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Hay Production

Sheridan – A study at the University of Wyoming Sheridan Research and Extension Center (ShREC) aims to evaluate late spring and early summer yields for perennial cool-season grass hay, using full and 50 percent reduced irrigation.

The “Perennial Cool-Season Grasses for Hay Production and Fall Grazing Under Full and Limited Irrigation” study also evaluated regrowth yields under the same irrigation standards, as well as forage quality for hay and regrowth yields.

The purpose of the study was to give producers more grass hay options by determining if there are other cool-season grasses that will grow and produce well in Wyoming, says Blaine Horn, University of Wyoming Extension Johnson County coordinator.

“The study gives producers more options for grass hay production, depending on operational needs and what the hay is produced for,” he states.

Later-maturing and more water-efficient grasses are the main factors the study analyzed.

“Later-maturing grasses are important for hay quality because, as a plant matures, quality decreases. Finding grasses that will mature later but still maintain quality will increase the production of high-quality hay,” Horn adds.


Two varieties each of smooth brome, meadow brome, orchard, tall fescue, intermediate wheatgrass, pubescent wheatgrass and timothy were used in the study.

“In September 2014, all the grasses were seeded into separate plots with eight sections, four sections under full irrigation and four sections under 50 percent irrigation, from June 2016 to mid-Sept 2016,” explains Horn.

Dry matter yields were assessed at the beginning and end of June 2016. All plots were harvested at the beginning of July 2016.

For another three months, the grass forage regrew before being harvested in October 2016, and the material was sent for nutrient analysis.


According to the 2017 Wyoming Agriculture Experiment Station Field (WAES) Bulletin, in the “Perennial Cool-Season Grasses for Hay Production and Fall Grazing Under Full and Limited Irrigation” study, there wasn’t a difference in dry matter yields between the full and limited irrigation levels.

“Some of the intermediate and pubescent wheatgrasses mature later and don’t need harvested as early, so the intermediate and pubescent wheatgrasses might be a better fit for operations around the state,” states Horn.

The study also showed irrigation can be reduced using the tested grasses.

“There weren’t any yield differences between the two irrigations levels with regards to hay production in late spring and early summer or fall regrowth,” explains Horn.

Producers in Wyoming

For producers, the most important aspect of grass hay is quality, whether the hay is sold or used on a producer’s operation.

“Producers need grasses that provide high yields and are high quality to meet consumer demands. This study helps producers meet consumer demand by providing scientific data on different types of grasses, so producers can pick the best option for their operation,” states Horn.

The study results allow producers to compare yields and quality for different types of grasses for hay production, especially in the northeast and southeast parts of Wyoming, according to Horn.

“A lot of people are curious about other hay options, but they aren’t sure about which ones work the best,” says Horn, adding, “The study gives producers something besides smooth brome and provides other options that may fit their operations better.”

While this study answered many questions and provided good data, it also created more questions to be looked into in future studies, according to Horn.

Heather Loraas is assistant 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.

Pavillion – Wyoming’s hay is some of the highest quality forage in the world, says Pavilion hay producer and Ky Enterprises, LLC owner Kyle Thoman. At the same time, Thoman noticed that transportation costs for hay were decreasing the profitability in raising hay.

“We’re so far away from our markets that the cost of transportation is eating up our profits,” Thoman comments. “Hay in Texas and California travels, on average, 50 to 100 miles to the nearest dairies.”

Because of the transportation costs to get Wyoming hay to the same locations, producers may only receive half the compensation, even though the quality is higher.

“I was originally looking for a way to increase the profitability of raising hay by finding some better markets,” he says.

Hay quality

Thoman explains that because Wyoming hay is high quality, it brings benefits to producers.

“The higher quality the hay, the less you have to feed to meet an animal’s requirements,” he says. “We can add more filler, like straw or lower quality hay, and still meet feed requirements.”

Thoman notes that he also explored the logistics of hay transportation in his college thesis.

“Part of my thesis work was trying to reduce logistics costs for Wyoming hay producers to increase the value that they were receiving,” Thoman says.

Transporting hay

“When I kicked off, I was looking at trying to utilize railroad transportation to ship hay out of Wyoming, which was a big deal in the eighties and early nineties,” Thoman explains. “They were shipping hay cubes and hay down to Texas.”

However, the problem comes in volume and payment for hay. Thoman continues that producers weren’t paid until the hay arrived at its destination, which meant that farmers may not be paid for weeks.

“I spent a lot of times at dairy shows and went to the World Dairy Expo. I also spend some time talking to dairymen, ranging from Amish folks to Chinese, Vietnamese, Saudi Arabians and other ambassadors from countries interested in importing hay for dairies,” he says.

China’s native hay has a relative feed value (RFV) of 100 on average. Western states average 110 to 150 RFV, but Wyoming is known to produce hay with RFV of 200 to 300, Thoman says. Dairy cows need hay with an RFV of at least 170 to sustain high-quality milk production.

“The idea was to send our hay over to China where they can mix it with their native hay. They’d handle less hay, and it would be a more economically viable feed for them,” he says.

Eventually, Thoman explains that the Wyoming Business Council (WBC) received a call from a Chinese hay company interested in Wyoming hay.

“The WBC called me and asked if I would be willing to work with them on creating a market for our hay,” he says. “I agreed, of course, and spent quite a bit of time working on it.”

Thoman spent time at the Port of Long Beach, Calif. to learn about how hay is shipped out of, and he also visited operations in New Mexico and Arizona that were currently exporting hay.

“Seven states west of Wyoming export hay, but we produce superior quality hay,” Thoman says. “The problem is, our transportation costs are two or three times more than other states. Even with the increase in quality, we have a hard time justifying the increase in logistics costs.”

Working together

Thoman explains that the idea was to band together as a group of producers and export larger volumes of hay, to make it more effective.

“In our contract, we agreed that I would source all the hay. We sent out 1,500 to 2,000 tons in 2015,” he says. “The challenge is, it has to be extensively tested, and testing takes so long.”

There are five requirements that must be met before hay can be exported. First, it must meet dimensional requirements. Chinese importers prefer three-foot by four-foot by eight-foot bales. Other sizes are discounted.

“The hay must also pass a color test, and they don’t want it to be over 10 percent moisture,” Thoman says. “The hay also has to free of genetic modification. The Chinese government doesn’t accept any genetically modified products.”

Finally, the hay has to be free of a fungus called fusarium.

“About one in 10 samples clears all five tests,” Thoman says. “It’s a really tough benchmark.”


Thoman notes that with all the challenges present, coupled with falling hay prices, the idea to export hay quickly became a task.

He was sourcing hay from several different producers across the state, and all the hay had to be quality controlled and sorted, even after testing.

“The last thing we had a problem with is clearing hay,” he says. “Every bale had to be hand-picked from a stack, and seven out of 10 bales were kicked out when we loaded the trucks. They were sorted again at the ports, and sometimes more were kicked out.”

With so many troubling aspects behind the venture, Thoman says, “We’re in a stalemate right now.”

However, he notes that they are working on other countries to partner with, as well.

“We’re looking at partners in Vietnam, Cambodia, Saudi Arabia and others,” he says.

Despite the trouble with exports, Thoman says he’s learned a lot and is ready for the next place where opportunity might present itself.

Thoman adds, “We’re producing really high quality hay here in Wyoming, and we’re trying to get through all the regulations.”

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..

Winter made its reappearance this year, but we can (finally) feel the warmth of spring in the air.  If you were cutting it close on feed and did not expect to feed for an extended period, you may be in the market for more hay to tide you over to fresh pasture. Conversely, you may have a stockpile that you wouldn’t mind selling to make room for this year’s crop. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a place where buyers and sellers could come together? Well, there is such a place! In fact, there are many websites and other outlets that provide this valuable service in multiple states across the West.  

Table one breaks down some of the online resources that are available.

If you plan to buy or sell hay via any of these outlets, there are several things of which you should consider or be aware. 

First, hay is more marketable if you have a forage analysis. Along with that, as a buyer, you feel more comfortable about hay quality if you have the analysis results.  Ask about the age of hay and how it was stored. If the hay was high quality when it was harvested but is now three years old and wasn’t covered, the results aren’t very valuable.

Next, be aware of scams. When buying and selling hay on the internet, even in Wyoming, one must be aware of scams.  Do your research.  Scammers typically operate by email, though not all do. Their emails tend to have these characteristics.  They would like to pay by cashier’s check or money order only.  They insist on paying you more than you are asking.  They ask you to send cash to a third party, such as the hay shipper.  Additional warning signs may include  lack of knowledge of the hay itself, refusing to speak by phone or an unusual email address.  

If you think that you may have encountered a scam call your local police department to report the situation.  Never wire funds through a money wiring service.  Never give out your financial information such as your bank account number, social security number, etc.  Before listing or buying from an internet site read all you can about the site and check out its FAQ page.  Make sure you know what you are getting into before it is too late.  

Also, be sure to calculate shipping costs or brokerage costs.  Agreeing on a price with a seller can be a great thing. However, if you forget to take into consideration shipping or other costs, the check you fork over may be bigger than you anticipated.  

Still uneasy about using the internet to buy and or sell hay? Remember that using local resources such as your newspaper classifieds and radio “buy and trade” programs are just as good as any of the internet sites above though your marketing area will be smaller.  Check out your local paper or radio program, and you may just be surprised what they can do for you.  Just don’t forget to check the quality of the product and seller or buyer before any agreement is reached.  

Let’s cross our fingers for a bumper crop of hay this year and know that there are resources to help buyers and sellers come together and make a satisfactory deal.

Omaha, Neb. – USDA acted within its authority when it fully deregulated Roundup Ready alfalfa in the spring of 2011, a U.S. district court judge in the Northern District of California ruled in early January.
    A lawsuit filed against USDA in March 2011 by a group of plaintiffs led by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety, claimed USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Plant Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, when it opted to deregulate the product.
    The plaintiffs include farmers who were concerned the genetically engineered alfalfa could cross-pollinate their crops, foster the development of glyphosate-resistant weeds and threaten organic growers through transgenic contamination.
    The case may not have run its course through the court system, as court documents say the case will be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. An attorney told DTN the case ultimately could be decided by the nation’s highest court.
    Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma, says if the Ninth Circuit reverses the opinion it is possible USDA and the interveners in the case – Monsanto Corp. and Forage Genetics – will seek judicial review by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a nation-wide ban on planting Roundup Ready alfalfa.
    “The Supreme Court is interested in this issue about the relationship between federal courts and administrative agencies about agricultural biotechnology crop approvals,” says Kershen. “I reiterate again that whether the Supreme Court would want to accept a judicial appeal in this matter for a second time is completely unpredictable.”
    In his latest ruling Judge Conti found the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) did what a federal 2007 decision required and that federal courts are required to respect that APHIS decision.
Welcome news
    Tom Helscher, director of corporate affairs for Monsanto, said in a written statement that the court’s decision proves the federal process works.
    “The court’s affirmation of USDA’s regulatory process and comprehensive environmental impact statement is welcome news for U.S. alfalfa growers,” he said.
    “The record supporting Roundup Ready alfalfa is sound. The ruling affirms the coordinated framework created more than 25 years ago and that it functions effectively to evaluate new biotech crops, relying on three expert agencies, USDA, EPA and FDA, to perform their well-defined statutory roles.
    “After several years of litigation, this decision marks an important milestone in establishing that American farmers can count on biotech crop approvals issued by the experts in the several federal agencies responsible for regulation of biotechnology.”
USDA legal ground
    Kershen says the latest ruling puts USDA on better legal ground for similar challenges including Roundup Ready sugar beets.
    “Judge Conti thus has ruled that Roundup Ready alfalfa is a fully deregulated crop, meaning that seed sellers can sell the seed, growers can grow the crop, and buyers can buy the crop without further federal oversight,” says Kershen. “Roundup Ready alfalfa is now just a crop – a variety of alfalfa that farmers can choose to grow and use. Producers can simply plant, grow, sell this alfalfa like any other alfalfa variety.”
    He said the decision sets a “significant precedent” for future legal challenges to the use of genetically engineered crops, in particular those decisions that come after APHIS prepares environmental impact statements.
    DTN’s attempt to reach the Center for Food Safety for comment was unsuccessful.
Environmental assessment
    APHIS prepared an environmental assessment for glyphosate-tolerant alfalfa, declared it safe and deregulated the crop in 2005.
    The crop was grown for two years, but a lawsuit brought by environmental groups claimed that the genetically engineered alfalfa could contaminate conventional and organic alfalfa.
    The lawsuit charged that APHIS had not followed the National Environmental Policy Act when it prepared an environmental assessment rather than a full environmental impact statement, or EIS.
    In 2007, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that APHIS would have to complete a full EIS. In December 2010, USDA announced that it had completed the EIS and would consider three options on Roundup Ready alfalfa.
    That included the continued regulation, full deregulation or a partial deregulation that would require isolation distances from other crops of up to five miles and other geographic restrictions, and would establish measures to make sure that Roundup Ready alfalfa did not contaminate other alfalfa crops.

Sheridan – “We want to increase that digestibility, rate of passage and how much the animal can eat, and it’s all going to eventually end up, if we’re feeding it to dairy cows, in milk production, steers or something, their gains and those types of things,” said Colorado State University Forage Specialist Joe Brummer.

The annual Wyoming Forage Field Day, hosted by the Sheridan Research and Extension Center, explored several significant and up-and-coming topics in Wyoming forage production on June 14.

Brummer and Alforex Seeds Director of Product Development Don Miller led presentations on the development and performance of low lignin alfalfa varieties.

Lignin characteristics

Lignin is a complex organic compound that is indigestible for ruminants. The amount of lignin increases as a plant matures. Brummer noted that lignin interfaces with cellulose and hemicellulose to create rigidity and allow the vascular system to move water through out the plant.

However, its interaction with cellulose and hemicellulose decreases total digestibility.

“At the end of the day, what happens is the lignin in the mature plant tissue interferes with animal digestion and negatively affects forage quality,” said Miller.

Alfalfa digestibility

When compared to grasses, alfalfa has a higher amount of lignin, accounting for approximately seven percent of its dry matter components. Alternatively, lignin amount is approximately four percent of dry matter in grasses. As such, the lignin amount in alfalfa makes it less digestible.

“But it’s also an opportunity, right? If that grass plant can stand up there with only four percent lignin, can’t that alfalfa plant stand up there with four percent lignin? So it gives us an opportunity to look at reducing the amount of lignin in those alfalfa plants,” remarked Brummer.

Increasing digestibility

According to Brummer, there are two basic approaches to producing alfalfa varieties that are lower in lignin.

Alforex has utilized conventional breeding and natural selection to produce a crop that is reduced in lignin by seven to 10 percent. It began releasing low lignin varieties in 2015 that can be used in organic operations.

Forage Genetics International has used HarvXtra technology, which is a form of genetic modification, to silence key lignin enzymes. The technology results in a 10 to 15 percent decrease in lignin. There will be limited seed available in 2016, and it will be stacked with the Roundup Ready trait.

“Now when we started talking about low lignin in the industry, this was about 10 to 12 years ago. It seemed to be a very difficult project to do that. From our breeding program, the question was, could we do it with conventional plant breeding?” asked Miller.

He stressed that it was important for Alforex to not simply focus on low lignin in their breeding operation but other essential qualities so there was not a yield lag compared to conventional alfalfa.

Many benefits

“Now we’re actually at the same level of lignin that we used to be at 28 days, even though we’ve delayed our harvest seven days. Also, we have seven more days of growth, so we have more tonnage out there,” claimed Miller.

Low lignin varieties boast greater quality with a higher rate and extent of digestion in livestock. In the case of Alforex’s seed, it has moved the plant maturity curve back seven days. This increased quality enables producers to have greater harvest window flexibility.

“We might want to cut at 28 days, but we get that rainstorm, and we’re delayed a week. We can still maintain pretty high quality,” noted Brummer.

Brummer reasoned that being able to cut later could potentially reduce the number of cuttings per year, therefore reducing wheel traffic and lowering harvest costs. Cutting later also gives the plants the potential to reach a greater percentage bloom that would be beneficial for local pollinators.

He cautioned, however, “That’s kind of a catch 22, especially with the Forage Genetics International’s transfer of genes and bees. So we have to look at that a little bit to see how far those genes are going to travel in the environment by letting these go to a later bloom.”

Miller also noted that being able to harvest last could potentially improve stand longevity by increasing plant health and reducing stress.

Low lignin varieties also boast a leafier canopy and leaves lower down on the plant.

Marketing strategy

“We’re going to have to market this and get that relative forage quality (RFQ) test, so we can market it at a premium to get that higher price per ton,” said Brummer.

Miller cautioned producers that relative feed value (RFV), neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and total digestible nutrients (TDN) testing will not show the advantage of low lignin over conventional alfalfa. RFQ, acid detergent lignin and a newly developed test called total tract neutral detergent fiber digestibility (TTNDFD) will show the advantage.

Looking ahead

Some data has been collected comparing milk yields between cattle fed the low lignin and conventional varieties using the TTNDFD testing technology from the University of Wisconsin with significant improvements. Miller stated that Alforex is currently performing feeding trials to determine growth differences in feeder cattle.

“We’re actually participating in a feeding trial in Wisconsin right now where they use 500-pound Holstein steers. We provided the university with enough seed to put out 20 acres of our variety, and then they’ve got check varieties, too. We’ll see the weight gain on these new low lignin varieties on animals, too, so we’ll have that next year.”

Emilee Gibb 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..