Extension field specialist: Marketing your hay
Producers are finishing putting up the first cutting or are watching the development of the second cutting of alfalfa or grass hay. Some of the hay will stay with the operation however there is a fair amount through the area that will get sold. So if you are one of the producers who is deliberating selling your alfalfa or grass hay, there are a few things to consider before marketing your product to optimize the price you receive.
First, have you taken an analysis of the forage to determine the quality? This can be done by coring the bales via a hay probe. Hay probes should be placed on the side and coring towards the center in round bales or on the butt ends when coring square bales. You need to core several random bales (approximately 20 cores per 8 to 10 large round bales) and combine the sample and place the cores into gallon size plastic bag or other container and seal. Samples should represent a cutting of hay from a particular field. To watch and learn about the proper methods of hay sampling you may want to watch a short how to video at http://bit.ly/19YrjSQ or simply go to http://igrow.org and click on Visit our You Tube Channel. Hay probes may be checked out at your local Regional Extension office.
There are several labs which then can perform an analysis on the sample to determine the feed quality. For lab contact information please contact your Regional Extension Center. You can either perform a wet chemistry analysis or what is most commonly done is a NIRS (Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy) analysis which is the quickest and cheapest method. Through this analysis you will obtain results for RFV (relative feed value), RFQ (relative feed quality), percent dry matter, crude protein, ADF (acid detergent fiber, NDF (neutral detergent fiber) digestible NDF, lignin, crude fat, ash, Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Potassium, Total Digestible Nutrients, Net Energy for gain, lactation & maintenance, NDF digestibility, and NFC (non-fiber carbohydrate).
So why is this important? As we know alfalfa and grass quality will vary greatly based on maturity at the time of harvest, conditions it was put up under, and storage methods. Thus, it has given you a way to value the product based upon its quality.
Second, when determining a fair price, we often take into consideration the method it was put up under. Was the hay put up as a large round bale or small or large square bale? Was it net wrapped or not? Is it plastic twine or sisal twine? Has it sat out and been rained on since harvest or has it been stored in the shed? All these things should be considered when pricing your commodity or purchasing it as a feedstuff.
Last, you need to visually inspect the hay to determine if there are noxious weeds, mold, or foreign material present in the hay. All of which can change the price received but will not show up on an NIRS analysis. Additionally, if state or locally noxious weeds are present it will prevent you from transporting the hay.
I often get calls wanting to know what hay is selling for and often refer to a website maintained by the USDA which provides a weekly market update on hay markets. The website is listed at http://1.usa.gov/49H3hK once there click on Market News in the left hand column, then click on Livestock, Meats, Grain and Hay, then click on Hay under Browse by Commodity. Once there you will be able to pick the region you want to view the weekly hay report under. Or if you do not have internet you can give your Regional Extension Center a call and we can look up the price for you.