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Not all round hay bales are created equal

round hay bales
Nutritional value has a lot to do with how big round bales are stored.

How much is a round bale of hay worth? That's a loaded question. Chris Parker, who writes the Forage Notes column in Indiana Prairie Farmer, says you need to break it down into parts.

First, what kind of hay is it? Is it legume hay made at just the right time, very early bloom, for peak protein content? Is it grass hay made long after the grass was mature? Or is it somewhere in between?

Legumes tend to be higher in crude protein and relative feed value, a number calculated by forage testing labs to indicate how much bang for your buck you can expect in feeding value from a round bale.

Mutt and Jeff: The small bale isn't wrapped, and was much smaller to begin with than the larger bale behind it. A price of $50 per bale assuming these are grass hay bales, could be a bargain for the taller, wrapped bale, and too much pay for the smaller bale which could have more spoilage and waste.

Many times forage analyses aren't available when you're buying hay. Parker says you ought to test hay before you feed it, even now, late in the winter season. Some of the forages made last summer were more mature than usual, since rain interfered with cutting intervals in many cases. They may not have the nutrient value that you are used to getting from similar hay in the past.

The second key to value is how much the bale weighs, he notes. Bales vary greatly in weight, partly because different balers make different sizes of bales, and partly because of how the hay packs into the bale. The best way to buy hay to make sure you're getting the most value is to buy it by the ton, he suggests.

Related: How to take hay and forage samples in 8 steps

Finally, is the hay in good condition? If it is stored outside, it's late in the winter as it is now, and the bale is sagging, it's likely that you will lose a considerable portion of the bale to spoilage. That's especially true if the bale is sitting on the ground, and wasn't wrapped after it was baled. Wrapping helps provide some protection to the bales.

If you're buying hay or feeding your own, keep these factors in mind.

Set The Schedule For Hay Quality. Deciding when to make the first cutting of hay sets the stage for the rest of the year. Download our FREE report 10 Hay Farming Basics: Producing A Quality Hay Product today.

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