“As a rule, the larger the bale that you can buy and handle, the better off you’re going to be from a waste standpoint,” said Dr. Justin Sexten, a University of Missouri Extension beef nutrition specialist. “The bigger the bale that you’ve made, the more that you concentrate in the middle, or the less that you expose to the elements outside.” He said research at Mississippi State University found a 4’ x 4’ bale weathered to a depth of 8” is 56 percent damaged, compared to 40 percent for a 6’ x 5’ bale.
Sexten offered additional tips on how to reduce hay waste during winter feeding.  He said a tightly wound bale will lose less hay than will one with a soft core, which will lose its shape as it weathers.  In addition, if stored outside, the bales should be stored on a sloping site and placed in rows running north and south. He explained, “When the sun comes up from the east to the west, it dries both sides of the bale. If you orient them the other way, what happens is the north side of the bale will typically not get much sun exposure, and will become wet.”
Studies at North Dakota State University have found between storage and feeding, an average of 40 percent of hay stored outside is lost compared to 15 percent of hay stored indoors. However, Sexten pointed out some people don’t like to build barns for hay. “They may move their hay feeding area around,” he said, “or they may feed their hay on rental property or something along those lines, so building a permanent structure from a cost standpoint may not make sense. The other reason it may not make sense is if your cows are 30 miles away from your hay structure, that’s something you’ve got to do every day, so there’s additional transportation cost.” Therefore, he said, temporary storage using a tarp and a built up ground surface offers the opportunity to minimize stored hay losses.
Sexten said producers need to take everything that goes into hay production into account when deciding whether to buy hay or to grow their own.  He cited such production expenses as land – you could, for instance, use your hay acreage for more cattle; fertilizer – although your cattle will return nutrient to the pasture, you have to make sure it’s evenly distributed – and labor. As Sexten pointed out, your time is worth something, and the time you spend cutting and baling hay could be spent doing something else.
He also noted raising hay is dependent upon the species and yield of the system you own. “If you would like to produce higher quality forage,” Sexten said, “all that you have is timing. You can cut it earlier in the season, which might result in a little bit lower yield typically, but it is hard to make an improvement in forage quality outside of your production system. You may try a new species; you could use sorghum sudangrass as an annual – or annual ryegrass or cereal rye, those types of things – to produce higher quality forages, but in our permanent pastures it’s dependent upon the forages that we start with.”
In contrast, if you purchase hay, transportation and availability are limiting factors, but not quality; if you want higher quality hay, Sexten said, all you need is more money. He urged producers to think about purchasing hay on a cost per unit of nutrient basis. As he explained, when you purchase hay, it’s already stored and its nutrient quality can be tested; if you raise your own hay, put all of the inputs into it and then it gets rained on, you’re stuck with the reduced quality hay irrespective of the cost of producing it.


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