Purchasing hay, as simple as it seems, can be rather tricky. Knowing what and how much you need as well as trying to compare multiple feedstuffs on a level playing field can sometimes make hay buying a challenge.

“When hay supply is abundant, prices are lower and ranchers may not see the benefit in taking the time to price hay based on quality,” explains Adele Harty, extension cow/calf field specialist with South Dakota State University (SDSU), in an iGrow livestock newsletter. “Taking time to do this in a year with ample supply will help one be comfortable with the process when supplies are short.”

She provides the following four steps to help make the process of purchasing hay less taxing.

Determine feed quantity needs.

The first step is to calculate how many pounds of feed are needed to meet the nutritional demands of your cattle throughout the feeding period. Include hay waste in the pounds fed per head per day since storage and environmental losses can easily accumulate.

The following calculation can be used to determine this amount:

Days on feed x number of head x pounds fed per head per day

Be sure in include a minimum of 10 percent waste in your calculations.

Complete a Feed Inventory.

Create a list of resources that includes not only the quantity, but also the quality. “This will allow for determining quantity and quality of feed that needs to be purchased,” Harty notes.

If your resources meet the needs of your cattle, then the process can end here. But, depending on the cost of feedstuffs, the potential to buy higher quality feedstuffs to enlarge your inventory could be present.

Determine shortfalls.

Once you know the quality of your feedstuffs, you will be able to determine the limiting nutrients. But, knowing what nutrients are needed can be challenging, so cost and convenience need to be considered.

“Working with a nutrition consultant can be helpful through this process,” Harty advises.

Find options and compare prices on a per unit of nutrient basis.

Before you make any hay purchase, make sure that a nutrient analysis has been completed. There are several options available for testing that can provide total digestible nutrients (TDN), crude protein, and mineral concentrations for your sample.

If the seller hasn’t done a test, Harty encourages buyers to request one or do one themselves. “By ‘guessing’ at quality, one could be making a serious mistake and end up compromising cattle performance or costing much more than it should,” she explains.

When comparing to other feedstuffs, the comparison needs to be done on a dry matter (DM) basis. To find the price per ton of DM, take the as-is price and divide by the percent of dry matter (as a decimal). Next, take the DM price and divide that number by the percent of the nutrient on a DM basis (as a decimal) to get the price per unit of nutrient.

All of this can be summed up in the following equation:

(As-is Price ÷ Percent Dry Matter) ÷ Percent Nutrient on a DM basis

Harty offers an example of a price comparison of two hays priced at $95 per ton delivered.

In this situation, whether additional protein or energy is needed, Hay A is the best option on a cost per unit of nutrient basis.

SDSU extension provides a calculator to help determine the cost of nutrient and compare multiple feedstuffs on the iGrow website.

Kassidy Buse

Kassidy Buse was the 2018 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She is from Bridgewater, S.D., and recently graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in animal science. Buse is currently attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln pursuing a master’s degree in ruminant nutrition.