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Hay Production

“Hay is an expensive crop to harvest and storage losses can be significant,” states Ohio State University Extension Beef Coordinator John Grimes.

By following key management principles for hay storage, losses can be minimized.


“Once a field is baled, bales are generally moved from the field to a storage area. This should be done relatively quickly to avoid stand loss from bales smothering the existing forage,” explains Grimes.

Using proper equipment to move the bales safely and efficiently is also recommended.

“Hay to soil contact is typically the primary source of loss associate with storing hay outdoors,” Grimes warns.

Hay that is stored on the ground should be in a well-drained and open area that receives maximum sunlight.

“Storing bales under a tree canopy is not a good management decision,” he comments.

Minimal protection is provided in rainy conditions, and those areas are slow to dry out when the sunshine returns.

“Outdoor storage locations on a slope can help drain excess water away from the bales,” he notes.


Losses are also minimized when adequate space is left between bales.

“When aligning bales for storage, they should be placed so the sides do not touch,” Grimes continues. “An exception to this would be if the bales are stacked in a pyramid fashion, for covering under a roof, tarp or other material.”

Pyramid stacks are one effective way to store hay, under a tarp or other type of protection.

“Do not stack bales in this formation unless the bales can be covered,” Grimes says.

Keeping hay covered minimizes losses. A study done by the University of Kentucky indicated that hay stacked outside on the ground has 25 to 35 percent loss, while hay stored in a conventional shed only had four to seven percent loss.

“Using a typical hay storage method with bales placed directly on the sod and rows closely aligned together, losses can approach 35 percent with twine-wrapped hay. But, net-wrap in the same situation can reduce losses up to 10 percent,” Grimes explains.

Left directly on the ground, moisture from the soil can be drawn up into the bales. Using tarps or plastic wrap can help to reduce this kind of damage.


“If producers do not have some kind of protected storage facility available, at a minimum they should place bales on a layer of rock to eliminate soil contact,” he suggests.

Using a layer of geotextile cloth covered with rock is one example of an effective pad design.

“Bales butted together can help protect the ends of the bales,” he adds. “The flat ends of the bales should be firmly butted against one another, as if they were one, continuous bale,” he comments.

Plastic wrap can also be used to protect baled hay and an inline wrapper can be used to create one continuous, long tube.

“The advantage of this process over individually-wrapped bales is the reduction in total use of plastic,” states Grimes.

Keeping hay wrapped, covered or inside will help minimize loss during storage.

“Generally, the more protection we can provide, the fewer losses we will experience,” he states.

Hay production is important for ruminant ranchers such as beef, dairy, goat, horse and lamb producers.

Grimes states, “Much like corn or soybeans, hay is very valuable and should be treated as such.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Powell – In the cattle industry, record high prices don’t necessarily mean profitability.
    According to National Grazing Lands consultant Jim Gerrish, reducing costs is vitally important, as well, and he encourages producers to look at what they are spending on hay production to reduce expenses.
    Gerrish spoke at Northwest College’s Spring Roundup on Jan. 19 in Powell.
    “If producers can’t control costs, they will have a problem remaining profitable,” said Gerrish. “The basic ways to increase profit are to increase the unit of production and to reduce costs.”
    In his presentation, Gerrish added that, until producers can turn a profit on every animal that leaves the ranch, adding more animals, or units of production, is not a feasible option for increasing profits.
    “It always pays to reduce costs before adding one more cow,” he explained. “Cattle producers can always receive a higher price per unit by cutting costs.”
Profitability in cattle
    “Many outfits don’t recognize the total costs of being in business,” said Gerrish, adding that costs include both overhead and operating costs.
    “Overheads are costs that are incurred whether a producer runs one cow or 10,000 cows,” explained Gerrish, mentioning utilities, equipment, depreciation and taxes.
    Operating costs are the incidental costs that occur as a consequence of production and they include feed and veterinary costs.
    In herd data collected from Illinois, Gerrish noted that, of the top eight determinants of profitability in cattle operations, feed costs top the list, but more producers are concerned about factors like weaning weights.
    “In a typical group of cow-calf producers, most people can tell me what their weaning weight is within five pounds, but very few can tell me what it costs to produce a ton of hay, and that is far more important,” said Gerrish. “It is very critical that you know your cost of production.”
    “You can’t manage it if you can’t measure it,” he added.
    “Winter feed is the single largest cost for most livestock operations,” Gerrish noted, adding that the average number of days on feed for cattle in Minnesota, Missouri and Mississippi is 130 days.
    Gerrish also added that there are operations in each of those states that feed no hay during the year.  
    “We feed hay to the extent that we make hay,” said Gerrish. “The easier we can make it, the more we will make and the more we will feed.”
A new model of production
    With Vermeer’s “one-man hay system” entry to the market in the 1970s, Gerrish noted that making hay became much easier, and growing vast amounts of hay became possible
    He added that, in 1973, a Vermeer baler only cost around $4,200, and that same year fed cattle hit an all-time record price of $54 per hundredweight.
    “In 2011, all-time record high fed cattle prices were are $128 per hundredweight, almost 2.5 times higher than in ’73,” said Gerrish. “A new Vermeer baler costs $40,000 – a 10-fold increase.”
    Gerrish pointed out that, today, diesel costs have seen a 20-fold increase from only 17 cents per gallon in 1973, and labor costs have jumped 10-fold from $1.50 per hour. As compared with 1973, fertilizer costs have only increased four- or five-fold, but land has increased nearly 40-fold in many cases, he said.
    “We have, on average, input costs at 10 times higher than we had in the 1970s,” commented Gerrish. “We can’t live on a model of production based on cheap fuel, cheap feed and cheap land, because it doesn’t exist anymore.”
Hay production costs
    Hay production costs are diverse and must include factors that many do not consider, said Garrish. Expenses that are commonly accounted for include fertilizer, equipment, irrigation, fuel and labor, but producers tend to forget about harvest costs, equipment depreciation, stand depreciation and nutrient loss.
    Harvesting costs, or the cost of custom harvesting, are figured based on averages that Gerrish obtained from University Extension programs, and they add around $30 per ton to overall production costs.
    “Equipment depreciation is one of the biggest factors that sinks the profitability of farming ranches,” added Gerrish, who used tax methods to estimate equipment depreciation.
Stand depreciation
    “We hardly ever think of stand depreciations, but producers have to think of the costs associated with that,” Gerrish mentioned. “It’s not cheap to replace an alfalfa stand.”
    The total cost of the replacing the stand may amount to $200 per ton or more.
    While stand depreciation is a large factor, Gerrish also described soil losses in the form of nutrients as a problem, noting that when you grow hay and then feed in another area, producers are essentially mining nutrients from one piece of ground to put on another.
    “Producers are moving a tremendous amount of nutrients from the hay field to the feeding area,” said Gerrish.
Opportunity costs
    Gerrish also describes the cost of a producer’s time, or the opportunity cost, as important, though it is difficult to concretely define.
    “What else could we be doing if we weren’t making hay?” asks Gerrish. “We could be building fence to more effectively manage grazing resources, developing stock water, monitoring irrigated pastures, marketing livestock or even taking time off.”
    “Just think about how much time ranchers put into making and feeding hay,” encouraged Gerrish, emphasizing that before deciding to make hay, producers should carefully look at their costs.
    “When the full cost of production is accounted for, hay generally costs between $80 and $110 per ton to produce, and that price often goes higher,” said Gerrish. “If you have $110 production costs and are selling for $90 a ton, the business is not sustainable.”
    In today’s hay markets, however, Gerrish admitted that production is more profitable.
    When determining whether to grow hay, purchase hay or even shift the operation away from hay use, Gerrish urged producers to consider all options, their costs and benefits.
    At the end of the day, Gerrish said, “Ranching is a business. When we have record high prices, we are willing to spend a little more money, but it’s a margin game. Producers have to control costs and keep them below income levels.”
    Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

UW Extension Entomologist Alex Latchininsky spoke to the Big Horn Basin Forage and Irrigated Pasture Expo about a variety of insects that can affect both forage alfalfa and alfalfa seed production in Wyoming. 

Basin – At the Jan. 19 Big Horn County Irrigated Pasture and Forage Workshop many experts were brought together to discuss with farmers and ranchers their options in forage varieties, pasture economics and appropriate pesticides for alfalfa.
    Included in the lineup was Bridger Plant Materials Center Director Roger Hybner, who was present to give an update on the center and what new crops and varieties they’re working with.
    The Center, founded in 1959, is owned by the conservation districts of Montana and Wyoming. “Dryland crops, especially with native species, are something we’re striving to research and look toward,” said Hybner, telling the producers, “If you see something out there that is native and is growing gangbusters compared to everything else around it, please let us know so we can collect the seed off it. That is our job – to go out and make those collections and put them in evaluations against released varieties. If it shows improvement we can release it as a new variety or germplasm.”
    “The producers are our eyes and ears,” he said. The Center’s territory includes Montana, a part of Idaho’s panhandle and all but southwestern Wyoming, which is covered by the Colorado plant materials center, although Bridger does overlap in that area as well.
    One of those overlaps consists of reclamation work on the Jonah Field south of Pinedale. “Wyoming is generally known for its energy development, and is even more so now and that is where we step in with our reclamation,” said Hybner.
    “The industry is trying to keep their activity going year-round, but a year ago they kept two well sites open through the winter season and had over 2,000 vehicle visits in a month, and you know what that does to wildlife,” he said. “When you’ve got that much activity and that much of a disturbance, on soil that’s not the best in the world, it’s hard on reclamation.”
    “We’ve got plots established that have only gotten five inches of rain in the last two years, and what grows best out there?” he asked. “Weeds and Russian thistle. They’re pretty tough conditions.”
    Hybner described one thing the industry has come up with - oak pallets laid down with the drilling rig set on top for two months. “You’ll see where the lines are on the soil where the pallet was, but the thing that’s nice about it is the sagebrush decadent growth is moved out of the way and the plant’s still alive and growing, and it’s the same with the grasses. No reclamation’s needed.”
    He said that’s really the ticket, because in the harsh conditions any kind of reclaiming has had to be replanted at least twice.
    On another note, Hybner discussed the use of switchgrass for biofuels. “We’re on the extreme western edge of where switchgrass can grow, so at the Center we’re thinking more of cool season grasses to fill that niche, like tall wheatgrass.”
    He said if you fertilize and irrigate tall wheatgrass it should yield five to seven tons per acre in two cuttings. “But you’ve got to keep it vegetative by not letting it head out, because as soon as it puts that head through the protein goes straight down and it turns to cardboard.”
    “One of the biggest mistakes the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) made with the first Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup was they allowed way too many monocultures, including crested wheatgrass,” stated Hybner. “The new CRP signups have to include something besides crested wheatgrass and a legume to get more diversity.”
    The Center is also researching weed control on wildflower establishments, which are a popular choice in highway revegetation projects. “One of the biggest problems with planting the wildflowers is they’re a broadleaf and you’ve got to find out a way to control the broadleaf noxious weeds. In some plots it works very well, and in some cases it’s too well because you’ve got damage on the species you want to survive.”
    “We need to find some new species to take over for the Russian olive and the Siberian elm in windbreaks,” he said of more research into tree varieties. This research includes watering alternatives to running a hose and leaving water on the surface of the soil where half of it evaporates. “This is going to be a five to 10 year study to see if it helps establishment.”
    The research has also been into crossing Russian olive with another tree to preserve its salinity tolerance but tame its spread. “They’ve tried crossing Russian olive with buffalo berry and they called it silver berry, but it didn’t show nearly the salinity tolerance the Russian olive did. I think we need to do is figure out how to make this plant sterile.”
    Hybner said he would like to see is more extended grazing seasons, especially utilizing basin wild rye. “It’s a perfect example because you don’t want to harvest it during the growing season. The growing point actually comes out of the ground,” he said. Instead, it’s best to graze it from mid-December through March. “It makes an excellent feed and maintains its protein.”
     The research at the Bridger Plant Materials Center can be summed up in a statement from one of their neighbors – “If you find out what doesn’t work, then I don’t have to mess with it.”
    “And that is our job,” states Hybner. “If you want a research plot on your farm get a hold of me because that is where the seed hits the ground, on the comparative evaluation lands.”
    For more information on the Bridger Plant Materials Center, visit Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“An increasing trend in America is to raise grass-fed, grass-finished or organic livestock,” says Kevin Schilthuis of Fort Causeway, a company that focuses on pasture renovation. “There is also a focus on the ethical treatment of animals and environmentally-responsible farming. An animal on grass or forage accomplishes all of that.”

Turf benefits

Turf-based systems, offers Schilthuis, provide many benefits, especially in light of new regulatory requirements seen across the country. 

“Turf-based systems help to control our costs,” says Schilthuis. “Too often, we are plowing under rangelands and pasture – both flood irrigated and dryland. We plow to increase aeration and yield and spray to control weeds, but many of us never learned we can renovate these pastures at far lower costs with more long-term benefits.”  

At the same time, Schilthuis notes that with the Environmental Protection Agency dictating new regulations ranging from water quality in streams and rivers to the quality of runoff from fields, turf-based systems provide cleaner runoff, reducing total maximum daily loads and offering options to sell our water quality rights to corporations downstream.

Renovation components

To accomplish those goals, Schilthuis comments that pasture renovation becomes a multi-faceted process to match producer’s goals with their budgets and individual land considerations.  

Much of the recently propagated soil tilth, health and cover cropping talk across the country leaves the western alkaline soil desert producer without tools or information to make good decisions.  

But many of the principles are the same, even in our harsh climate where organic matter is in short supply.

“A large reason we don’t get the quality of forage we desire is because of tilth,” Schilthuis says. “Tilth is the percentage of air, water and soil. The ideal tilth is 50 percent soil, 50 percent water and air.”

In flood irrigating or grazing, soils become compacted. Often, farmers and ranchers utilize a moldboard plow to increase the air, water and soil ratios.  

“We have to increase tilth,” he says. “There is no use seeding into a concrete parking lot. We run into the problem in Wyoming that we are too compacted to use no-till. Then we moldboard plow, resulting in more wind and water erosion, and it is hard to irrigate, as well.”  

Soil components

Pasture renovation, as detailed in Natural Resources Conservation Service code 548 “Mechanical Treatment of Grazing Lands,” incorporates mechanical sub-soiling to allow root growth with minimal surface disturbance.

“Any time we disturb the surface of the ground, we are actually germinating weed seed,” Schilthuis adds. “Reducing noxious weeds is high on our list of priorities.”

At Fort Causeway, Schilthuis notes that they utilize specialized aeration equipment to break compaction and re-corrugate lands to allow consistent water flow in the rangelands and flood irrigated farmlands across the state.

“As we break compaction, we allow water to move downward through the soil profiles,” he comments. “Moving water is the key to reducing sodicity, alkalinity and salinity.”
“Renovating and reinvigorating those root systems is a no-brainer, as it allows pasture owners to utilize their resources better,” Schilthuis says.

Increasing importance

“There are a few of us lucky enough to be stewards of land in Wyoming, and many of us wish to have forage-based systems with low heavy equipment usage and chemical inputs,” says Schilthuis. “It appears that some routine maintenance tillage of our pastures and hay ground is an option to evaluate, or our productivity will deteriorate.”

Utilizing a good mix of legumes allows pastures will pull nitrogen from the air and feed the grasses in pastures, he explains. 

“It is our thinking that one can purchase chemical nitrogen fertilizer or legume seed to do much of the same thing,” he says.

Fort Causeway aspires to provide producers with those fresh options for their pastures, increasing yields and stocking rates.

“We have found that applying fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides just leaves us with empty jugs and empty wallets,” Schilthuis says. “We’d rather cut all the forage – even weeds – before it goes to seed and put it in a bale, if necessary, instead of having dead spots from chemicals.”

“Revitalizing the soil is an investment worth making,” Schilthuis comments. “Minimum residue mechanical pasture tillage and no-till seeding is a scratch we feel worth leaving on the earth.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“We’re really happy this wasn’t where the Secretary of Agriculture decided to make a major shift in how the USDA regulates biotechnology,” says Wyoming Ag Business Association Executive Director Keith Kennedy on the deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa without conditions on Jan. 27.    
“We’re very pleased with the outcome. From our standpoint, we were worried about the possibility of them trying to back door regulate genetically modified products through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),” adds Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton.
“The biggest concern we had with the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was a third option on the second preferred alternative list, that had not been in the draft EIS, which was a partial deregulation. The issue for Wyoming and other western states was that it spelled out that no one could plant that product in any county that had grown alfalfa seed as reported in the 2007 Census of Agriculture. There were seven counties in Wyoming where it would have been prohibited, and that boiled down to between 45 and 50 percent of total acres, and between 50 and 55 percent of the tonnage produced that year that would have been prohibited,” explains Kennedy.
“The initial approach on Roundup Ready alfalfa seemed pretty cookie cutter, and not very defensible. But, we do like the way the Secretary has instituted different things, and we need to look at them over time. We’re happy with the decision as it was announced. We felt the initial Environmental Assessment performed for glyphosate-resistant alfalfa was sufficient, with the FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact), but we now know that any future full deregulations will require a full Environmental Impact Statement, so that the biotech industry can proceed with some certainty as to process,” adds Kennedy.
“The industry has been dealing with this for quite a while. Some people want to attach more to Roundup, or genetically modified, alfalfa than to other varieties, when in fact the way you deal with them is exactly the same,” notes Hamilton.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s very much middle ground. I think it’s a small minority of alfalfa producers that are strongly opposed to this technology. I think what we’re mainly seeing are some of the same activist groups that have, and are still, suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and who are proponents of the BLM’s Wild Lands initiative behind the opposition,” adds Kennedy.
“If the Secretary had supported a partial deregulation, it would have turned everything on its side on all past deregulations as well as trade negotiations where the U.S. has always maintained we have a science based system. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) did find in the final EIS that glyphosate-safe alfalfa wasn’t a pest. Really, their only choices are to find it isn’t a plant pest and deregulate it, or to not release it because it was found to be a plant pest,” notes Kennedy.
“I hope we’ll see a lot of those initial acres come back to Roundup Ready alfalfa again this year. It’s a really valuable aid, especially in the summer with the annual weed problems alfalfa growers run into.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if roughly half the alfalfa acres planted this year are Roundup Ready acres. I know the company Forage Genetics has quite a bit of seed on hand that they’ve maintained in a locked-down warehouse throughout this process, and there is some backlog, but also some pent up demand, ” explains Kennedy.
“There was also Roundup Ready seed production in the state prior to that first release, and I think we’ll see that again, too. We’re also hopeful that this is a good sign for what will happen with Roundup Ready sugar beets, on which we’re expecting a decision in the next week or two,” notes Kennedy.
“It’s a pretty important decision for the continued survivability of the sugar beet industry in Wyoming and across the west. Before Roundup Ready sugar beets came along, the economics weren’t looking real great,” he adds.
“The difference between Roundup Ready sugar beets and alfalfa is vast. Most beets don’t produce seed, especially in Wyoming. They’re harvested before they can bolt and produce seeds. If we don’t have Roundup Ready sugar beets, I think we’ll see a drastic curtailment in sugar beet production in this state, and it’s not healthy as it is,” adds Hamilton.
“We want to thank the Wyoming Congressional delegation, as well as the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, for the letters they sent to the Secretary of Agriculture as well as the White House. That was a big help, and we appreciate their efforts as well as the efforts of their counterparts,” says Kennedy.
“Hopefully, at some point, the judicial branch will wake up and realize nothing is really that much different in genetically modified products than is already seen in the different varieties established through the years. It’s just a faster process,” says Hamilton.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..