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Hay: Production, baling, testing, storage and feeding – Part 1

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Many of us are very familiar with hay. However, basic principles and techniques are important to know for better production, management and utilization of hay. This information will be especially useful for producers who are new in the hay business or planning for hay production as a beginner. 

I will focus on hay production, baling, testing and finally storage and utilization in this and future columns. 

Stored feed as hay is very important for grazing animals. This is especially necessary during the time when pasture growth is minimal. 

Using hay can benefit producers in many ways. Hay can be completely mechanized, stored for long periods of time and can supply the nutrients adequately for most classes of livestock. 

During excess growth of pasture, hay can be cut from accumulated forage. This helps not only to minimize the waste, but also enhance new growth for later grazing.

There are several important steps to consider for better hay production and utilization. These are described below in order of importance.

Selection of crop

Species selection is the first step for hay production. Forage species must be selected based on the local adaptation of the species. 

Other factors play an important role in species selection and include the nutritional needs of animals to be fed, nutritional value of the hay to be produced, yield of hay and most importantly, the cost of establishment and maintenance of the crop to be planted.

Types of crops, for example annuals versus perennials, are also important considerations for species selection. In general, hay production can be more economical from perennials than annuals. 

Perennial crops can significantly reduce production cost because of there are no establishment costs after first year of establishment. This would be especially more effective if the nutritional requirements for the animals to be fed are low. 

Also, mixing grass and legumes could be another way to improve not only the hay production but also to increase the hay quality. In general, mixtures of grass and legumes will have better hay production and quality than grass or legumes alone.

Reducing cost

Minimizing the cost production of hay is the most important consideration in an effort to make hay production profitable. A large portion – roughly, 30 to 40 percent of expenses of hay production is associated with fixed costs. 

The fixed costs are usually the same for each year regardless of other factors. Knowing the fixed costs can provide incentives for attaining high yield and high quality of hay. 

If the operation costs are minimized and efficient, a high hay production with high quality can be obtained. 

So, it is highly recommended that livestock producers who want to invest more money for producing hay should consider making the operation system more efficient.

I will continue discussion on hay production and utilization, so please keep an eye on my future columns.

Anowar Islam is a professor and the UW Extension Forage Specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or

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