When feeding hay this winter, take a few minutes to do an on-site evaluation of its quality, says Gary Bates with the University of Tennessee. He suggests you ask these questions:

* How much rot is there on hay stored outside? If six inches of the outer layer has spoiled, cows will generally reject 30 percent to 40 percent of the hay bale.

* What is the ratio of leaves to stems? As the proportion of leaves increases, hay quality increases too. Leaves have the most protein and energy. Stems make the hay more coarse and less palatable.

* What color is the hay? Hay cut early and cured fast will have the same green color as the growing plant. The more yellow and brown the hay is, the more mature the plant was when cut.

* How does the hay smell? Hay that's put up wet will have a dusty or moldy odor.

* Are there a lot of weeds in the hay? Weeds in a bale indicate low quality and cows will need more hay to meet their nutritional needs.