Buy hay by weight, not by bales

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Recently, a local hay producer asked what hay was worth. Of course, each forage producer will have a different cost of production.

After he told me his price, I asked the weight of his bales. He was not exactly sure, but guessed 1000 pounds. He went on to say most hay is bought and sold by the bale. He said most articles he reads mention price or cost are on a per ton basis.

Questions

This farmer’s comment provoked a couple of pertinent questions. First, what is the cost of not knowing the weight of a bale? Second, what is forage value based on current feed prices?

To answer the first question I went to the USDA Farm Service Agency. In the past couple of years, they have been weighing many large round bales due to the forage quantity and quality loss programs and conducting yield checks.

The weight of large round bales checked in Noble and Guernsey counties ranged from approximately 750 pounds to 2100 pounds. Obviously, bales vary in size, moisture content and tightness.

If we guess the weight of a bale at 1000 pounds and overestimate its weight by 100 pounds per bale, and purchase 50 bales at $65 per bale what did it cost?

Example

50 bales times 100 pounds = 5000 pounds of hay we thought to be purchasing.

$65/900 pounds = .0722 or 7.2 cents per pound of hay.

5000 pounds times .0722 = $361 we lost by not knowing an accurate weight of the bales.

On the other hand, if we find legitimate 1000-pound bales for sale ,of like quality and dry matter, at the same price as the 900-pound bales, we could potentially pay our selves $361.

Whenever possible, weigh a sampling of hay bales before purchasing, consider bale spoilage, and obtain a forage analysis. As we can see when comparing the best value in hay, weight is an important consideration.

However, the most important factor influencing forage value is quality, and quality in negatively influenced by forage maturity.

Let us look at how quality affects value. Using the University of Missouri-Columbia, FEEDVAL III: Comparative values calculated from crude protein, net energy gain, calcium, and phosphorus, we can put a value on forages based on the quantities of the above-mentioned nutrients and local prices for corn, soybean meal, feed-grade limestone and dicalcium-phosphate.

Current and local prices for energy, protein, calcium and phosphorus were utilized to establish forage values based on nutrient content of the hay below on an “as fed” per ton basis.

The values below illustrate the differences that can exist in forage nutrient value:

Early bloom alfalfa — $338 per ton

Late bloom alfalfa — $245 per ton

Grass mature — $181 per ton

Grass boot — $233 per ton

The bottom line is, it has never paid more to understand what quality and quantity of the forage you are purchasing. Forage value and price will be high this winter. Seriously consider how you will bring your livestock though the winter months. Pay for the cost of a forage analysis and buy weight not bales.

About the Author

The author is an Ohio State University Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator in Guernsey County. More Stories by Clif Little

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