In my previous corporate marketing career, I learned every successful business person is surrounded by a team of top-notch experts. These business men and women, at the very least, have a banker guy, a lawyer guy, a stock guy, and a real estate guy. The grouping of gurus help the business elite make sound financial decisions and boost profits.

Me? I have a hay guy.

My hay guy and his son have delivered around 72,000 pounds of hay over the past six years.

Photo: Michelle N. Anderson

While others decide when to buy and sell from their investment portfolios, I’m trying to figure out how to buy and store hay at a rock-bottom price for the year. The way I see it, buying high-quality hay at an affordable price is an investement in my horses' health. And, while it seems like some sort of exciting new Internet-related IPO is always available for investment, we at-home horse keepers know the yearly hay supply is finite.

Once you get a guy, you keep him.

I met my hay guy nearly six years ago over Craigslist, an unlikely place to find hay at the time (many farmers hadn't yet started marketing online). My husband and I moved the horses to our new home in December, which is the wrong time of year to buy hay in Central Oregon. Desperate to feed my horses through the winter, I turned to online listings to find a supply. I came across an unassuming ad posted by Mitch, a 16-year-old boy looking for money to fix his pickup. His dad, Tim, let him manage and sell his own fields and that of their neighbors.

Since that initial phone call, Tim and Mitch have delivered somewhere around 72,000 pounds of high-quality Central Oregon grass hay to our small ranchette in three-ton lots. Mitch has also grown up, graduated, and joined the Marines, but Tim keeps haying the fields of his family farm.

In addition to delivering hay, Tim keeps me in the know about the agriculture business, which is important in our part of the world (and more important than the urbanites who live downtown might realize). He tells me if fertilizer, seed, water, or electricity prices have gone up or down; the market rate for beef cattle; and where Central Oregon hay is selling (much of it in Asia).

Having a go-to hay guy also ensures the hay I feed my horses is consistent in quality and nutrition and always available. Tim (and Mitch previously) does something right with his fields--my horses stay in shiny coats and good weight year after year with little extra supplementation. Because I only have room to store a quarter of my yearly hay requirement at a time, Tim stacks and holds the 12 tons I need each year, kind of like my own central hay bank. I’m spoiled, right?

Well, I didn’t realized how spoiled I am until earlier this month when I ran out of hay earlier than expected. Tim was out of town when I called, but I assured him I could make due until he made it home. I headed to my feed store and asked to buy a couple bales to tide me over, explaining my predicament.

The conversation went like this:

Me: “I need three bales of hay to get me through until my hay guy gets back into town.”

Feed store guy: “I can’t get any regular bales--everyone’s out. Wait--where are you getting your hay?”

I stopped a few beats, suddenly feeling as protective as a mother hen over my hay supply.

Me: “I’m not telling you.”

My feed store guy laughed, saying he wouldn’t give up his hay source, either. Never fear—my horses didn’t go hungry. Fortunately, my feed store guy is as good as my hay guy and tipped me off to a late-evening shipment of double-compressed bales of Timothy making their way from his unnamed source.

Now, as we near the end of June, windrows of hay line the fields along the highway into town. My husband, who commutes while I work from home, gives me daily updates on how the crop looks, which farmer cut before an unexpected rain shower, and the relative lack of “Hay for Sale” signs along the road.

It’s part of our spring ritual. Meanwhile, we’re already hearing word of hay shortages and increased demand, but I don’t worry too much. I know I’ve got a guy.

Do you have a hay guy (or gal)? Do you buy your hay all at once, or on an as-needed basis? And have you ever not been able to find hay during a shortage?