Potential buyers should ask sellers a few questions before sealing a deal

As fall settles in across the Ozarks, livestock producers are beginning to take inventory of their hay supply for the up coming winter months.

University of Missouri-Extension Livestock Specialist Patrick Davis advised those looking to buy hay to ask a few questions of the seller before loading the trailer or taking delivery.

“The most important thing they need to ask is if there’s a hay test and what the nutrient value is,” he explained.

Depending on the type of hay, crude protein and the energy value are the most important factors.

“You need to understand what those numbers are and if you are going to need to supplement with it, or is it the type of hay I’m going to use as a supplement?” he said. “In some instances, in a beef cattle standpoint, you’re using alfalfa as a supplement with another hay.”

If the seller has not done a test, Davis said the potential buyer has a few options, including doing their own test.

“For some, that’s going to be the only way that test gets done,” he said. “If I was buying it, I’d either do it myself or make sure one was done on it before I bought it. You can’t tell the quality or the nutrient level of the bale just by looking at it. Some of that hay looks good, but certain types of hay really don’t have a lot of nutrient value, like prairie hays. They look really nice, but there’s really no nutrient value there or not a lot of energy. Some of those warm season are that way as well, especially if they were baled late.”

The condition in which hay was baled is also important.

“Was it wet when it was baled? If you think there might be any issue of it being baled when it was wet, then you could have an issue with available protein,” Davis explained. “I’ve heard that when you bale it wet, that hay heats up excessively and it caramelizes that protein. It can have a pretty high protein value, but the animal can’t use that protein because it’s not digestible. You want to make sure what you are paying for is something the animal is actually utilizing.”

Some producers opt to forgo testing and purchase hay based on appearance alone, the real test is when it’s fed to livestock.

“You put cattle on poor quality hay long enough, their condition will drop,” Davis said. “Most of our legume and cool season grass hay in this part of the country has enough protein, but you can see a decline in condition with lower quality hay, especially if they are fall calvers, lactating in the winter. Spring cows don’t have the nutrition requirement like a lactating cow, so you don’t see as much as drop off in them and you can feed a lower quality hay to them, but if you have lactating cows in the winter, you will see that poor quality hay. If you aren’t supplementing, that leads too to other kinds of problems; getting them bred back, the performance of the calf, all those things.”

To insure producers are getting the best value, Davis reminded potential buyers to know the current markets for their particular type of hay, as well as the weight of the bales.

“The weight is the bales is something you really need to take into account when pricing hay,” he said. “It might actually go as far as actually weighing a bale to get a good weight. Some farmers bale their hay and they think it weighs something, but it really doesn’t weigh that.”


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