On November 19th, 2016 I was invited to witness the infamous Oregon Hay and Forage Association’s (OHFA) annual Hay King Contest! I’m not lying when I say that learning that this event existed may have been the catalyst for my entire life as I currently know it! [For that story, go to the Equis Feed blog by clicking this link.] The Hay King contest invites all OHFA members to submit 1 representative bale from that year’s hay crop and a corresponding representative forage analyses from that lot to a judging panel. Each forage submission is judged on an extensive number of criteria both analytical and aesthetic. The event’s primary objective is to provide a learning opportunity for OHFA members. It’s a chance for hay producers of all sizes and specialties to discuss quality factors, compare forage analyses with visual and olfactory senses, as well as share notes from the season.
I was greeted warmly by my friend Greg Mohnen and his wife Linda when I entered the warehouse building in Madras, Oregon last November. Two judges, Scott Pierson (OHFA VP) and Jim Smith (California based forage extension specialist) were standing between many rows of neat hay bales. A crowd was gathered around them, and the event was about to begin! The hay bales were identified by their species, cutting number, and function. The judges begin the competition by checking the symmetry of the bale and the strength of the baling twine. The strings are then cut and the intensity of the judging rises. Each judge gets down close beside the bale, puts their faces fully between the flakes, and takes a good long whif! The bale should smell fresh and sweet like it was just cut yesterday. The judges usually spend about 15-20 minutes on each forage submission comparing a full page of criteria. It’s an impressive journey through each bale of hay- something is learned from each and every one of them. The event takes all day during which hamburgers and hot dogs are grilled and much coffee is made. At the end of the day, scores are tallied and the Best of Show is named!
The Hay King participants represent the most progressive hay growers in the industry. Every horse owner should be thrilled that this event takes place each year, because it means that the regional hay growers are continuously looking for ways to improve! In my efforts to bring hay growers and horse owners together- speaking the same language- I’d like the equestrian community to better understand the complexity of growing hay. Studying the score sheet for the Hay King contest is one way horse owners can step into the hay growers’ shoes, realize what motivates them, and empathize with the “art” of growing great quality hay. For more information about the annual Hay King Contest, Click HERE.
Maybe one day the Hay King contest will have a “low carb grass hay” category!