart and willing, young, healthy and sound. Keep your fingers crossed, because this mare desperately needs more attention than she is getting now.

As for is court day. She is apparantly fighting the citation regarding Wingnut. The Boro attorney was delighted to talk to me earlier today, and discover that I do, indeed, have some credentials and have knowledge regarding recovery care. Let's just hope that the judge listens to the evidence, and not just give her the proverbial "slap on the wrist" for her actions. Of course it could be sent to jury trial-I will know more later on tonight. I am curious to actually see Ms Belardi as I have no idea what she looks like. Won't she be surprised to discover that there was nothing wrong with the horse?

Stay tuned for more news :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Slowly moving along here......

Chores and projects are slowly progressing here. A few things we planned to have done "sometime" over the summer are already completed, like bucking up the pile of logs left from the land clearing. We are still debating what to do about winter hay storage, that has been a thorn here since day one. With all the bays in the barn being used, I only have about five pallets' worth of storage-not nearly enough for the several hundred bales of local grass I hope to have on hand going into winter. After losing three storage tents in a row, we won't do that again :)

The garden is growing, sorta. A little concerned about my zucchini, which is very slow to take off. It too, is not doing well in our cool, cloudy summer. Last night when I got home, I was tickled to discover that more peas have cropped up, and beans too! Not all of them, but maybe 20 percent. If we ever get that couple days of sun that we keep getting promised, the rest will come up too. I can see I will be spending quite a bit of time weeding this coming weekend, because if nothing else, an Alaskan garden always grows a good crop of crabgrass!

The chickens have settled in very well. They are out every morning, scratching through the manure (yay! no manure flies!) and wandering around. We are giving them small amounts of kitchen trimmings and they get right after it with gusto. So far *knocks on wood* they are staying off the garden. They do not seem to care for walking on the plastic sheeting. I have been trying to convince my husband that they really need a place to roost. He, of course, has no idea how important this is. I, of course, have been in a number of coops and understand the necessity. I would much rather have them on a wooden dowel or broom handle, than on the hay ;)

Still having issues with my camera.....I think somehow a setting has been changed (thanks to my inquisitive son) and now it wants to record short video instead of pictures! Off to attempt to get the instructions downloaded-again!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


First, Chubs is one happy camper! He walked into the trailer with no hesitation and traveled like the well seasoned old campaigner he is. He was very patient at the destination while we prepped his spot, just having a good look around. Upon unloading he was wonderful on the lead, then was turned loose in the grassy area. Within seconds, he had three mares in a total tizzy over his presence :) Everyone was so rattled and dashing around at such speeds that I sent my son (with dog, haha!) to safety in the pickup. The herd dynamics that evolved were pretty interesting, to say the least, but at last report he has settled in very very well-just gets upset when he can't see the other horses for a time. If things go reasonably well, I expect he will be turned loose with the mares in a couple of days. I could not dream of a better situation for his last summer, really. And I am eternally grateful to the compassionate horse owner who offered to pasture him. Kudos to you (and you know who you are *wink*) for recognizing his needs.

Second, the garden is planted, yippee! I am seeing new growth on the vegetable starts, the flowers in the baskets are going great guns, and I find myself needing to pot up some tomatoes again. The only things coming along slowly are the pea and bean seeds-likely due to our cloudy and cool weather. They are just about to pop, any day now....and I found three packets of peas and have been debating whether they should go in the ground too. A neighbor has kindly picked me up two really nifty little carnation type perennials because I admired them in her garden. I will have to get the name of them-wonderful scent! Luckily I have just the place for them, right where the new (double white ruffle type) peony is going. Speaking of perennials, my sis tells me she is bringing me a pile of them for my birthday. Egads, this means building a seperate bed for them, for sure. The lillies and peonies I planted last year are finally, finally starting to show, very late. I think this is due to not quite enough mulch last year, and our very cold spring?

Things with Wingnut are going well....she is continuing to gain and we have started turning her out into the arena about every other day. Luckily, she self exercises and she has begun the slow process of converting the newly deposited fat into muscle. She really does look good, and I do plan on new photos this weekend, for sure. Today she gets her first dose of strongid wormer, after a lengthy series of ivermectin. Over the weekend, she apparantly rolled and found herself in with the other two horses along side her run. This happened while we were hauling Chubs, and no major harm was done....a couple scrapes, and one board on one wall cracked-from the looks of things, someone got pinned inside the barn and bolted out-clipping the board along the way. Everything was very quiet when we arrived back home, and we headed back to the house for tools to fix the minor issues. About that time, Wingnut's "step Dad" showed up, and he decided he should give the three a snack. Um, not a good idea! There was another dustup immediately, but we got everyone seperated, repairs made, and now Wingnut is back where she belongs.

The other news is that today I am picking up six chickens. And I have another two to pick up tomorrow as I don't have room to get them all in the one cage. Three Wyandottes, three Anacaunas, and two beautiful little Banties...the banties are fairly young, and are white with red shoulders. The other, larger birds are egg layers-two hens and a roo of each. Not that I need that many roosters, but what the heck. I am thrilled and have been running around getting supplies. We are going to put them in a 12x12 bay in the barn, so they will be under my husband and son get that prepped as I will be heading home with them this afternoon, haha!

Honestly, I had no idea I was going to need so many trash cans! I have six just for horse feed, and now find I will need at least two to three more for the bird feed, at least. I better give some thought to where I can store this stuff so it doesn't take up so much room inside the barn proper.......