Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
GILLETTE, Wyo. — Harold Gage slowly backs his semitrailer up next to the fence at his Rozet home.
His friend, Tyler Hippen, trails behind, making fresh footprints in the snow.
As the sun sinks, the temperature falls steadily toward zero. Gage’s girlfriend, Lisa Winjum, runs inside the house to put on warmer clothes, but she’s right back outside as soon as her coveralls are buckled.
Gage steps down from the cab, and he, Winjum, Hippen and two others get to work loosening the tight straps that hold 13 round bales of hay to the trailer. One by one, they pull the straps off and stow them under the cab.
Gage and Hippen then hoist the skinnier of the other two men up onto the truck. He leans back on one of the round bales and gets ready to push with his legs. Winjum calls her dogs away from the truck, and on the count of three the men kick and push the first large hay bale off the rig.
Once one falls off, the rest is easy.
They all jump up on the trailer, and after a few minutes of grunting and shoving, the remainder of the load is off.
Round ba-les weigh be-tween 1,700 and 1,800 pou-nds. They fall to the ground with a thud, and they don’t bounce. These bales are solid, fresh hay wra-pped up tight, with no mold in the middle.
With such a bad drought this season, seeing more than a few bales of hay spread out on one property is uncommon in Campbell County.
Hay is so tough to come by many ranchers have had to downsize their cattle herds, selling cows and giving away horses they cannot afford to feed.
But Gage and Winjum have worked out a system.
Three or four times a week, the couple or a hired driver travels 430 miles up to Wild Rose, N.D., to pick up 26 bales of hay, a full truckload on Gage’s semi. Once they get the hay loaded and securely strapped down — at least a two-hour process — the pair turns around and drives the 430 miles back.
While the two own 26 horses, they don’t need that much hay for themselves.
They know the livestock community is hurting, so they sell what they can at a fair price — $165 per bale, to be exact.
Winjum said some hay in the area is going for $250 to $300 per ton, up from the typical price of around $100 per ton last year. She said they’d sell their bales for cheaper, but they need to take transportation costs into consideration.
“We figured out how much it would cost to get Harold’s semi up and running again, and li-censing, permits in each state, insurance, tires, fu-el, truck driver pay and maintenance,” Winjum said.
As soon as she posted an Internet ad around Thanks-giving, they started getting calls. The couple delivers to a few regular customers, but they hear from someone new almost every day.
“It seems like most of the people are new people,” Gage said. “They’re just in dire need of hay, and they need it now.”
Janet and Bill Woodworth are regular customers who heard about Gage and Winjum through word of mouth. Janet Woodworth has been raising cows all her life.
“We’ve always had hay, and we’ve always been able to have some carry-over hay,” Wood-worth said.
“There was only one year we had to buy a little bit, and that was probably 15 years ago.”
Not only has Woodworth had to buy numerous bales of hay this year, she already has had to sell six head of her cattle in order to be able to afford to feed the rest.
“It’s a sad year,” Woodworth said.
“All this beautiful weather this fall and winter is not good for us. It’s getting scary for next year.”
This is the first year Gage and Winjum have done so-mething so drastic to be able to feed their animals, but they may have to keep it up if Wyoming doesn’t get more precipitation.
The couple isn’t making much money delivering the hay. In fact, they’re barely breaking even.
But the animal lovers are in it for the livestock and for the families whose livelihoods depend on them.