Are you shopping for hay for your horses, sheep, cattle or goats?
It may seem like buying hay is fairly straightforward, but there are actually some details that need attention.
Where do you plan to store hay? What kind of livestock does your specific species need? Which cutting is this from?
If your brain feels overwhelmed and confused by these details, stop and take a deep breath. In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know to make the right decision.
Tips for buying hay
Buying hay can be daunting—especially if you’re trying to buy hay from an online seller, so look out for the overlook. Here are some tips to help you figure out what to look for.
Among other things, color can tell you how long a bale of hay has been stored. The best quality hay will be silver-green, while a dark green color will indicate that a lump of hay has been in storage for a long time. Brown grass, on the other hand, is grass that was cut too late in the season or allowed to dry out too much.
Grass that isn’t the ideal color can make your livestock sick (with some animal species more vulnerable than others), so pay attention to this detail on your prey.
Another color to look for is yellow. The grass often turns yellow (or sun bleached) if it is exposed to sunlight. This is usually not a big issue. However, the grass may also turn yellow because it was exposed to some rain before becoming bald. Make sure it isn’t moldy if so.
2. Storage Length
You should know how long a lump of hay was stored, as this can affect the nutritional value of the hay. It is not only the length of time that matters, but also the conditions. Hay that was improperly stored can become moldy or mushy and cause serious health problems for your animals.
Do you have a way to get the grass from Point A to Point B? If you are buying round bales, you will need a way to load and unload them. It might be worth checking to see if the farmer you’re buying hay from offers delivery (even if it’s for an additional surcharge or fee).
4. Various Cutting
It is important to understand which cuttings your grass came from because each is quite different. The first cuttings have larger stems because the grass grows faster in the first season. The mid-season, or second cut, has shorter stems, while the last cutting is usually clipped. Each cutting has different nutritional properties that provide your animals with their own unique benefits.
5. Bale Size
How big is the bale you are buying? While “bale” is a similar measurement with both square and round bales, keep in mind that not all farmers grow, bundle and produce their bales in the same way. You need to know how much hay you are buying to properly provide it for your livestock.
6. Where did it come from
Especially if you are feeding alfalfa hay, it is important to know where your hay came from. For example, blister beetles are common in many parts of the US. Blister beetles are extremely toxic to horses and even a handful can kill a horse.
7. Stem Shape
In addition to the shape of the bell, pay attention to the shape of the stem. Stems that are flexible and soft are easy to digest. A grass with thick, thick stems indicates that it was more mature and took longer to dry sufficiently for harvest.
8. Moisture Content
The amount of moisture in the grass you buy will probably depend on where you live and how the grass is being cut. In areas with high humidity, mowing the grass takes longer—and may be more prone to mildew.
You can purchase equipment to test the moisture content of your grass, which can be well worth the investment if you buy a lot.
Should I test my hay?
Hay testing is not something that most farmers do regularly. However, if you want to provide your animals with the proper nutrients for their standard of living and species, hay testing can give you a clearer picture.
The easiest way to do this is to send your hay sample to a lab that is certified by the Forage Testing Council certification process. You’ll need to test for things like crude proteins, starches and sugars, and major minerals.
Testing for starches and sugars can be especially beneficial if you have a lot of young or pregnant animals because it is important for these individuals to consume more balanced amounts of these two items.
Best types of grass according to species
When you’re shopping for hay for your animals, one of the most important things to consider is the type of animal you’re feeding. Different animals can tolerate different types of grass. Here’s a quick overview of what to look for by species.
There is a slight difference in what kind of grass the cattle tolerate depending on their age. For example, lactating cows require high-protein hay, such as grass hay with legume hay for added protein and vitamin A.
Younger calves may have a harder time with coarse hay such as alfalfa and hay, while older beef cattle may eat any type of hay – even one that is slightly dusty or moldy.
Dairy cows need the most nutritious hay—and lots of it. In general, better alfalfa is what you need for a dairy cow.
Horses are quite particular in their hay needs. Mature horses require much less calcium and protein than younger horses or mares that are nursing their young. Alfalfa or hay is generally fine as long as it has been stored appropriately, but any mold or dust can cause serious health problems for your horse.
Therefore, if you are looking to buy hay for a group of horses, you should find out as much information as possible about how it was harvested and stored.
These animals have been known to eat just about anything while grazing in the pasture, so it goes without saying that grass can be quite diverse as well. Goats also handle weedier grass with ease.
Sheep are like goats in the type of grass they prefer. There is considerable variation between breeds and individuals within single breeds. Some sheep breeds prefer finer, leafy hay and alfalfa than coarser alternatives, although some, like the Icelandic sheep, could care less about how thick the hay is.
For lambs, you’ll choose leguminous grass that was harvested while it was still growing. The stems will be easier for your lamb to eat.
first time buyer? ask questions!
If you’re new to buying hay, don’t panic. I know it can be overwhelming at first – and you may not be sure what to look for. However, there are a lot of questions you should ask the farmer you are buying from.
Farmers sell hay to earn extra money and support other local farmers – they don’t mind answering questions, especially if you think about who you want to ask.
While a good list for hay will have all the details you will need to make an informed decision about whether you are going to buy (such as pictures of the different types, information about the bale sizes, and where the bales were cut) , sometimes, details fall through the cracks. Don’t be afraid to reach out with questions!
In time, you may find yourself lucky like me – we are lucky to have a farmer who supplies hay for our sheep every year. He’s great about giving us the details we need to feed our flock worry-free.
Another challenge you may have is finding grass in the winter. Here we have a special article on how to find hay in winter.
Now that you know everything there is to know about buying hay, all that’s left is to get out there and do it. happy shopping!
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