Chambers County cattleman Jack Robertson believes in getting what he pays for, including hay he depends on to feed his cows through winter.
Testing hay to determine its nutritional value is an answer to rising supplemental feed costs and a way to make his farm more efficient, said Robertson, who is Chambers County Farmers Federation president.
Robertson, who manages a 5,000-acre cattle and hay farm, said the farm buys a great deal of hay but still produces about two-thirds of the hay needed for the 1,700 cow-calf operation.
“Our goal is to feed a cow-calf pair through the winter with straight hay,” he said. “According to experts at Auburn University, it takes 10.5 percent protein and 60 to 62 percent TDN (total digestible nutrients) for a cow to meet its daily nutritional needs with no supplement.”
Using this knowledge, Robertson will pay more for higher quality hay. Protein is an easy supplement fix, but TDN is the number that really counts, he said.
“Using $110 a ton for 60 percent TDN and 10.5 percent protein as a starting point, I calculated the price per pound of TDN to be the same,” he said. “For example, if a ton of hay is 55 percent TDN, then we’ll pay $104 a ton, but if it has 62 percent TDN we’ll pay up to $114 a ton.”
Alabama Farmers Federation’s Nate Jaeger said testing and weighing hay is a proven way to cut costs while getting the most from stored forage.
“Buying hay based on the actual nutritional value is one more way farmers can ensure they are a high-margin business,” said Jaeger, Federation Hay & Forage Division director. “A $15 test could save thousands in feed costs, and the best place to do that is through the Soil & Forage Testing Lab at Auburn University.”
Test probes, like the one Robertson owns, cost between $100 and $200. They are also available at most county Extension offices.
Robertson said he tests several hay bales in one field by drilling from the outside in, providing a better snapshot of the entire field.
“You control hay protein with fertilization, and the TDN is largely controlled by timing when it’s cut,” Robertson said. “It might be better to cut more often and have better quality instead of quantity.”
Jaeger encouraged farmers to utilize other cost-saving measures to shore up their bottom line.
“Most farmers in Alabama use round rolls of hay from 800 to 1,200 pounds as winter feed for their cattle,” he said. “Storing hay in a barn saves farmers even more by reducing waste and retaining quality.”
To contact the Soil & Forage Testing Lab at Auburn University call (334) 844-3958
Mail samples to Soil & Forage Testing Lab, 961 S. Donahue Dr., Auburn University, AL 36849-5411.