With a dry growing season this year, barns of livestock producers are going into the winter with lower than normal stocks of hay. Challenging weather has also made the availability of hay scarce, pasture supplies short and hay prices have risen as a result.
It’s important for hay buyers to beware of the quality and weight of the hay they are buying according to Tim Schnakenberg, agronomy specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
“Even though hay may look similar when sitting in a stack or in rows ready for sale, the variability in quality and weight of hay is significant,” said Schnakenberg.
Referring to large round fescue bales, Schnakenberg says a bale may range in weight from 500 to 1,800 pounds depending on the baler used and the conditions at harvest. Protein levels in a bale may range from four to 18 percent.
Variables include the maturity of the forage when harvested, weed content, moldiness, leafiness and color. Buyers should also be cautious of the level of toxic nitrates that may exist in sorghum sudan or johnsongrass-containing hay.
Schnakenberg encourages hay buyers to test hay before purchasing it. There have been many fields of mature, first-cutting hay baled late in the season this year and offered for sale to the public.
“At the going price of grass hay these days, some producers may find a better deal buying alfalfa hay and not having to supplement to get their beef cows through the winter. Another option may be a limit-fed program using corn or feed by-products,” said Schnakenberg.
Buyers should review the RFV (Relative Feed Value), protein levels and weights of bales they are buying and make decisions based on the quality and the price per ton. Producers are also advised to make the most of their winter pasture in times such as these.
Schnakenberg recently calculated the current cost of feeding hay to the cost of feeding fertilized stockpiled fescue and found that a cow may be fed stockpiled fescue at cost of around $.37 per day compared to over $.80 per day to feed fescue hay.