October 2010
Feeding Facts

Feeding Facts

This month’s article will be a follow up to the September article concerning hay quality and the use of hay to meet the nutritional requirements of your cattle this winter.

When beef producers consider the input cost of raising cattle, nutritional cost account for close to 60 percent of the total input cost in raising beef cattle. With feed cost accounting for such a large percent of your total expenses, it is very important to do your best to manage this cost. As a producer, anything you can do more efficiently to reduce this cost without sacrificing performance will only add money to your bottom line.

In last month’s article, I talked about the importance of knowing what your hay provided nutrient-wise to assist in knowing how to supplement your cattle above what your hay provided. Hay will be your greatest expense and I would hope, as producers, we would want to know what we were getting.

With changing times, I realize a larger number of producers choose to purchase over producing their own hay for their cattle or horse operation. If that’s the case, what are factors to consider when deciding what hay to purchase and the value of that hay?

I talked with a lot of producers who purchase hay strictly on a per bale basis with no regard to the nutrient quality and weight of the hay being purchased. I see the nutrient analysis of numerous hay samples each year and the variability in quality of these samples would surprise you. I hope this article will encourage you to consider other factors above cost-per-bale when deciding what hay to purchase.

Let’s look at two considerations when purchasing hay. The first and easiest consideration is the weight of the bale. While most would not think so, there is a big difference in the weight of a bale based upon bale size and type of forage. The second consideration will be bale quality.

When purchasing hay, measure the size of the bale. While a 4 X 4 bale versus a 5 X 5 may seem similar in size, a 5 X 5 bale will contain up to 40 percent more hay. I have seen smaller, round bales weigh close to 650 pounds while a larger bale of the same hay weigh as much as 1,100 pounds. As a producer you need to measure each bale and, if at all possible, weigh it before purchasing. You will be surprised at the number of producers who will pay $25 for a 700 pound bale, but not pay $35 for a bale weighing 1,100 pounds. In this example, the bale at $25 will cost you more per pound than the bigger bale at $35.

Another factor that can affect the weight of the bale is the type and maturity of the forage. A bale of short Bermuda grass will be more compact and weigh much heavier than a bale of mature Johnson grass. Due to it being more compact, the Bermuda will retard rain much better than loosely packed stem forage like Johnson grass.

I would recommend, when purchasing hay, to look at the type forage, size of the bale and, if possible, the weight of the bale, and purchase the hay based on your cheapest cost-per-pound, if you are just purchasing hay without regard to nutrient quality.

The second consideration is hay quality. Hay quality, while second in this article, should be the most important consideration when purchasing hay. The nutrients the hay provides your cattle should take precedence over any other factor. I have seen numerous hay analysis reports the nutrient quality of the hay is so poor the cattle will use more energy to break down the hay than they will get out of the hay.

The two most important nutrients producers should consider when analyzing hay reports will be protein percent and total digestible nutrients (TDN). Use these two nutrient levels along with the weight of the hay when determining what hay to purchase for your winter-feed needs.

The following is an example from two hay samples coming from two producers’ hay operations in Alabama. Let’s look at all factors and determine the best value for the cost of the hay.

          Producer 1                     Producer 2
        Hay Sample                    Hay Sample
         4 X4 bale                       5 X 5 bale
         650 pounds                   1,100 pounds
         8.8% protein                 12.1% protein
          46% TDN                      56% TDN
         $25 a roll                        $44 a roll

Let’s break down each bale and see which offers the best value for the cost of the hay.

The hay from producer one will cost 3.8 cents per pound (cost of bale divided by weight of bale) while the hay from producer 2 will cost 4 cents per pound of forage. As you can see, the cost of each bale is very similar with the smaller bale costing slightly less per pound. In the long run, the larger bale will still be the better value because it will last longer — meaning less trips to the pasture and less added fuel cost for these additional trips.

The other consideration is the nutrient value of the hay. Which hay will provide you the most nutrition for the cost of the hay? Remember, as producers we need to buy nutrition and not purchase hay based upon the cheapest bale cost per pound or bale. The hay from producer one will provide protein at a cost of .43 cents per unit of protein (% protein X weight of bale = pounds of protein; cost of bale divided by pounds of protein = cost per unit of protein) while the hay from producer two will cost you .33 cents per unit of protein. This is very easy to see that hay sample 2 will provide protein at a much lower cost than the protein from hay sample 1. This also means you would have to feed 29 pounds of hay sample 1 to get the same amount of protein as 20 pounds of hay sample 2. It would cost you $1.10 per day of hay sample 1 (pounds of hay fed X cost per pound) or 80 cents of hay sample 2 cost per day to furnish the same amount of protein to your cow.

Let’s now take a look at the cost of TDN from each sample. The hay from producer 1 will cost 8.3 cents per unit of TDN (% TDN X weight of bale = pounds of TDN; cost of bale divided by pounds of TDN = cost per unit of TDN). The cost of TDN from hay sample 2 will cost 7.1 cents per unit of TDN. What this means is, from a TDN value, your best buy is still the hay from producer 2. As a producer, you would have to feed 29 pounds of hay sample 1 to get the same units of TDN as from 23 pounds of hay sample 2. It would cost $1.10 per-head per-day to feed hay sample 1 versus .92 cents per-head per-day to feed hay sample 2.

This again proves the higher priced hay that is more nutrient-dense is the much better buy than the lower cost bale providing less nutrition.

We have looked at the two samples from a cost-per-pound, cost-per-unit of protein and cost-per-unit of TDN. Let’s now look at one final example and that is the cost to meet the nutritional requirements of your brood cows. We know from research a cow nursing a calf will require 14 lbs of TDN and 3 pounds of protein per-head per-day. As a producer, if you do not meet the nutritional needs with hay, then you will either make up the difference with feed or sacrifice performance.

Let’s assume, as a producer, you are providing your cattle an average of 25 pounds of hay per day (most producers over-estimate the weight of their hay leading to them feeding less hay per-cow per-day). 25 lbs per-head per-day of hay from sample 1 will provide your cattle 11.6 of TDN and 2.2 pounds of protein per-head per-day leaving 2.4 pounds short on TDN and .8 pounds short of the protein requirement of your cow on a daily basis. This means you will have to provide additional feed to meet the cow’s daily requirements. 25 lbs per-head per-day of hay from producer 2 will provide your cattle 14 pounds of TDN and 3.02 pounds of protein per-head per-day meeting the daily nutritional requirements of a cow nursing a new calf during normal weather conditions. So again, you can see your best buy is the higher priced hay from sample 2 when you have to factor in the additional supplementation needed when feeding hay sample 1.

In conclusion, I hope this example will give you some things to think about if you are considering purchasing hay this fall. This is a real life example I see daily and we, at Alabama Farmers Cooperative, work with producers on a daily basis to help them realize the most profit from their operation. When purchasing hay, ask for the estimated weight of the bale and look at the quality of the forage making up that bale. Ask the producer if he has a nutrient analysis on the hay before making a buying decision. Purchase hay based upon all factors and not just the cost of the bale of hay.

If I can answer any questions or be of further assistance, please feel free to contact me at (256) 947-7886 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist. If you would like to contact him, please feel free to call at (256) 947-7886 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He looks forward to hearing from you or visiting with you in the future.