Farms in Kansas grow a variety of hay, from legumes to grasses, and storing and preserving that hay is important.
"Different types of hay can have very different levels of protein and energy because of the type of plant, the stage of growth the plant was in when cut, and if the hay has deteriorated because of exposure to the environment," said Kansas State University veterinarian Bob Larson. "These differences in energy and protein content are often reflected in the relative price needed to purchase different hay options."
For almost a decade, the Harner family, which owns Sugar Creek Ranch and Sugar Creek Sales in Partridge, has baled all types of hay, sometimes in round bales and other times in different sizes of square bales. Each year, they grow a variety of grains on their own land and custom harvest for other farmers.
Although much of their sales are to Kansas ranchers, the father and son team sell to stables, ranches and feedlots in Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
"It depends on the year and what the demands are," said Doug Harner. "We’ve had a lot of demand."
Along with raising cattle and sheep, since 2011, Doug and his son Colby, a fifth-generation farmer, have baled and shipped alfalfa, straw, prairie hay and oats. Recently, as their business has grown, they are producing more of their own grasses and grains for baling.
"It’s a little more profitable that way," Colby Harner said.
The legume hays, notably alfalfa and clover, tend to have more protein than the grass hays.
"Dairy cattle are typically fed the highest-protein types of hay," Larson said. "Feedlot cattle also are frequently fed some alfalfa. Grass hays are commonly fed to beef cattle — and may be combined/mixed with legume hay."
Horses can be fed either legumes or grass hay, or a mixture of the two. Prices for the bales vary, ranging from $25 to $100 a bale. Usually the higher protein leads to a higher price.
Recently, the Harners have grown more and more rye. But Colby said they have baled just about any crop. Along with providing bales and custom harvesting, Sugar Creek sells net wrap and twine for the bales.
Because of shipping and maneuvering ease, the Harners continue to process two sizes of square hay bales. They often send square bales to horse ranches and dairy farms.
The Harners, who sell more than 4,000 bales each year, consistently probe their bales to make sure of the level of moisture and protein in each bale.
Larson said many producers may not fully realize the nutrient loss that comes with the weathering of large round hay bales stored outside, especially when there is high rainfall.
Larson said "30% of the bale is in the outer 6 inches, so it doesn’t take much spoilage to lose a third of the bale."
According to Larson, if weathering losses extend 18 inches into the bale, 75% of the hay is affected. To minimize those losses, storing hay under cover is best. But, if this is impossible, there are other ways to store the bales.
"A lot of the loss comes from the ground, so putting the bales on a rock base will keep the base from leaching moisture from the ground," Larson said.
Another possibility to keep bales dry is for producers to line large bales north to south and spread them apart.
Larson said that when calculating loss, producers need to remember there will be some natural loss during feeding as well as during storage.
"There is a huge difference in the amount of loss from bales stored under cover where the loss is minimal compared to the potential large loss for bales stored outside in an area with a lot of rainfall," Larson said. "So, it is important to implement cost effective strategies to manage that loss."