Weigh and sample hay bales before you buy

Weigh, test and sample hay before buying or selling, says University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Eldon Cole.

Beef producers rely on good quality hay to boost profits. “Unfortunately, some hay production is not the greatest quality,” Cole says. Many cattle producers face uncertainty in buying hay because there are no uniform standards for fescue.

There is a grading system for alfalfa that helps buyers make better decisions. A recent report from Kansas showed that buyers were paying $1 per relative feed value (RFV) point in alfalfa hay. For example, buyers paid $142 per ton for alfalfa with an RFV score of 142.

When buying hay, Cole says you should check three things: Weigh a few bales on a scale. Not all big round bales weigh 1,000 pounds. Most weigh less than that, so you could be paying more per bale than you should. Bale size and density matter.
Core sample 10-15 bales. Send samples to a lab for analysis of moisture, fiber, energy, and protein. The test will show the RFQ (relative forage quality) and help with ration balancing. Knowing these numbers will help you arrive at a fair price. Cost is about $25.

Look for hay that has been stored properly. Buy hay that has been stored in a barn as a first choice and hay that has been wrapped as second. Whatever you choose, store hay that you buy in a covered location. Locate your feeding area in a well-drained open area with easy access for feeding to reduce waste.

“The greatest expense cattle producers face each year is forage cost, whether it’s pasture, hay or haylage,” Cole says. “Use a sharp pencil to evaluate whether to raise your own hay or to buy it.”

Missouri Extension beef nutritionist Eric Bailey says now is a good time to inventory pastures and hay stockpiles to determine how much hay you need for winter feeding. Keep enough bales on hand to create a balanced ration to your herd’s nutritional needs.

Consider the size of the cow, its lactation status, and forage quality to calculate your per cow daily hay needs.

“Allow yourself some flexibility,” Bailey says. “If you expect to feed for 90 days, plan for 120.” Not all bales are created equal, Bailey says. Weights and nutritive values vary. The lower the nutritive quality, the more supplementation will be needed, and this adds to winter feed costs. “Overestimating bale density is a common mistake,” he says. “Assume your bale weight is 10% less than indicated.”

Bailey uses guidelines offered by Kansas State Extension agronomist Keith Martin. Most round bales will contain 9-12 pounds of dry matter (DM) per cubic foot. Loose, spongy bales will likely have a density of 9 pounds DM per cubic foot or less. Bales that deform slightly when pressed or spiked will likely have 10 pounds DM or less. Rigid bales that deform when pressed hard will likely have 11 pounds DM per cubic foot. Bales that only deform under the tractor’s weight will

likely have 12 pounds DM per cubic foot.

Feed costs account for 60% of a beef cow enterprise. Knowing the quantity and quality of hay you buy or grow directly affects the bottom line.


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