There exist so many variables in round bales as a feedstuff that common pricing by the bale or by some guesstimate of tonnage is seriously flawed.

Further, these variables together with feeding inefficiencies make cost-effectiveness of hay feeding even more difficult according Oklahoma Extension Specialists.

1. Size matters

Round bales are often priced by the bale but the amount of hay in a bale depends on bale size and density. For example, assume a 5x6 round bale (5 feet wide and 6 feet in diameter or height) is priced at $52.50 per bale.

If the bale weighs 1,500 pounds, the price is equivalent to $70 per ton.

A comparable 5x5 bale with equal density would weigh 1,046 pounds and be priced at $36 per bale to have a value of $70 ton.

A 4x5 bale with equal density would weigh 833 pounds and would be priced at $29 per bale to equal that same $70 per ton of forage. 

2. Density matters

The density of round hay bales varies considerably and typically ranges between 9 and 12 pounds per cubic foot (lb./ft3). In the example above, the bales are assumed to have a density of 10.61 pounds per cubic feet. But bale density varies depending on the type of forage, adjustment of the baler and skill of the baler operator. Bales with lower density weigh less. They also are more difficult to handle and transport, and they have more storage losses.

If the 5x6 bale in the example above has a density ten percent less (9.55 lb./ft3), the bale weighs 1,350 pounds while a density 15 percent less (9.02 lb./ft3) results in a bale weight of 1275 pounds. If the 5x6 bale is priced at $52.50/bale, the resulting per-ton price increases to $78 and $82 for the lower-density bales as we just outlined.

3. Subtract storage losses

Round bale use inevitably results in storage and feeding losses. Hay loss with round bales varies widely depending on storage and feeding management.

Well-managed bale storage and feeding might limit losses to 10 percent but combined storage and feeding losses frequently range up to 50 percent or higher. There is a lot of good research on this.

Round bales stored outside, uncovered and on the ground and fed in unrolled, exposed bales or in simple open-sided ring feeders will have the biggest losses, easily 30 to 50 percent. In contrast, bales stored inside or covered, off the ground and fed unrolled or in cone-style feeders can limit losses to 5-15 percent.

4. Subtract feeding losses

The amount of hay actually consumed by cows drops dramatically with increased storage and feeding losses. At 10 percent loss, hay consumption is 1,800 pounds for each ton of hay; at 25 percent loss, hay consumption is 1,500 pounds and at 40 percent loss, hay consumption is 1,200 pounds.

From a cost standpoint, this makes big differences. At $70/ton, storage and feeding losses increase the effective hay price to $78 per ton for a 10 percent loss); $93 per ton for a 25 percent loss, and $117 per ton for a 40 percent loss.

Storage and feeding losses combined with low bale density increases hay price further.

The low-density bale mentioned above — 5x6 at 1275 pounds, priced at $52.50 per bale — results in a hay cost of $91 per ton with a 10 percent loss; $110 per ton with a 25 percent loss; and $137 per ton with a 40 percent loss.

The combination of low bale density and high storage and feeding losses result in actual hay cost nearly double ($137 versus $70) the stated per-ton price of hay in this example. It’s the same whether hay is purchased or produced.

Without knowing the weight and the storage and feeding losses associated with round bales, producers cannot possibly know the true cost of hay nor manage the quantity of hay consumption and cow herd nutrition.

5. Put a value on quality

The cost of hay also heavily depends on the pounds of crude protein and energy delivered to the cow.

Considering the variety of forages harvested as hay, the management and condition of the forage, baling conditions, and quality degradation during storage, this is a highly variable feedstuff.

An example is well-fertilized bermudagrass, harvested early, will have 12-15 percent crude protein, with total digestible nutrients (TDN) over 55 percent. Crude protein in under-fertilized, mature bermudagrass will drop below 6 percent , with TDN less than 50 percent.

Prairie and meadow hay typically has crude protein values of 6-9 percent and TDN of 50-52 percent. If harvested late and very mature these values may drop to 4-5 percent for crude protein, with TDN below 50 percent.

Considering many nutritionists say rumen fermentation may be compromised at levels under 7 percent crude protein, this presents problems. A 1,400-pound beef cow in the middle third of pregnancy on dry forage and hay, eating 23 pounds of forage per day, could not get the 1.6 pounds of crude protein she needs each day from these lower values (23 x 0.06 = 1.38 pounds). Once she calves, those needs go up to 3.1-3.9 pounds of crude protein, depending on her milk production.

Round bale technology is obviously convenient and saves labor, but this may have brought the industry to a poorer state.

Unfortunately, the convenience of round bales has also frequently encouraged production of low quality hay and poor storage and feeding management.

As a possible sign of this, hay production per beef cow has more than doubled in the past 40 years in Oklahoma, he adds. It appears that now significantly more hay is wasted and that poor pasture management has increased the number of days that cows are fed hay.

6. Optimize hay feeding

There are four ways to make the best of round bale feeding.

n Manage pastures to extend grazing and minimize hay needs. Consider stockpiling pasture for fall and winter grazing. Feeding hay costs 2.5 to 5 times as much as grazing. Every day that cows graze instead of receiving hay will save 50 cents to $1.50 per head in feed costs.

n Know the quantity and quality of purchased or produced hay. Buy tons of hay… not bales. Weigh it and test it.

n Know how much hay cows are actually eating. Measure storage and feeding losses in order to know actual consumption and the true cost of your hay.

n Calculate the cost of hay nutrients compared to other supplemental feed sources. Projected record grain crops mean energy and protein from other feed sources will likely be cheaper this winter. Supplements using grain and/or byproduct feeds may actually be less expensive than poor quality hay.

Commercial drone


The new commercial Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) drone regulations go into effect, easing some burdensome regulations for farmers and agricultural companies. The new rules lift many expensive and strict commercial drone use requirements.

Before now, the FAA had required commercial drone operators to have a traditional pilot’s license.

The new rules permit anyone 16 or older to fly for hire if they pass a written knowledge test and background check. The drones can only fly during daylight, within sight and no higher than 400 feet from the ground.

There are more than 3,300 people signed up to take the new test today.

Farmers will be able to scout their fields and crops with greater ease and less expense by using drones. The new rules will allow them to do so with fewer restrictions.

The new rules also bring more opportunity for growth within agriculture.

The sky is going to open up at the end of August for a lot of opportunities.

The changes will also encourage drone companies to expand their development and growth.

We’re going to see so much starting to develop,” said Brendan Schulman, vice president for policy and legal affairs at China’s SZ DJI Technology Co., the world’s largest civilian drone manufacturer.