Extension offers perspective on buying and selling hay

Missouri ranks fairly high in the nation in hay production. Unfortunately, our hay production is not always the greatest quality. The category we excel in is other grass hay, specifically cool season grass or mostly fescue. As far as high quality hay, such as alfalfa, we end up around 20th place most of the time.

This year, Missouri ranked second in the nation, behind South Dakota, for carryover of hay stocks. That rank was likely due to an abundance of hay harvested in 2019 thanks to above normal rainfall over most of the state last year. I’ve not seen a statistic on the state that wastes the most hay. Missouri could be in the running for one of those top spots due to high rainfall, extensive outside storage and mismanagement of outside storage locations.

This year could be shaping up as another 2019 as far as bountiful hay crop is concerned. Early cut fescue was almost non-existent in 2020 unless it was wrapped as baleage the first part of May.

I frequently am asked about hay prices. It is extremely difficult to find current hay prices, unlike cattle prices which are much more standardized by location, grade, weight, sex and possibly even breed.

Hay prices are a bit more organized for alfalfa where they use grades such as Premium, Supreme, Good and Fair. In some states it’s rated as dairy, grinding, horse and goat quality. My preference is to be more objective with the score and price rather than the subjective evaluation. For instance, a recent report from Kansas indicated the price was $1 per RFV point for alfalfa hay. Thus if the RFV was 142, the price per ton was $142.

As I search for fescue hay prices in various magazines and trade journals none are found. The closest I found was fair quality mixed grass hay at $40 to $50 per large round or $20 to $40 per 4 x 5 round bale. Those reports were from the Missouri Weekly Hay Report.

Whether you’re buying or selling hay, I encourage you to do two or three things. First, weigh a few bales over a scale. All big rounds do not weigh 1,000 pounds. More weigh less than 1,000 than weigh more than that.

Next, actually core sample 10 or 15 bales and send the samples to a lab for a test. The test will cost in the neighborhood of $25 and will tell you moisture content, fiber levels, energy and protein. It also calculates a Relative Feed Value or Relative Forage Quality, which helps you arrive at a fair price for the hay.

Now is a good time to buy hay if you will need it. I encourage you to look for quality hay that is well wrapped and when you buy it, store it in a barn if possible. At least locate your bale yard in a well-drained area out in the open with easy access in the winter for feeding.

The greatest expense cattle producers face each year is forage cost whether it’s pasture, hay or haylage. Use a sharp pencil to evaluate whether to raise your own hay or to buy it. You may be surprised at what you find.