A recent seminar series on hay in northern Wisconsin revealed a number of interesting observations related to hay quality, feeding, storage and marketing.
Few of the 150 participants tested their own hay for quality or required tests for purchased hay. Most had little idea of the meaning of relative forage quality (RFQ), NDF fiber, total digestible nutrients (TDN or energy) or other information listed on a forage test report. Even fewer used formal balanced rations or diets for their animals. Only a couple of the participants knew much about the nutrient composition of forages or differences among their forages. Many did not realize that the outer four inches of a large round bale, easily lost to weathering, comprises 25% of bale volume. Many were not using hay feeders designed to reduce waste.
The majority of participants had smaller beef herds or were horse owners who purchase modest amounts of dry hay and did not see the benefits of paying $15 for a forage analysis. Livestock owners looking only for hay to get them through the winter are often not looking for high-quality. However, a number of horse owners felt that they were paying too much for their hay or not getting the nutrient value from the bales they purchased. Most hay transactions were typically done by appearance without knowing quality or weight, especially for large round bales. Hay auctions, now less common in northern Wisconsin than 20 years ago, often do not provide forage testing or weighing equipment. Most transactions were based on perceived market prices.
Hay sellers have several ways to arrive at a fair sale price. These include cost of hauling, cost of nutrients applied, or cost of nutrients removed, cost of other inputs such as seed, labor, harvest equipment, storage and land. Hay sellers should have a good estimate of their cost of production and marketing. Sellers also need a marketing strategy to ensure profit and reputation that differentiates their hay including forage testing, exact weights, proper storage methods and good business practices. Hay budgets and a hay price calculator are available at the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability website.
Hay purchasers should know forage values and what they are paying for. Buying forage-tested and higher-quality hay is likely to pay dividends. Hay with a RFQ of 130 having a crude protein content of 15% and TDN of 60% compared to hay with a RFQ of 100 with lower protein at 10% and TDN of 55% would have considerably more feeding value. Five percent less protein in a 1,000-pound bale of hay is about 44 pounds.
Making up for the lower protein in the ration with soybean meal (SBM) at 44% CP would require about 100 pounds of soybean meal at a cost of about $17 ($340 per ton). The 5% less TDN would have a value of about $6 in the diet based on corn at 80% TDN, requiring about 55 pounds or a bushel of corn ($6 per bushel) to compensate for the lower hay energy. Based on a today's value of soybean meal and corn, one can afford to pay up to $23 more for a 1,000-pound bale of hay at a 130 RFQ than for a bale at 100 RFQ.
Buying and selling hay with accurate bale weights and nutrient content through forage testing does pays dividends to both buyer and seller. Visit your local Extension ag agent or feed supplier for information on proper forage testing.
Wiegand is Extension ag agent for Burnett, Sawyer and Washburn counties.