In a recent poll of county Extension agents in the state — as well as informally asking producers at various meetings — this year's hay prices for grass hay seem to be in the $50-$70/ton range or $25-$35 per 1,000 pound round bale. I was able to find a report from USDA for hay marketings for Kentucky from 2006 in which non-legume hay sold for $70/ton.
It is interesting how often I hear the disgust in folks' voice about how input costs such as potash, nitrogen and equipment have gone up, yet hay prices remain the same as they were five years ago. Think about it.
No one would deny with record setting rainfall in 2011 that it was a good grass growing year. There was actually grass this fall to graze for a change. In many of the forage and livestock programs, educators promote extending the grazing season as it is less costly than feeding stored forages such as hay. For instance, if we value hay at $60/ton with an average hay intake of 35 pounds/day for a beef cow, the forage cost per day would be roughly $1.05 ($60/2,000 lb * 35 pound).
Tack on an extra 10 cents a day for mineral and one is looking at a cost of about $1.15 per day to feed a cow through the winter. My challenge to each of you is to determine how much it costs you to graze a cow a day during the grazing season and determine if grazing is less expensive than feeding stored feeds.
The norm for grazing management on many of our beef cattle operation is an extensive, low input, and hands-off approach. As soon as the grass starts to green up and the cows start to pick at grass, a sigh of relief is expressed by many of us and a sense of joy overcomes a person. Some may even do a fist pump while screaming "Yes, no more hay feeding!"
Several research studies have investigated grazing behavior of beef animals and dairy cows. In a handful of studies, the time spent grazing was approximately 450-625 minutes or 7.5-10.5 hours per day. I think this comes to a surprise to many of us that manage beef cattle. We have the expectation that since the cattle are on grass all day, they would spend much more time grazing. Realize there is resting time and cattle spend nearly the same amount of time ruminating or chewing their cud as they do grazing. How quickly time flies for a grazing animal!
How we manage the grass presented to cattle can impact the efficiency of the time they spend grazing. The average number of bites per minute from seven research trials from 2004 to 2011 was approximately 63.