Do you grow alfalfa for your beef cows or for feedlots? If so, maybe you should try harvesting your last cutting as a higher value cash crop this year.
Cow and grinding hay appears to be plentiful this fall, causing prices to decline or at least stabilize. However, all the rain made baling dairy hay very difficult. This shortage is supporting higher prices for dairy hay.
Many remaining alfalfa acres belong to cattle producers growing hay for their own cows or feedlots. Since cow hay and grinding hay currently is priced at least 50 dollars per ton less than dairy hay, can you take advantage of this difference in price?
Quite frankly, cattle producers have a tremendous advantage over commercial hay growers. If you harvest your hay before it blooms, bale it in heavy, transportable packages with most leaves intact, store it under cover to prevent weather damage, and then market it to get its true value, you also can sell it for a premium price. And you still can feed it to your own animals if your hay does not meet premium standards.
Now maybe you’re thinking “I can’t sell my hay. I need it for my own animals.” And you may be right. But, if you do sell some dairy hay, what you also can do is buy other, less expensive hay at the grinding or stock cow hay price. But you get to pocket the extra 40, 50, maybe 60 dollars for each ton of hay you sold and still have hay for your own animals.
What do you have to lose? It costs very little to at least try to harvest premium quality hay. If you succeed, you get a bonus. And if your hay doesn’t qualify for a bonus, you simply feed the hay to your own animals, just like you would have done anyway.
No risk, high returns. Indeed, what do you have to lose?
Bruce Anderson is a hay and forage professor at Nebraska Extension.