LUFKIN, Texas — While visiting with local producers in my part of the state, it appears that hay production is at about 25% of normal. Granted, 25% of normal would be very welcomed in areas that are drier then we are, but 25% of normal in a region that gets an abundance of rain is drastic.
Looking forward with anticipation, or perhaps dread, at winter feeding and stocking rates, it is important that we that one strongly evaluates the anticipated hay needs and purchases.
Let’s keep it simple, we’ll just look at quantity and quality of hay purchased. The quantity of hay needed is often simplified to “I need three bales of hay per cow to get through my winter.” While this has worked for some who have been at it for years. Likely they know their specific winter pasture growth, as well as the size and quality of bales that they can expect from their suppliers. Now that knowledge probably won’t work well this year.
It should be stated that folks that buy hay ‘by the ton’ are already where we all should be. When you purchase hay by the ton then one really does not care what size the bale is. If you stack a flatbed trailer with 4X4’s or 5X6’s, purchasing by weight is the smartest way to go.
Thus, for the many cattlemen still buy hay by the bale, it seems a nearly impossible task to eyeball a bale of hay and determine the quantity and quality of hay that’s within it. To make it more difficult, you must match the asking price to the other going prices for hay. It truly is a daunting task.
To help us get a better idea of the volume of hay in a bale, let us use some basic equations that we learned in geometry in high school. A round bale is nothing more than a cylinder. The volume of a cylinder is measured as 3.14 times the radius squared times the height of the cylinder (V= π R2 x H). If we apply that to a 4X4 bale of hay, we come up with a volume of 50.27 cubic feet. If you take that same formula and apply it to a 5 by 5 bale of hay, then you come up to 98.18 cubic feet. Yes, the 5X5 bale is double the volume of a 4X4.
For those who are interested and the remainder of the common bale sizes, here are the basic bale sizes: 4X4 = 50.27
4X5 = 78.54
4X6 = 113.10
5X5 = 98.18
5X6 = 141.37.
But quantity has nothing to do with quality. There is all manner of methods that I’ve heard producers use in the field to determine the quality of hay. There are even 4-H and FFA competitions for hay judging. In these competitions we look at the color, the amount of bloom or seedheads, freedom from weeds, and any factors such as mold, bleaching, or other foreign material present.
So how do we drill down and quickly determine the protein content or the protein or total digestible nutrients in a bale? We have some wonderful university laboratories that can test hay that only takes a week or two.
Yet let us imagine you are looking at hay to purchase. You could not expect the seller to hold on to the hay for a couple of weeks for a university lab result. But I bet you could ask for a sample of the hay to send off. I’ve asked to take a sample a couple of times and have had tested results the next day.
Consider using a commercial forage testing laboratory with a quick turnaround. I have used Dairy One, located in Ithaca NY, as a commercial forage testing laboratory. While Dairy One may not guarantee same day test results, their turn around time is quite impressive. As mentioned previously, I have twice sent a sample to Dairy One, paying for overnight delivery, and have had the results emailed to me the next day. This quick turn around allows for a quick hay purchasing decision.
Looking ahead, there are several variables that will determine how beef producers will withstand increasing cost of doing business and the climate that affects the very ability we have of raising cattle. Let us keep a sharp eye on the costs of conducting business.
–Cary W. Sims, Extension Agent
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service