Marketing your hay

BROOKINGS, S.D. -- As producers finish harvesting their second cutting of alfalfa or first cutting of grass hay, some may be looking to market the hay they don't need.

BROOKINGS, S.D. -- As producers finish harvesting their second cutting of alfalfa or first cutting of grass hay, some may be looking to market the hay they don't need.

To maximize profits, there are a few things Tracey Renelt, South Dakota State University Extension dairy field specialist, encourages hay producers to consider.

"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," Renelt says.

Hay probes should be placed on the side and coring toward the center in round bales or on the butt ends when coring square bales. Renelt says it is important to core several random bales per lot -- approximately 20 cores per eight to 10 large round bales -- and combine the sample and place the cores into a 1-gallon size plastic bag or other container and seal.

"Samples should represent a cutting of hay from a particular field or lot," she says.


Several labs can perform an analysis on the sample to determine the feed quality. For lab contact information, contact an SDSU Extension Regional Center. Contact information can be found at

"You can either perform a wet chemistry analysis or what is most commonly done is a Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy analysis, which is the quickest and cheapest method," Renelt says.

The NIRS analysis provides results for relative feed value (RFV), relative feed quality (RFQ), percent dry matter, crude protein, acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), digestible NDF, lignin, crude fat, ash, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, total digestible nutrients, net energy for gain, lactation and maintenance, NDF digestibility, and non-fiber carbohydrate (NFC).

"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," she says. "Thus, it has given you a way to value the product based upon its quality."

The second item Renelt encourages growers to consider when determining a fair price is 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," she says.

The last item Renelt says growers should consider before setting a price is to visually inspect the hay to determine if there are noxious weeds, mold or foreign material present.


All of which, she says, 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.

To see what hay is selling for, she directs growers to a website maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture which provides a weekly market update on hay markets:

AMSv1.0/. 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, growers will be able to pick the region for which they want to view the weekly hay report.

If growers do not have internet access, they can contact their local SDSU Extension Regional Center and staff can look up the price.

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