Hey! Hay!

The greener hay farthest away in the photo is an alfalfa mix hay that we grew.  The browner looking hay is a grass hay made at another farm.  Both are good hay but the alfalfa mix has more vitamins and protein. 

We take the old adage "don't keep all your eggs in one basket" very seriously around here.  We are very diversified in our farming efforts.  We have beef cattle, dairy cattle, backyard chickens, a handful of turkeys, feeder pigs, and the hay burners we keep just for pets (example: mini horses and pet goats).  We also grow and sell garden produce, small grains and corn for animal consumption, and hay.  Being diversified keeps our lives interesting and also helps us through lean times when a specific area of our farming ventures fails to thrive.  When asked what constitutes our main source of income, the answer comes down to the sale of calves from our beef herd and the hay we produce and sell.  There are farmers who make hay, and then there are farmers who KNOW HOW to make hay.  The quality of the hay will speak for itself when you find someone who pays attention to detail and knows what they are doing.  At the Cupp Farm, we attempt to produce quality hay for our own use as well as to sell to our customers.

Hay made here on our farm.

*What exactly is hay?

Let's start with the basics.  In the summer, assuming one has enough pasture that meets the nutritional requirements for their plant eating herbivores, the animal's needs are being met through grazing said pastures.  In the winter (or any time that the pasture is not adequate to meet the nutritional needs of the animals grazing due to drought, over grazing, or a poor stand of grass), one must feed hay.  Hay is simply grass, legumes or sometimes cereal grains that have been cut, dried, and stock piled for feed.

*What are the types of hay?

Hay basically falls into three categories grass, cereal grains (also technically grass hay) and legumes.

 Most commonly we think about grass hay.  Grass hay can then be subdivided into (A)  wild growing field grasses or (B) Grasses that have been specifically cultivated for the purpose of harvesting.  (Note:  wild growing field grasses, if not infested with a large number of weeds, CAN have the potential of being adequate feed for mature, non lactating beef cattle.  Most of the time pregnant and lactating cows as well as growing calves need something with higher nutritional value to supplement wild growing field grass hay.)  Cultivated grasses include but aren't limited to:  Timothy, Orchard Grass, Fescue, Bermuda, Brome.  The grasses that grow better in a cooler climate, such as Timothy, Orchard Grass and Fescue have a higher sugar content and are more preferred by animals.  Bermuda and Brome grasses are grown in hotter and more drought stricken climates. Grass hays have a medium to low protein value and are typically higher in fiber than the second type of hay we will mention, legumes.

The second type of plant used to make hay is legumes. Lugumes used to make hay includes:   alfalfa, lespedeza, cow peas, vetch, soybeans and clover.  Legumes are higher in protein content, vitamin A and calcium than grass hay.  Many times, hay is made from planting and harvesting a "mixture" of grasses and legumes.

The third type of plant used for hay (and not as popular) is cereal grains:  barley, oat, wheat or rye.  Cereal grains cut during the "dough" stage before the plant is mature is more desirable and palatable for animals.   (Cereal grain hay can be high in nitrates  This is especially true if the hay has been cut after a growth spurt following a drought.  Hay can be tested for nitrate content.  Cereal grains are more suited to cattle but some people do use cereal grains for horses.   Caution is advised when feeding cereal grains to horses as it can cause problems such as obesity, colic, metabolic issues and even laminitis. )

Round bales made at the Cupp Farm

*What is the size and dimensions on a bale of hay?

Hay comes in various sizes, weights and shapes.  The following is a brief overview:

The "small, square" bales have two strings and weigh from 40 to 75 pounds.  This size is the easiest to handle because of the lesser weight and no need for additional equipment.  (Approximately 19" x 16" x 36".)

The next size up is also a square bale that has three strings and weighs 100 to 140 pounds.  (Approximately 22" x 15" x 44")

Then you have the larger bales that require a tractor to move and feed:

The 2,000 pound "one ton" bale is 4' x 4' x 8'.

The 1,000 pound "half ton" bale is 3' x 4' x 6'.

(There are other sizes available depending on what type of bailer is used.  These are given for examples.)

The round bales come in six sizes ranging from 4' x 4' to 4' x 6' and typically weighs 700 to 1400 pounds.

Additional information on round bale sizes and weights can be found at this link.  

Large squares made by the farmer who rents one of our farms.  This is a good example of quality hay that is green and nutritious.  The top bale was bleached out a bit by the sun on the one side but is still green and pretty like the bottom bale on the inside and is top quality hay. 

*What do I look for when searching for quality hay?

When looking for quality hay, one should utilize their senses (sight, smell and touch).  The hay should smell good (not musty or have a bad odor of any kind).  The hay should look appealing and be baled uniform and tight.  (A dark green color means the hay has not been bleached by the sun, soaked by rain, and has been cut at the best time to preserve the nutrients. The green color is actually carotene/Vitamin A.  Hay can be bleached on the outside of the bale and still be green on the inside.  The outside of the bale does not necessarily indicate the quality of the hay.  One must look at the hay in the middle of the bale to get a true indication of content.)    In addition, one should look to make sure the hay doesn't contain any mold.  (Mold can cause health concerns including abortion in pregnant animals as well as decrease the nutritional value of the hay).  Look for large amounts of weeds baled in with the hay.  (Weeds decrease nutritional value and some weeds are toxic.)  Hay that is softer to the touch is more desirable and palatable to the animals. Nutritional value means nothing if the hay is wasted.  Buying quality hay typically is more economical in the long run.  In addition, you want to look for hay that has been stored properly and protected from the elements. 

"Nutritional value of hay is related to leaf content. Leaves of grass hay have more nutrients and are more digestible when the plant is immature and growing, and more fiber when the plant has reached full growth. Legume leaves, by contrast, do not have the same structural function and don't change that much as the plant grows. But the stems become coarser and more fibrous. Alfalfa stems, for example, are woody, serving as structural support for the plant. Leaf to stem ratio is the most important criteria in judging nutrient quality in an alfalfa plant. The digestibility, palatability and nutrient value is highest when the plant is young--with more leaves and less stems. About 2/3 of the energy and 3/4 of the protein and other nutrients are in the leaves of a forage plant (whether grass or legume). Coarse, thick-stemmed hay (overly mature) has more fiber and less nutrition than immature, leafy hay with finer stems. "  (Quote Source here)

*How do I determine what type of hay to feed my animals?

Cattle have a different digestive system than horses, and can break down fibrous material with greater efficiency, so they can utilize lower quality or more fibrous sources of hay. Horses consuming poor quality hay cannot digest it well enough to maintain body weight and are at greater risk for impaction colic.  (Quote Source Here)

There are a lot of variables regarding what type of hay to feed specific animals.  To simplify, horses do require better hay than mature cattle.  High performance horses and pregnant mares require a higher protein hay than one who is simply a yard ornament.  Mature, beef cattle can get by on grass hay but growing calves and pregnant or lactating cows need a better source of protein to do well.  Lactating dairy cows typically do better on a higher protein hay because they are bred to produce more milk than what their calf can drink on it's own.  Being high producers, their body requires additional nutrients. A dry dairy cow will do better on hay with less protein. By researching and educating one's self, a farmer can tailor the hay fed so that it meets the individual requirements of their herd.   

Additional Resources:

Selecting Hay for Cattle

Dimensions and Weight

Selecting Hay for Horses

All About Hay

Types of Grass

All Hay is not Equal

Types of Grass Used for Hay

How to Stack Hay

Hay for Dairy Cows:  Alfalfa

Quality of Hay Affects Milk Production in Dairy Cows

Selecting Hay for Livestock

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