My View From The Country

Hay Is Leaving The Beef Business

Hay prices have been skyrocketing, to the point where it’s simply no longer an economically viable feedstuff in many areas.



Putting up hay is something that almost seems fundamental to ranching. Almost everyone can identify with the saying “putting up hay all summer to feed it all winter.”  And for those ranches with meadow ground, hay production will likely remain a vital component of their operation. Still, it’s amazing to me to see the transformation that’s occurred as a result of ethanol subsidies and the droughts.

Hay prices have been skyrocketing, to the point where it’s simply no longer an economically viable feedstuff in many areas. In fact, I know an owner of a mountain ranch who puts up tremendous-quality hay. For some time now, he’s marketed his hay to horse owners on Colorado’s front range and has bought lesser-quality hay to feed his cows.

But last year, he sold the horse hay and brought in straw, corn stalks, distillers, and a cheap supplement to add moisture. It was actually cheaper for him to do that and buy the feed truck then it was to feed hay to his cows.

Some feedyards have almost totally eliminated hay from their rations, and almost all are feeding far less than they did in the past.  With cow numbers declining and people feeding less and less hay, one might think that hay prices would be dropping, at least in the absence of a drought. But even with today’s prices, hay is having trouble competing with other crops. Other crops are easier to raise and have less risk associated with them, so we continue to see hay ground being moved into grain production when it’s practical to do so.

This year, we’re going to see a lot of poor-quality silage put up, as the drought-affected corn is chopped or baled instead of being harvested. However, the long-term trend seems established. We’ll continue to see hay put up in those areas where hay can be produced on grasslands, but fewer and fewer acres will be put into hay production. I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime down the road I might actually find myself explaining to some wide-eyed and incredulous grandkids that we actually used to feed alfalfa hay to commercial beef cows.

Discuss this Blog Entry 7

G ONeal (not verified)
on Jul 13, 2012

I totally disagree with you,hay willl always be the primary source of roughage for manyyears to come. The author just does not understand real life, he is dreaming!

on Jul 13, 2012

I'm glad Troy is finally coming around to the only long term viable point of view. Almost all of the most successful ranches I know of have already eliminated routine hay feeding from their operations. Many have not fed significant hay for over ten years now.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jul 13, 2012

Why do people feel the need to convert cows into pigs!! Some animals are designed to eat forages.Maybe the USDA organic standers will help keep a cow a cow and a pig a pig.

JE Diamond (not verified)
on Jul 13, 2012

I'm of the opinion that grass/legume pastures, hay and grass/legume silange will become even more important to the beef cattle industry as feed grains prices soar. Furthermore, ruminants are designed to efficiently digest forages. In some areas of the country, grass fed beef are bringing premium prices.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jul 13, 2012

Hard to believe that Troy "Buy more Big Iron" Marshall has seen the light. Low Cost Low Cost Low Cost

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jul 13, 2012

What a comment I bet this guy is just like alot of these so called experts that never had a cow in the life! In Texas forage is no 1! Finally get some high calve prices an some yankee idiot makes a big deal about drought in corn country. Bet they lobby for corn growers asso. Cut this ethanol it is using 40% of all the corn which is killing the cattle industry! You dont know what drought is come to TEXAS we can still show you the effects of it!

Dennis (not verified)
on Jul 14, 2012

It probably depends on where you are located. Here in South Dakota corn stalks can be had just for baling them. Ethanol by product is available, but it won't be cheap with corn prices as high as they are. This year I will probably put up alot of abandoned corn for feed. But I still put up some hay. I have more cows than I have ever had and I have less hay acres than I ever had. More cover crops, residue and a lot more grazing.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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