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What is the Real Value of Hay?

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With the increase in fertility costs, I thought it timely to revisit the subject of hay and see what the value of a 1,200-pound round bale might actually be. Many people consider feeding hay to be a necessary cost in any livestock operation. But do they really know the actual cost of substituting hay when there's an absence of forage in their pastures?

Figure 1 is a chart showing the primary nutrients needed to supply 1 ton of bermudagrass hay and the cost or value of these nutrients.

As you can see, the cost or value of the primary nutrients in a typical bermudagrass round bale is $20.30. If you add to this the cost of baling, about $15 per round bale, then your cost for a 1,200-pound round bale is now $35.30. And this cost doesn't include the time, labor and money you spend to move this hay to the stack lot and then back out to the cow. Let's just say, for fun, this costs $2.70 per bale to round us off at $38.

But wait, there's more! What about the cost associated with storage? It is estimated that even under the best conditions hay put up at proper moisture levels and stored inside dry matter losses can be as great as 5 percent. If stored outside or baled at improper moisture levels, the loss can be several times higher. This could easily cost you another $6 per bale, now bringing the total cost to $44 per bale.

Last, but certainly not least, what happens when we feed this hay to our cows? How much of it do they actually put in their stomachs? It is estimated that feeding losses can range from 2 percent to as high as 60 percent, depending on the feeding method, timing, weather conditions, number of animals being fed and forage quality. I think another $4 per bale would be a conservative estimate, which now brings us to a grand total of $48 per 1,200-pound round bale.

Ouch! Now, let's put this into perspective. How much does it cost, per cow, if she eats 25 lbs./day and you had to pay what the hay was actually worth? (See Figure 2.)

I would never tell you it's wrong to feed hay, but, I will tell you, it can be very expensive if it's not done properly. However, if you are in the business of selling hay for a profit, then it is extremely important for you to understand the true value of your commodity.