KALISPELL – Over the past 17 years, hundreds of abused, displaced, neglected, and unwanted farm animals have found a permanent home in Marion on All Mosta Ranch, the Flathead Valley's only livestock rescue.
In the past few months, however, the amount of hay available for purchase in the valley has dwindled so dangerously that Director of Operations Kate Borton may have to shut down the sanctuary.
"If we can't buy the hay we need to feed the animals, we'll have to close," Borton said. "And I can't find any (hay)."
Drought, high temperatures, and low humidity have contributed to what fourth-generation Flathead farmer Chris Fritz calls "the worst (hay harvest) in over 100 years."
Fritz said his pastures, located on the outskirts of Kalispell, have all but dried up. Most seasons, he produces about 600 round hay bales, 400 of which he keeps, selling or donating the rest. This year, he's not sure he'll break 500.
Usually, Fritz gives some hay to Borton, but he said this summer he "can't afford to let hay go for any sort of donation. I'm not selling hay because I'm not sure I'll even have enough for myself. it's going to be a hard year for Kate."
Kim Hagadone, another farmer who supports All Mosta, has only been able to harvest two-thirds of her usual yield and doesn't expect to be able get a second crop.
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"People are literally lining up knocking at our door, and we have no hay to give them," Hagadone said. "It makes me sad because we've donated a lot of hay to All Mosta every year, but (this year) it's all gone."
Borton has been forced to turn to brokers who ship in hay from Billings, Bozeman, Butte, and Canada.
"I'll do everything in my power to get the hay," she said.
Borton said brokers don't sell their wares cheap. In past years, it has cost her about $2,000 per month to feed the 100 animals currently under her care. But this year, many brokers are pricing bales above $300 per ton, which is more than twice what she typically spends.
As a small nonprofit, All Mosta depends on donations from the public for its survival. Now more than ever, donations are critical to keep operations running.
"If donations don't come in, and we can't even buy the hay that we need ..." Borton trailed off. "What's the use of having a rescue if I can't feed the animals?"