Ryan Reuter, Noble Foundation livestock specialist, Ardmore, OK, offers these hints to ensure the hay you buy is a good value.

  • Buy dry matter (DM). Before you buy, have a test done to measure moisture content. Most hay will average 85-90% DM. Next, determine the bale weight using a scale, then compare different hay sources on the basis of dollars per ton of DM, not dollars per bale.

  • Buy adequate quality. Determine the exact nutrient requirements for the class of animal that will consume the hay — heifers vs. cows, dry vs. lactating, thin vs. fat, etc. Then, buy hay that will provide at least that level of nutrition. Don't buy hay that will require supplement.

    To determine hay quality, make the seller provide a lab analysis, or get a sample and run one yourself. Reuter says he's seen a $10 hay test save a cow-calf producer several thousand dollars.

  • Buy bales that are tightly rolled, dense, have square shoulders and don't sag. Net wrap helps a bale shed rainwater. You also want a bale free of mold, weed seeds and dangerous levels of nitrates (depending on grass species).

“A final consideration is where that bale is located; the closer the better, to cut down on transport costs,” he says.