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Determining the Value of Weathered Hay

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Last update: February 2018

When drought leads to tight supplies of and escalating prices for hay, some producers purchase old hay that has been weathered from years of sitting unprotected outside.

It’s important to consider the actual value of the old weathered hay when determining whether or not to buy it. It may be eye-opening to learn that a large percentage of the total volume of the round bale is in the outer 6 inches of the bale. This means a large portion of weathered hay might be inedible even when wastage is not factored in.

Here is a practical example to demonstrate the relative difference in the value of two bales of hay that are the same size and weight (4 feet x 5 feet weighing 1,100 pounds) but differ by price and how much weathered, inedible hay is present.

The first option was baled this year and has no weathered or inedible hay for a cost of $55 before freight.

The second option was baled a year ago at a cost of $45 before freight, but it also has 6 inches of inedible weathered hay.

Which of the two lots of hay is the better deal? The two factors that determine percentage waste of the bale are the diameter of the bale and the depth of the weathered hay. According to the hay calculator, the year-old hay has 36 percent waste in the form of weathered, low quality hay that will not be eaten by the cows. This gives last year's hay an adjusted value of $70.31 per bale when compared to this year's hay.

weathered hay

Not only is the older hay more expensive on an edible hay basis, but the producer will need to purchase 36 percent more hay to meet the cow's total nutrient requirements for the winter or risk running out before spring arrives.

Let's assume that the livestock producer has 30 cows and plans to feed hay for five months. If the producer purchases this year's hay, he will need 152 (1,100-pound) bales or four full trucks of 38 bales per truck to meet his needs. If he purchases last year's hay, he will need to purchase 206 bales or six truckloads. If trucking is factored at $3 per loaded mile and the hay has to be hauled 200 miles, the total cost for this year's hay is $10,760 while the year-old hay would cost $12,870. The year-old hay actually costs an additional $2,110.

Contact a Noble Research Institute livestock consultant or agricultural economist, or your local county extension agent for assistance in determining hay needs for your herd.

Robert Wells, Ph.D., PAS joined the Noble Research Institute as a livestock consultant in 2005. He also serves as the Executive Director for the Integrity Beef Alliance, LLC. His areas of emphasis are forage-based beef cattle production and cow/calf nutrition, herd health programs, improving herd genetics, beef quality assurance, and value-added calf marketing programs. Wells grew up on a South Texas diversified farm and attained his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. You can follow him on LinkedIn.