For many cattle producers, buying hay is a much more profitable option than raising and harvesting their own. There are many advantages to buying, but one of the drawbacks is finding hay that meets your expectations of quality. Here are a few hints to assure that the hay you buy is a good value.
Buy Dry Matter
Most hay producers want to sell by the bale or "roll." Unfortunately, not all rolls are created equal. Cows eat hay by the pound, not by the bale. More specifically, they eat hay by the pound of dry matter. So, before you agree to a hay trade, have a test done to measure the moisture content of the hay. Most hay will average 85 to 90 percent dry matter. Then, determine what the bales weigh. This will require an actual scale, as most people are no better at guessing the weight of a bale than the weight of a cow. Compare different hay sources on the basis of dollars per ton of dry matter, not dollars per bale.
Buy Adequate Quality
Determine the exact nutrient requirements for the class of animal that will be consuming the hay. It makes a difference if they are heifers or cows, dry or lactating, thin or fat, etc. Enlist the help of a professional animal nutritionist, if needed. Then, purchase hay that will provide at least that level of nutrition. Don't buy hay that you will need to supplement. How do you know what the quality of hay is? Make the seller provide you with a lab analysis, or get a sample of the hay and run one yourself. I have personally seen a $10 hay test save a cow-calf producer several thousand dollars because he turned down some hay that didn't meet his specs.
Buy A "Good" Bale
Most producers can easily see the difference between hay that was "put up right" and hay that wasn't. This difference has value, especially if you store your hay outside. Buy bales that are tightly rolled, dense, have square shoulders and don't sag. Net wrap helps a bale shed rainwater. You also want a bale that is free of mold, weed seeds and dangerous levels of nitrates (depending upon the species of grass). A final consideration is where that bale is located; the closer the better, to cut down on transport costs.
Does all of that sound like work? Well, it is. Buying good hay that is a good value is not an especially easy thing to do. But, a few hours invested here can have a huge payoff in the performance of your cattle, the health of your pastures and the thickness of your wallet!
"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." Charles Darwin