Understanding the hay market

Kidron Hay Sale

(This is part two of a two-part series on understanding the markets. The first part, “Understanding the livestock markets,” appeared last week.)

SALEM, Ohio — If you have looked at the market reports in the pages of Farm and Dairy, you may think they are convoluted and confusing at times.

Farm and Dairy is going to try and break down the terms and meanings behind the hay market reports and the livestock reports.

Hay quality designations:


Very early maturity, pre-bloom, soft fine-stemmed, extra leafy. Factors indicative of very high nutritive content. Hay is excellent in color and free of damage.


Early maturity, i.e., pre-bloom in legumes and pre-head in grass hays, extra leafy and fine-stemmed factors indicative of a high nutritive content. Hay is green and free of damage.


Early to average maturity, i.e., early to mid-bloom in legumes and early head in grass hays, leafy, fine- to medium-stemmed, free of damage, other than slight discoloration.


Late maturity, i.e., mid- to late-bloom in legumes, head-in grass hays, moderate or below leaf content and generally coarse-stemmed, hay may show light damage.


Hay in very late maturity, such as mature seed pods in legumes or mature head in grass hays, coarse-stemmed. This category could include hay discounted due to excessive damage and heavy weed content or mod. Defects will be identified in market reports when using this category.

Prairies grass hay:

The industry generally recognizes prairies hay as a native grass. It is normally described and traded as prairies grass hay and the quality is understood by the industry.

Since prairies grass is usually cut only once a year, specifying the time of cut (i.e., early, mid or late, cutting season) should provide additional information on the hay quality.

The terms are developed by a test conducted in a lab that compares the relative feed value, protein and total digestible nutrients in the hay.


In reality, everyone would like to be able to read lab tests, but in the field, Levi Geyer, officer in charge, Livestock, Poultry and Grain Market News Division, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, said the category of the hay is determined by looking at the color and leafiness in the hay. He added that buyers also have to consider what cutting they are purchasing.wrapped hay bale.JPG

For a supreme alfalfa hay, the relative feed value would be placed above 185, and the protein would be valued more than 21 percent.

For a grass hay to be graded premium, it would have to test with a 13 percent crude protein, good with a rate between 9 and 13 percent and fair between 5 percent and 9 percent.

Geyer also explained there are five grades to determining alfalfa grades and four in grass hays. There is no supreme category in grass hays.

Kidron Hay sale closeupaAll hay is sold either in large squares, small squares or rounds. It’s also important to note that hay can be sold by the load counts or by the tonnage, depending on the sale itself.


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