Nutrition: Stretch Your Hay Dollar

February 26, 2012 09:46 PM

RickLundquist[1]By Rick Lundquist

With record-high alfalfa hay prices, special attention to buying, storing and feeding your hay is essential if you want to get maximum bang for your buck.

One of my clients in Arizona grows alfalfa, so he knows what to look for when buying hay. You’ll get a better perspective by going to the hay grower, he says, than waiting for delivery to your dairy. Even if you have to spend a couple of days on the road, it may be worth the time.

Hay looks different at the grower’s farm than after a 200- or 500-mile ride on a truck with all the outside leaves blown off. Going after the hay also allows you to buy in large lots and improve the consistency of your hay rather than buying random truckloads from different farms. If you’re not familiar with a local market, my client recommends hiring a hay broker that you trust to go with you.

Bonus Content

Here are more tips for buying and storing hay:

  • p22 Stretch your hay dollar  2Test the moisture with a meter like a Delmhorst. Purchased hay should be 16% moisture or less. If it’s new hay with more than 16% moisture baled with dew, test it again the next day. Dew moisture will dissipate. If the moisture is in the stem, the moisture may actually go up the next day, which will increase the likelihood of heating in the bale. A fluorescent green hue to the stems indicates high stem moisture, which should not be purchased for storage or should be fed quickly.
  • If you get hay that tests more than 16% moisture, stack it separately and feed it soon, if not first.
  • Know your needs for the year. If you do, you’ll be able to take advantage of any deals you come across for dry cow or heifer hay, for example.
  • Segregate hay for storage based on physical appearance: coarse stems versus fine stems. You can then verify nutritional quality with a lab test.
  • Store under cover with easy access to more than one type of hay at a time. This allows you to blend different hays for better utilization (for example, lush, fine-stemmed hay with coarser hay).
  • Become as familiar with the market as you can before you buy. My client uses the Hoyt Report online to keep an eye on availability and average prices paid.

When feeding alfalfa, make sure you keep the total mixed ration (TMR) blades sharp for optimum mixing. We use a Roto Grind hay processor on our dairy to pre-chop hay before blending it. This allows us to blend hay with different textures and still ensure a good mix.

Also be sure to check the TMR with a Penn State forage particle separator and adjust mixing times for an optimum blend.

Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. You can contact him at

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