BROOKINGS, SD - Producers have been putting up their first and second cutting alfalfa and starting to cut their grass hay. Although some hay will remain with the operation, there are several growers who plan to market their hay, says Tracey Renelt, Extension Dairy Field Specialist.
If you're one of the producers who are deliberating selling your alfalfa or grass hay, Renelt says there are a few things to consider before marketing your product to optimize the price you receive.
"First, have you taken an analysis of forage to determine the quality? Sampling should be done as close to the time of utilization of the feedstuff or to the time sale," Renelt said. "This can be done by coring the bales via a hay probe."
Hay probes should be placed on the curved side at a 90 degree angle for large round bales, coring towards the center; when coring square bales it should be placed on the butt end of the bales. Care needs to be taken as to not get net wrap or twine included in the core sample. Growers need to core several random bales (20 minimum cores total) in a lot of hay and combine the sample and place the cores into gallon size plastic bag or other container and seal. A total of one-half pound of dry hay from the 20 cores is adequate.
"Samples should represent a cutting of hay from a particular field that has been put up under similar conditions, which is also referred to as a hay lot," Renelt said.
She reminds growers to label their sample bag adequately with their contact information, including phone number and type of sample you are sending (alfalfa, grass hay, mixed hay, etc) and the type of analysis desired.
Growers have several choices when it comes to selecting a lab which can perform an analysis on the sample to determine the feed quality. For lab contact information contact the local SDSU Regional Extension Center or look at the National Forage Testing Association Web site (www.foragetesting.org), which provides a list of certified laboratories that perform hay analysis tests.
Renelt explains that growers can either perform a wet chemistry analysis or a NIRS (Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy) analysis, which is most commonly done and typically is the quickest and cheapest method.
The NIRS analysis gives growers results for RFV (relative feed value), RFQ (relative feed quality), percent dry matter, crude protein, ADF (acid detergent fiber), NDF (neutral detergent fiber) digestible NDF, lignin, crude fat, ash, Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Potassium, Total Digestible Nutrients, Net Energy for gain, lactation and maintenance, NDF digestibility, and NFC (non-fiber carbohydrate).
"So why is this important? As we know, alfalfa and grass quality will vary greatly based on maturity at the time of harvest, conditions it was put up under, and storage methods. Thus, it has given us a way to value the product based upon its quality at the time of utilization," Renelt said.
When determining a fair price, Renelt says growers should consider the method they used to put the hay up.
"Was the hay put up as a large round bale or small or large square bale or as balage? Was it net wrapped, twine wrapped, or plastic wrapped? Is it plastic twine or sisal twine? Has it sat out and been rained on since harvest or has it been stored in the shed? All these things should be considered when pricing your commodity," she said.
The last item growers should consider is the hay's appearance.
"Growers need to visually inspect the hay to determine if there is noxious weed seeds present, mold present or if there is foreign material present in the hay," Renelt said. "All of which can change the price received and will not show up on an NIRS analysis. Additionally, if state or locally noxious weed seeds are present it will prevent you from transporting or selling the product according to state law."
For growers wanting to know what say is selling for, Renelt suggests they visit USDA's Web site that provides a weekly market update on hay markets (www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0). Click on the "Market News" link and then click on "Livestock, Meats, Grain and Hay," then click on "Hay," under Browse by Commodity. Growers who do not have internet access can contact their Regional Extension Center.
For more information on this topic, visit iGrow.org and watch a podcast showing proper hay sampling methods available on iGrow's YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/sdsuigrow.