News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

A whole lotta hay

We’ve all seen them: Those really long flatbed, semi-trucks stacked with hay bales (or is it the more nutritious alfalfa?) inching through town. The drivers look happy for the most part. Maybe not so much on those crowded summer weekends when traffic crawls. Some smile for photos or blow their air horns for the begging teens as necks snap to look.

We only notice the westbound rigs, the loaded ones. Seems like one every 20 or 30 minutes and that would be a good guess. On their return trips they are empty and barely noticeable with their slimmed down profile. Where are they coming from and where are they going?

Their origins are the prodigious 300- to 400-acre irrigated fields surrounding Christmas Valley, Prineville, Madras, John Day, Burns and Vale to the Idaho border. Their destination? Mainly Tillamook and Marion Counties.

Hay is for horses and beef cattle, but in this case it’s mostly alfalfa for dairy cows. Not just any cows but the prized Holsteins, Jerseys, Guernsey’s, Ayrshires, brown Swiss and milking shorthorns common to the Tillamook County Creamery Association, Darigold (Northwest Dairy Association), and Organic Valley cooperative. Cheese, not milk, is the most-produced product. There are around 22,000-25,000 head in Tillamook County alone, about one for each of the 26,000 persons in the County.

Oregon is 19th in state rankings for total milk production but always in the top 10 for dairy quality. It’s the State’s fourth-largest commodity. A typical dairy is 350 to 400 cows on a 300-acre farm. The alfalfa trucked here through town is not the cow’s only diet but critical to health and longevity. A diet of 10 pounds per day and 24,000 cows translates to 120 tons per day just for Tillamook.

Those massive, densely packed bales we see are typically four by four by eight feet and weigh 1,200 to 1,500 pounds each. Even if gold or yellow on the outside, cut in an inch or two and they are lush green even months after cutting. The rigs coming through town are carrying about 40 such bales, roughly 25 to 30 tons. That means at least five truckloads just for dairy cows, just for Tillamook, which accounts for only one-fifth of Oregon’s total dairy herd.

Hay, of course, also passes through town bound primarily for beef cattle. Some hay, alfalfa, Timothy and other grasses are grown in the Valley and along the coast but nothing like what is produced in Central and Eastern Oregon where the longer and drier growing season yields two to three cuttings a year versus barely one for the wetter climes where the dairies are.

Cloverdale and Tumalo are part of this well-oiled supply chain. It feels good to know that Sisters is in the pipeline for turning out all that great cheese, a portion of which is bound for Japan and South Korea.


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