Tips When Buying Hay

August 27, 2015 04:42 PM
Tips When Buying Hay

How much should you be paying for hay?
By: Heather Gessner, SDSU Extension Livestock Business Management Field Specialist

Haying season is in full swing across the state and with that comes a feed inventory analysis opportunity for each producer. Beyond “How many bales” the inventory should look at the quality of the feed in storage. The bigger question needs to be “do I have enough bales to create a balanced ration, which meets the nutritional requirements of my cow herd, through each gestational stage and post calving, and what kind of supplementation (if any) will be needed?”

To determine feed quality, samples must be taken and submitted for analysis. The adage of needing to measure it, before you manage it is true here. Many factors can affect the quality of grass hay and alfalfa harvested during the summer. Knowing if you have high or low total digestible nutrients (TDN) and/or protein available allows the producer to plan for additional hay, cornstalk, and alfalfa or other forage purchases, as well as non-forage supplements needed to meet the nutritional needs of mid-late gestation and post-partum cows. Refer to Understanding Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cows for more information on the total amounts of feed needed.

Because feed costs for the beef cow enterprise account for 50 – 75 percent of the total cow costs for the year, controlling them is a critical profit component for the producer. Before purchasing hay or alfalfa a forage analysis and a comparison between forages should be done to ensure the product being bought meets the needs of the producer, at a profitable price. 


Forages vary in price, dry matter and quality, as noted in the sample forages above. Thus creating a balanced, low cost ration can likely be done, if time is taken to run the numbers and work through the options available.

At first glance the $10/ton savings for the grass hay compared to alfalfa appears to be a solid economic decision. However, if protein is the needed supplement the alfalfa is a better option. Comparing other forages, like corn silage, can also be done to create a balanced, least cost ration. By inventorying the feed on hand and analyzing the feed needed producers will be able to determine what, if any additional feedstuffs are needed.

To make feedstuff comparisons use the following formulas, with the Grass Hay data used as an example: 


Before you start buying up “cheap” feed, make sure that it will be cost-effective when creating balanced rations this winter. By inventorying quantity and quality of feed harvested this summer future purchases can be planned and budgeted for, thus allowing the creation of least-cost, balanced rations for the herd throughout all reproductive stages this winter. 

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Spell Check

breck lewis
orem, UT
11/25/2015 07:56 AM

  I really like how you said that a consumer should really focus on the quality of the hay to determine what its worth. I had no idea that you can take in samples of hay in order to submit them for analysis to see the real quality. I just bought a couple of horses because I have always wanted them, but I have no experience at all with farm animals. Thanks for sharing this article because it answered a lot of my questions.

Houston, TX
8/28/2015 12:25 PM

  Your "sample forages" are misleading - they seem to imply that all grass hays will be low protein and alfalfa is always a better investment. Many grass hays when properly managed by a reputable hay grower offer an economical feed source that can support cattle through all stages of gestation.


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