Large round hay bales differ greatly in size and quality, and those differences must be considered when establishing a fair price, says David Dugan, Ohio State University Extension educator.

He points out that round bales come in six sizes ranging from 4 x 4’ to 5 x 6’. A 4 x 4’ bale will weigh, on average, about 700 lbs, but it depends on the type of hay. A bale of finer-cut hay like second-cutting orchardgrass or alfalfa will have more hay than one of long-stem, first-cutting grass hay. A 4 x 5’ or 5 x 4’ bale will average around 1,000 lbs and a 4 x 6’ or 5 x 5’ bale may get up to around 1,400 lbs, on average.

“That would mean a 4 x 6’ bale will have twice as much hay in it as a 4 x 4’ bale if these weight averages are accurate,” says Dugan. A 5 x 6’ bale will average in the neighborhood of 1,800 lbs, more than 2.5 times as much as a 4 x 4’ bale, he adds.

“It is worth considering if you are buying or selling hay,” he says. “Compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges.”

The best way to estimate forage quality is with a lab test. Short of that, he suggests looking closely at the hay and trying to establish the stage of maturity, leafiness, color, odor, condition and amount of foreign material. A University of Vermont Extension fact sheet, Sensory Evaluation Of Hay For Quality, or another fact sheet, Evaluating Hay Quality, from University of Maryland Extension, discuss those factors in detail and includes a chart to rank and score what you see.

The last thing to check out when estimating a large round bale price is the storage, says Dugan. Bales stored inside will have the least decay. Bales stored outside on a raised area with gravel under them will have less decay on the bottoms vs. bales stored on the ground. Even hay stored on the ground will have less decay if it’s elevated. Bales stacked outside, uncovered, will have losses where they touch because water is trapped there.

The best storage option is to get bales off the ground, says Doo-Hong Min, crops and soils specialist with Kansas State University Extension. More than half of total dry matter loss can come from ground contact, he says.

“The one thing that I did not mention above that always comes into play is basic economics,” Dugan adds. “Supply and demand will always have an influence on the value of anything, and large round bales are not exempt from that. When hay is in short supply the price will be higher than when everyone has plenty of hay to feed and there are very few looking to buy. Even when we have extremes of these situations, it is a good idea to compare what you are getting for your money.”