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How to access the quality of hay

Discussion in 'Natural and Organic Husbandry' started by Pawnee, Dec 26, 2013.

  1. Dec 26, 2013
    Singing Shepherd

    Singing Shepherd Chillin' with the herd

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    I would like to learn from our experienced farmers on this site how to judge whether hay is good quality or not. I imagine there are specific things to look for that define quality versus substandard hay crop. I buy my hay from southern states right now and trust their hay selections to be quality. But I see so many advertisements on Craigslist for less expensive hay that I think I may be able to save some cash. However I do not wish to do so at the expense of my flock's health...so hoping I could get some pointers for use when I go to buy directly from a farm in the area. I need to know about actual physical markers (like texture, plant types, smell, etc.) on the hay that will give me reference points, and as well, what the different hay labels indicate. For example, I think I have read that hay labeled horse quality hay is not sheep quality hay. Right? Or when someone says the hay is a year old, has been kept under cover, is bleached out from the sun, and is only a bit dusty -what does that really mean? Thanks in advance for your advice and experience to learn from, fellow shepherds.
     
  2. Dec 27, 2013
    Southern by choice

    Southern by choice Herd Master

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    Call your extension agent. Md has a pretty good program depending on the county you are in. You can also have your hay tested. Those listing on craigslist... ask if their hay is tested.
    Here in my region in NC there are many that have farms handed down through generation after generation and with how things are they no longer have the cattle etc but in order to keep farm status they have to use the land. Many grow hay crops just to keep the tax status. Our hay guy tends to 9 farms.. he does the work.. he also gets all the hay. Land owners keep their tax status, he keeps the hay... all is well. He knows what he is doing and can tell us all about the hay. He has cattle yet does know the difference about goats. LOL
    Our local feedstore has Nutrina corp(I think it's Nutrina) coming out and doing free hay sampling.
     
  3. Dec 27, 2013
    OneFineAcre

    OneFineAcre Herd Master

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    What type of livestock are you feeding?

    First off, you can definitely save money buying hay from a farmer as opposed to a feed store, and if you are serious about raising animals you need to find a good source of hay.

    You basically gave your own answer. Color, smell, texture is how you judge hay. You want it to smell like grass, you don't want it to smell moldy or dusty. If someone says it's only a bit dusty, they are telling you it is not of the highest quality. They are basically stating a negative.

    Only buy sheltered hay. If it get's rained on, and then continues to sit in the weather, it will get moldy.

    As far as year old hay that's been sheltered, it does lose nutritional value as it ages, but year old wouldn't necessarily be bad. That's what we will all be buying in May. But, when they start to cut fresh hay, if they still have some left, they will usually mark the price down depending on supply and demand. I don't think anyone is going to be marking hay down this May because I think it will be scarce.

    If someone says it's horse quality, it is good enough for cows, goats, and sheep. Horse need a finer texture, higher quality product with less other plants with the grass, like weeds. Occassionally, I will get a bale of coastal from my guy that is kind of weedy. My goats actually love it, but a horse person would probably not be happy.

    Now, if someone says they have cow quality hay that could mean it is weedy, or is coarse, or it could also mean that it has gotten moldy. Stay away from that. You don't want moldy hay for any animal.

    If you know the hay from Southern States looks good, find some that looks like that. Then, when you find a good source, stick with that person.

    You can have hay tested as well. I don't worry too much about that buying hay around here. But, down east where they raise a lot of hogs and spray the waste on grass fields, you need to be careful with that. My father in law lost 12 heifers one time from Nitrogen poisoning.
     
  4. Dec 27, 2013
    Southern by choice

    Southern by choice Herd Master

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    Good post One Fine! :thumbsup
     
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  5. Dec 27, 2013
    OneFineAcre

    OneFineAcre Herd Master

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    Why thank you.
     
  6. Dec 27, 2013
    Bossroo

    Bossroo True BYH Addict

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    As far as hay is concerned in Cal. ... the top quality is dairy cow quality alfalfa hay and it carries a premium price if one can find as the dairies purchase a whole year's worth ( 5 - 8 cuttings per year ) by contract at a time grown in Cal. and Nevada. Tulare County in Cal. produces more milk than the entire State of Wisconsin . Their average dairy is 7,000 cows. One new dairy has 42,000 cows. This hay is harvested at less than 10% bloom, with fine stems that are still green colored when baled. One can smell the load or stack from quite a few yards away. :ya Next is horse hay , great for horses as well as other classes of livestock usually slightly less quality and may contain grass (otherwise known as weeds). Older and / or stemy , rained on, stored under tarps or roof alfalfa hays are usually sold at lesser price but good for beef cattle. Another good quality hay for horses is a mixture of 1/3 each of Oats, Wheat, and Barley harvested at the dough stage and the bales are still green colored when baled. Bermuda and grass hay round out the hays ( I do not feed it to any livestock as they are also known as weeds ) however the feed stores tout it and sell them for high prices. :idunno
     
  7. Dec 27, 2013
    OneFineAcre

    OneFineAcre Herd Master

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    Not going to argue with you about alfalfa, you are correct it is the best hay in my opinion. But, you didn't answer the question about how to judge hay. Just that Alfalfa hay is the best, and you can't get it because it's all bought up by the dairies.

    There isn't a thing wrong with grass hay, specifically bermuda. It may be expensive in CA, but it's $30 for a 5x5 round bale in NC. Besides, the OP is in MD.
     
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  8. Dec 27, 2013
    Azriel

    Azriel Loving the herd life

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    There are a lot of grass hays that are very very good hay. If your looking at grass hays, you want a nice soft green sweet smelling hay with full heads. Alfalfa should be fine with full leaves and about 40% bloom, is is an excelent hay if you need higher protein, but Sanfoin is even better because it is non bloating. Sanfoin holds its quality longer and is prefrered by all of the grazing animals. All hay should smell sweet and if you slap it or drop a bale there shouldn't be any dust. If you are buying small square bales the person you buy from should be willing to open a bale at random for you to check for weeds and mold.
     
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  9. Dec 27, 2013
    Southern by choice

    Southern by choice Herd Master

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    Azriel, I had to look that one up. I had not heard of Sanfoin before. Looks like this is grown where you are. Very interesting.

    Learn something new everyday! :thumbsup
     
  10. Dec 27, 2013
    Azriel

    Azriel Loving the herd life

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    We raise hay, both Alfalfa and Sanfoin as well as Crested Wheat and Brome grass. We have a large goat dairy that buys the Sanfoin because they say it gives the milk a very sweet taste, the goats milk better and it makes the milk better for making cheese. The largest dairy (cow) that we sell to is starting to buy more of the Sanfoin now also. The horse stables still want the Alfalfa and Crested Wheat Grass