Taking extra time selecting and loading hay to be sold at auction can spell the difference between walking away disappointed or with extra money, say auctioneers at several Midwestern hay auctions. They suggest the following tips to boost your auction profits:

Sort thoroughly. Keeping discolored or caramelized bales out of a load will generally increase its auction value, says Al Wessel, auctioneer with Mid-American Auction Co., which conducts quality-tested hay sales year-round at Sauk Centre, MN.

Even better, storing hay under cover after harvest could reduce the need for such sorting.

“In our area, hay that’s been kept inside can be hard to find in the winter and spring,” he says. “It will consistently bring more than hay that’s been outside in the elements for several months. If storing hay outdoors is your only option, keep it off the ground in a well-drained area and cover it with a tarp.”

Net-wrapping hay, or setting aside loose bales or bales with broken ties, will also improve the selling price, adds Tim Slack, auctioneer and owner of Tim Slack Auction & Realty. Slack holds weekly hay auctions year-round in Lancaster, WI.

“Buyers want to know they’re going to be able to get a load home without it falling apart and that it will be easy to unload and move around once it gets to their farms,” he says.

Protect your reputation. If you can’t keep all low-quality bales out of a load, don’t try to hide them behind other bales.

“If you’re just bringing one load to one sale, you might get away with that,” says Wessel. “But if you’re a regular seller, it will eventually cost you. Buyers remember sellers from one sale to the next, and they talk to each other. It doesn’t take long for the word to spread that somebody feels like they were taken advantage of by a particular seller. In this business, reputation is everything.”

Load carefully. Auction buyers pay more attention to how hay is loaded on trucks than you might think, says Paul McGill, owner of Rock Valley Hay Auction, which operates regularly scheduled hay sales in Rock Valley, IA, and Yankton, SD.

“Hay that’s stacked nice and neatly on the trailer will usually get a few more bids on it,” he says. “If the hay looks like it was just thrown on the truck at the last minute, buyers tend to assume not very much care was taken when it was put up. It’s human nature.”

With large round bales, he advises against stacking in a tube pattern. That’s when bales are stacked on-end in outside rows, flanking a single middle row of bales.

“The load might haul better when it’s stacked that way, but to buyers, it might look like you’re trying to hide something. People assume the worst unless they can see all of the hay on the truck. Getting it loaded right can be worth $10-15/ton.”

Utilize test results carefully. If you’re not selling at a quality-tested auction, have a nutritional analysis done by a qualified laboratory. It can be worthwhile, especially if you’re selling into the high-end dairy market, says McGill.

But if test results don't match up with the hay’s visual appearance, don’t use them. “Buyers like to see test results, but they can be pretty skeptical, too. The test results might say hay has an RFV (relative feed value) of 175. But if it’s slightly bleached or looks a little off in some other way, buyers are likely to put their hands in their pockets and take three steps back when it comes time to bid.”

Time the market. At most auctions, hay will bring better prices in some months than others. “Our experience has been that December is always a good month for prices,” says Slack, the Wisconsin auctioneer.

“Livestock producers usually have a better idea of how much feed they’re going to need for the winter. They’re thinking about taxes and trying to get more feed bought up before the end of the year. In January and February, the market usually takes a dip. But it usually picks back up again in April and May while people wait for the new crop to come on.

“There can be exceptions,” he cautions. “For the most part, though, if you sell your hay toward the end of the year or in the spring, you’ll get a better price.”

Contact Wessel at 320-547-2206, Slack at 608-988-6464 or McGill at 712-476-5541.