Checklist when buying hay

hay buying and feeding tips

Winter is on its way, and for many producers there may be a need to buy hay. Ryan Reuter, Noble Foundation livestock specialist, Ardmore, OK, offers these hints to ensure the hay you buy is a good value.

Buy dry matter (DM). Before you buy, have a test done to measure moisture content. Most hay will average 85-90% DM. Next, determine the bale weight using a scale, then compare different hay sources on the basis of dollars per ton of DM, not dollars per bale.

Buy adequate quality. Determine the exact nutrient requirements for the class of animal that will consume the hay — heifers vs. cows, dry vs. lactating, thin vs. fat, etc. Then, buy hay that will provide at least that level of nutrition. Don't buy hay that will require supplement.

To determine hay quality, make the seller provide a lab analysis, or get a sample and run one yourself. Reuter says he's seen a $10 hay test save a cow-calf producer several thousand dollars.

Buy bales that are tightly rolled, dense, have square shoulders and don't sag. Net wrap helps a bale shed rainwater. You also want a bale free of mold, weed seeds and dangerous levels of nitrates (depending on grass species).

A final consideration is where that bale is located; the closer the better, to cut down on transport costs, he says.

Additionally, Joel DeRouchey, livestock specialist at Kansas State University (K-State), offers these ideas for helping cows through the winter:
DeRouchey says research shows there is a significant correlation between feed efficiency and feeding-site selection.

The thermo neutral zone for healthy cattle is 23° to 77° F, DeRouchey said. When the temperature outside falls below or rises above the animal's comfort zone, the body needs to produce more energy to keep the animal cool or warm.

When this happens, cattle need to receive enough nutrition to help keep them healthy and in good condition. It is also important that feeding sites be placed in well-drained areas to reduce water, mud and manure buildup.

A buildup of water could not only waste portions of hay bales, but could also decrease the nutritional value of the hay, creating a need for alternative nutrient sources to maintain herd health and performance, DeRouchey said. Excessive mud and manure around feeding sites also means that cattle will have to exert more energy to reach their feed.

"Well-drained areas make the best feeding sites because mud accumulation is less likely to occur," DeRouchey said. "But, producers need to make sure that waste runoff will have grass or some type of vegetation to filter through before reaching open surface water."

To prevent waste buildup, producers should rotate ring feeders before adding new bales of hay. One feeding site can feed approximately 15 to 20 head of cattle depending on the availability of other feed sources.

"Ideally, it is better to roll hay out on the ground in a well-drained area if producers can do it in proportions that their herd can clean up in one day," DeRouchey said. "Hay that lies on the ground for several days before cattle can clean it up will be wasted."

Winter storage areas for hay are also something that producers need to be thinking about. Rows should line up north to south, about 2 to 3 feet apart, so that sunlight will reach a greater surface area, he said. This will help evaporate moisture from the bales and the ground around them more quickly.