The current price of hay is a frequent question asked by callers to the Wright County Extension Center in Mountain Grove, Mo. according to Ted Probert, dairy specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
"These calls come from sellers as well as people looking to purchase hay. On the surface, this seems like a simple question but in reality, there are some factors that should be considered when buying or selling hay," said Probert.
First, hay quality is an important factor. All hay is not equal from the standpoint of nutrient content. That means all hay is not equal in terms of monetary value.
"Hay buyers should be aware of the nutritional needs of the animals they are feeding and look for hay that will meet those needs. Some classes of livestock have higher nutrient requirements than others," said Probert.
For example, lactating and growing animals have higher nutrient needs than dry cows.
"Purchasing hay of sufficient quality will, in most instances, be more practical and more economical than buying less expensive, poorer quality hay that requires significant supplementation to achieve animal performance goals," said Probert.
Ideally, from a buyer's standpoint, a nutritional analysis of the hay under consideration would be available. A hay test is a gold standard for determining feed value. In reality, hay tests are more often than not unavailable on hay offered for sale.
"In the absence of a hay test, buyers need to remember that maturity of forages, when harvested, is the primary factor influencing feed quality. It is wise to ask about the cutting date with the idea that earlier harvest dates within a given season will almost always produce higher quality hay," said Probert.
Additionally, an inspection of the hay under consideration can be helpful according to Probert. Are there seed heads or blooms present, and how mature are they? Hay containing immature seed heads and blooms will nearly always be of higher quality than hay that is shattering seed.
"From a seller's perspective, availability of a nutritional analysis on the hay offered for sale will be a plus - if the analysis confirms that the hay is of high quality. If the hay is of poor quality, an analysis will only confirm this fact, making the hay more difficult to sell," said Probert.
Hay producers who want to produce a product that is easily sold and satisfies customers should strive to harvest hay promptly and produce a high-quality product. Informed hay buyers appreciate the availability of this type of information.
Another consideration for hay transactions is how the hay is priced.
The fairest and most accurate means of pricing is by the ton. Pricing by the ton leaves little doubt as to what a buyer is getting for his or her money.
"A lot of sellers, though, prefer to sell by the bale. The problem with per bale pricing is that not all hay packages are of the same dimensions. Also, different types and cuttings of hay baled in the same dimension bales can weigh differently," said Probert.
If purchasing by the bale is the only option, a trip to the scales with the first load before a commitment to purchase more would be warranted according to Probert.
A note to sellers: most informed buyers prefer to make their purchases by the ton. Doing business in this manner will be looked upon by many buyers as a plus, and a factor that may make the difference in whether or not a sale is made.
"As time goes by we see more forage stored as baleage and a lot of this product is offered for sale. Properly done, baleage offers an excellent means of forage preservation. Purchase of this type of package is worth considering," said Probert.
Everything in the previous discussion pertains to forage sold as baleage, but there are a couple of other factors to think about when buying this type of feed.
Baleage is silage, but it is stored in a sealed bale rather than a silo. By definition, it will have a much higher moisture content than dry hay. Knowing the dry matter content of the product is important in arriving at a fair price.
It is a good idea to open and inspect a bale or two before making a baleage purchase to see if the feed has ensiled properly.
"Finally, keep in mind that much of the weight transported when trucking baleage is water. This can affect the number of bales and the tons of dry matter that can be hauled per load and ultimately the final price invested in the feed," said Probert.
Individuals that would like to get an idea about current hay prices in Missouri can look at listings on the Missouri Hay Directory online at https://agmarketnews.mo.gov/hay-directory.
Another good source of pricing information is the Weekly Missouri Hay Summary which can be at https://www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/jc_gr310.txt.