Producers in the market for hay should take precautions before taking delivery

With the summer drought in the Ozarks, buying hay for the winter could be a slippery slope to navigate.

Prices are high, and yields are low, and there are concerns that there’s not enough to go around. Ozarks Farm and Neighbor has compiled some tips to make savvy hay purchases this year.

Ask Questions: In order to make sure producers are getting at least adequate quality for their money, they should ask questions of their hay supplier.

“Producers have very limited options for buying hay locally due to the low availability. Some questions to ask are the typical ones such as bale size, hay type (fescue, Bermuda, mixed, etc.), forage maturity when harvested, weed content, storage conditions, and when it was baled,” advised John Jennings, professor of forages at the University of Arkansas. If producers are making their purchases from out of state, some additional research might be required.

“If buying from Southern states, be aware of the possible importation of fire ants. Check the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to determine if the hay is coming from a quarantined county. Ask the supplier to ensure the hay is free of fire ants or that it is certified for movement by the state from which it is shipped,” Jill Scheidt, agronomy specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said. 

Get a Hay Test: “Producers should always ask or take a hay test to see what nutritional value that hay will provide and if supplementation is needed,” Scheidt said.

Some hay suppliers may offer a hay test along with the purchase, but generally the buyer will have to do the test.

“Most hay sellers seldom offer a hay test and those that sell hay only occasionally very likely won’t offer a hay test. Due to the high demand for hay, buyers probably won’t have the luxury of choosing among those with vs without hay tests. Buyers should plan on testing any hay they buy because the quality of hay will vary widely this year,” Jennings explained.

Things to Avoid: “This is a year in which anything will be baled that can hold hay twine. Some will be full of weeds, briars and other foreign material. Certainly avoid hay that has been stored outside uncovered if it is severely rotted,” Jennings cautioned. “Hay quality degrades little when stored in a barn so hay 3 or 4 years old can still be good quality if it was good quality when first stored.”

“I tell producers to try and avoid buying low quality feed that will have extensive waste, which could be 30 percent or more,” advised Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with MU Extension. “And I’d avoid hay that looks like it’s been setting in the fence row or under trees for a year or more. Avoid hay that may have weed seeds you do not want spread on your farm, such as Johnsongrass.”

Consider the Price: Prices for hay have certainly skyrocketed compared to favorable seasons, so producers should do their best to find a fair price if possible. “When buying older hay, consider the amount of waste and increase in supplementation for cattle in order to determine the price you are willing to pay,” Scheidt said. “And consider the nutritional value of the hay and what type of livestock you intend to feed it to.”

“Most commercial hay producers produce a good quality product. Their business depends on word of mouth and repeat customers, so it helps to deal with a hay producer they trust or have done business with in the past,” suggested Jennings. “If possible, buyers should actually look at the hay before buying to see if it acceptable. Hay price is high this year, but hauling costs add up quickly. Sometimes hauling can be negotiated into the purchase price.”


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