With hay hitting all-time record high prices, hay thefts are being reported in Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri and Texas. So far, most of the thefts are occurring in central and Western states where farms and ranches are more remote. That doesn’t mean stable owners in other areas shouldn’t be concerned. Some hay thefts occur in most areas each year, but current prices of $275 to $320 per ton make hay a more inviting target.
Stealing a bale of hay isn’t like pinching a valuable necklace or diamond ring. Bales can weight 1,500 or pounds. In Colorado, the Denver Post reported one group of brazen hay rustlers solved the loading problem by hot-wiring a tractor with attached loader. Not only did the owner lose about $5,000 worth of hay, but damage to the tractor ignition cost a lot of money to repair. Hay thefts are said to have doubled in Colorado over previous years.
Keeping hay under lock and key isn’t practical for most stable owners. Hay stacks or storage buildings should be considered in the overall stable security plan. Avoid locating hay storage in isolated areas where thieves have privacy.
Law enforcement agencies trying to catch hay thieves face a big challenge. It is difficult to say where hay came from or who owns it if a suspect is apprehended. That could be changing.
In 2008, Jeff Roberts, owner of Harvest Tec, Hudson, WI introduced a hay identification system that mounts on balers. Each bale being produced receives a radio-frequency identification tag that wraps around the twine of each bale. Information is recorded on the tag as the bale is made that can include the field on which the bale was grown, moisture level and other data. A scanner lets an operator read the information about each bale, including grower name. It’s a little like DNA for hay.
Currently, the system is available on AGCO and New Holland big square balers and through some farm equipment dealers for retrofit. Expect more baler manufacturers to offer the option. Having this data could be a valuable tool for stable owners.
Go to www.Harvesttec.com if you would like to learn more about hay identification systems. It might be worthwhile to start asking hay suppliers if they offer bale identification.