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0507 FG: How good is your hay?

Tom Keene Published on 02 October 2007

All hay that is made or produced should have a value placed on it, because no matter what livestock enterprise it is earmarked for there were significant inputs that went into producing the hay.

Therefore, it is imperative we place a value on the hay product(s) we have produced.

The only real conclusive way to put a monetary value on the hay is to have it analyzed in a certified laboratory recognized by the National Forage Testing Association. Then, designate that hay for the particular livestock enterprise that is best suited for it.

Now, how do we get to that point? It all starts when a particular field or farm is being designated for hay production. There are several questions we need to ask when the haymaking decisions are being made:

  • Is this hay I am producing for my own livestock?
  • Is this hay going to be earmarked for cash hay sales?
  • Will this hay fulfill all the stored feed needs I have for the upcoming season?
  • If cash hay, what markets am I targeting?
  • Am I going to do my own marketing or have someone else do it?
  • Does the market dictate the package size?
  • What type and size equipment do I need?
  • Do I have adequate and proper storage?
  • If cash hay, who will transport?

What type of hay shall I produce?
As you can see from this list, many things have to be taken into consideration when making hay. However, just as important as all of these questions are, it is vitally important we carefully document all inputs from the very beginning of the decision-making process. This documentation must be kept from the initial thought, “I am going to make hay,” all the way through until we document its “sale price” either as a cash hay sale or through our own livestock enterprise.

Once we know what all our input costs are, we can then begin to place a monetary value on the hay. We really don’t want to sell our hay for a loss, so a fair market value should be placed on the hay. That’s fairly easy to do in the cash hay market. The cash hay is pretty much driven by supply and demand. You have various tools at your disposal to gauge the current cash hay market:

•word of mouth
•auction quotes
•local broker
•magazines and newspapers
•producer meetings

Now comes the trickier part. How do you put a value on hay you feed to your own livestock enterprise?

We first need to divide our livestock into groups: dry cows, cows with calves at their side, etc. Once we do that we need to calculate what the feed needs (nutrient requirements) are of those particular groups. After that is done, we can then begin to allocate our hay supplies as they best fit each groups’ nutrient needs. We surely don’t need to feed that dry cow 22 percent crude protein (CP) alfalfa while feeding the cow with a calf at her side some very mature tall fescue.

That’s where our hay testing can pay big dividends. Knowing those critical values for protein, fiber, digestibility, etc. allows us to get the optimal value out of each particular lot of hay as well as maximum (dry cows probably don’t need “maximum”) production from each livestock group. This also provides us with a real dollar value for each lot of hay.

If we have excess hay, this may allow us to market our higher-quality product for more dollars on the cash hay market. This might even be prudent if all we have is high-quality hay – sell the high-end hay and purchase other hay for your lesser livestock nutrient requirements at a lower price.

There are many components to making high-quality hay. Some of these include:

•adjust pH and fertility to levels needed by the crop
•prepare adequate seed bed
•use certified seed and correct seeding rates
•control insects and disease
•cut at proper stage of maturity

And, after you do all of those correctly, hope and pray that Mother Nature will cooperate with timely rainfall. Brevity does not allow us to follow up on all the details for making high-quality hay.

One thing I do want to touch on is storage of the product after harvest. Losses can be up to 66 percent of our product if we do not do a good job of storage. That’s two out of three round bales lost. Significant dollars are wasted if you do not store your hay properly. All of the input costs for those two bales are essentially lost.

In summary, if you really want to know how good your hay is, ask many questions before the initial production begins, make good managerial decisions for production and harvest, have the proper storage necessary and, finally, market the hay to the appropriate enterprise. Then do the math and you will know how good your hay is.  FG

—From 2006 Kentucky Cattlemen’s Convention Forage Symposium Proceedings

Tom Keene
Hay Marketing Specialist
University of Kentucky