Hay Weight vs Bale

Clif Little OSU Extension Educator Guernsey and Noble Counties

Recently, a local hay producer asked what hay was worth. Of course, each forage producer will have a different cost of production. After he told me his price, I asked the weight of his bales. He was not exactly sure but guessed 1000 pounds. He went on to say that, most hay is bought and sold by the bale. He stated that, most articles he reads mentioning price or cost are on a per ton basis. This farmer’s comment provoked a couple of pertinent questions. First, what is the cost of not knowing the weight of a bale? Second, what is forage value based on current feed prices?

To answer the first question I went to the USDA Farm Service Agency. In the past couple of years, they have been weighing many large round bales due to the forage quantity and quality loss programs and conducting yield checks. The weight of large round bales checked in Noble and Guernsey counties ranged from approximately 750 pounds to 2100 pounds. Obviously, bales vary in size, moisture content, and tightness. If we guess the weight of a bale at 1000 pounds and overestimate its weight by 100 pounds per bale, and purchase 50 bales at $65 per bale what did it cost?
Example: 50 bales X 100 lbs. = 5000 pounds of hay we thought to be purchasing$65/900lbs = .0722 or 7.2 cents per pound of hay5000 lbs. X .0722 = $361.00 we lost by not knowing an accurate weight of the bales.

On the other hand, if we find legitimate 1000 lb. bales for sale of like quality and dry matter at the same price as the 900 lb. bales we could potentially pay our selves $361.00. Whenever possible weigh a sampling of hay bales before purchasing, consider bale spoilage, and obtain a forage analysis. As we can see when comparing the best value in hay, weight is an important consideration. However, the most important factor influencing forage value is quality and quality is negatively influenced by forage maturity. Let us look at how quality affects value.

Using the University of Missouri-Columbia, FEEDVAL III: Comparative values calculated from Crude Protein, Net Energy Gain, Calcium, and Phosphorus, we can put a value on forages based on the quantities of the above-mentioned nutrients and local prices for corn, soybean meal, feed-grade limestone and dicalcium-phosphate. Current and local prices for energy, protein, calcium and phosphorus were utilized to establish forage values based on nutrient content of the hay below on an “as fed” per ton basis.

The values below illustrate the differences that can exist in forage nutrient value.
Early Bloom Alfalfa – $338 per ton
Late Bloom Alfalfa – $245 per ton
Grass Mature – $181 per ton
Grass Boot – $233 per ton

Bottom-line it has never paid more to understand what quality and quantity of the forage you are purchasing. Forage value and price will be high this winter. Seriously consider how you will bring your livestock though the winter months. Pay for the cost of a forage analysis and buy weight not bales.

For details on how to achieve an accurate forage analysis, see this short video:

Once you receive your forage analysis results, see this short video for information on interpreting and using the results: