Beef and dairy producers trying to decide whether it’s smart financially to grow or buy their hay can get some help from Travis Meteer, commercial ag educator with University of Illinois Extension.

Even though the answer depends on a number of individual factors, he developed a checklist of pros and cons to offer decision-making help.

Producers may want to buy hay if:

  • They have limited land resources to use for hay production.
  • They have limited time to devote to hay production.
  • Labor is in short supply.
  • Buying or updating equipment is cost-prohibitive.
  • Their operations aren’t set up to handle alternative feeds or byproducts.
  • A reliable source of hay is available.
  • The market for selling excess hay is limited.
  • They aren’t able to store and carry over hay with little or no waste.
  • Hay acreage would be so small that it wouldn't pay to invest in the needed equipment.

Producers may want to grow hay if:

  • Land is readily available for hay production.
  • They have a flexible schedule and adequate time to spend on hay production.
  • They need to have control of hay quality and harvest timing.
  • Labor is available and affordable.
  • Equipment costs can be shared with other enterprises.
  • Their operations lack flexibility in their feeding set-ups or their current systems are geared toward hay.
  • They’re located in areas with a good demand for hay, and they’re looking for ways to diversify their revenue streams.
  • They have the ability to store and carry over hay stocks.
  • Their hay acreages are able to support equipment payments and the regular updating of equipment.

“Even in cases where some aspects of the farm may support growing your own hay,” Meteer says, “the opportunity cost is too high and buying hay can allow better use of time and equipment to focus on more profitable portions of the farming operation.”

Diverting hay ground to managed pastures can be another option, he adds.

"Managed pastures allow longer grazing seasons, can allow increased herd size or stocking rates and can result in lower fertilizer and fuel needs to support the cattle operation.”