I have some questions on hay - What do you look for when choosing hay suppliers? How much do you buy at once? I don’t have a lot of storage but I worry about buying too little. Are there certain cuts or times in the year to plan around? Thanks for your help!
I always buy first cut because 2nd cut is generally too high in sugar for my guys. If possible, I get a nutritional analysis of the hay before committing to a hay contract - that way I can figure out how to balance their diet. I want hay that has been stored inside and was not rained on. I also don’t have much storage so I buy hay once per week but I always get hay cut from the same two fields so I know the nutritional profile won’t change much. I’ve been using the same hay supplier for 10 years so he takes care of me and makes sure he always has enough for me in years of drought. I’d encourage you to build a relationship with one hay dealer and stick with them. Take time to chat, bring the occasional batch of cookies, etc. That relationship is worth putting some effort into.
My hay dealer is fine with me paying as I go but if you want assurance that they will store a years’ worth of hay, you could do up a contract. Around here square bales are very expensive so I buy round bales and peel off the hay.
I hope you’re able to find a good reliable hay supplier.
Not quite on topic, but we are making our own hay, 2nd year. One area of the field is very thick with clover, takes longer to dry. We got everything off yesterday except that area, and it got lightly rained on. Reading about changes in grasses after being rained on, the article said the sugars of hay are lowered, color might not be quite as good, but such grass after drying completely, was still worth baling for horses. So we will bale it up when dried completely, instead of chopping it to allow it to return to the soil. Weather is really odd so far, I want every bale I can get. If I get more than I can store, I can sell the lesser quality to make room.
So a good exam of hay that might have gotten a bit of rain while laying on the ground but not dried yet, might be worth checking if hay is scarce or way up in price. Timing of the rain in the drying cycle does make a difference.
Do cultivate your hay sellers that provide a good product. Buying ahead can depend on your trust level. I never had a problem, but other folks here on COTH have gotten skunked in various ways. Not all sellers are good.
I have always preferred first cut as hay starts getting stemmy after that. “The fluffies” are really important now that my horses are 26 & 27:)
I have an IR/Cushings horse and the other one is a very easy keeper. The time of day hay is cut is important to these horses.
2.1. I buy by the year so I get my hay tested.
- I buy grass/mix hay that is 99.9% weed free and grown in my county or the next county over. Weeds equal waste and I’m not paying for them in my hay.
We are retired and can no longer get hay out of the field, so I pay premium price. When one year’s worth goes in the barn, I start saving for the next year.
Where I live, first cut is stemmy and high sugar/low protein.
I’ve ended up buying good out of town Timothy brought in by a hay dealer. I get 2nd cut. I can store about 2 tons at a time but need 3 to 4 for the year. I keep it carefully tarped or it gets surface mold in damp winter air.
I live in an area of high heat and humidity, so hay storage is a problem. I can only buy about 3 weeks worth of hay at a time, so it is important that I have a good hay dealer with a steady supply. I have a couple of older horses who don’t chew well, so I prefer a second cut hay over first cut, which tends to be tougher and have more stems.
I buy from my shoer who takes great pride in his hay. His sons compete at the county fair to have the best hay --and usually win the top awards. He provides a test analysis. I pay top dollar as hay is the most expensive, labor intensive item I deal with. I would save very little buying low quality hay then paying someone to put it into my mow. A couple of dollars (or even 5) more a bale for the best hay is worth it to me. Rule of thumb where I live is 100 bales a winter per horse --or 200 bales a year if you feed hay year round --and that’s 50 pound bales --my shoer’s bales consistantly come in at 60-65 pounds, however. I prefer 3rd cutting if I can get it --but honestly, my QH boys do well on air --so not as important as when I was feeding Thoroughbreds.
I look for someone who can consistently provide me nice hay–that’s about it.
I buy both first and second cutting. I have a very easy keeper and a harder keeper, so a mix is best. We get about 115 bales each cutting. First is in June and second is usually August. My alfalfa I get third cutting and it’s usually September/October depending on the year. I only get about 25 bales of it to supplement the harder keeper and to take with us to shows.
I store it all in our barn (250-260 bales for the whole year as we also have excellent pasture in the summers). We get a discount for picking it up in the field, and I’d rather get it all done at once because I find stacking hay miserable.
I plan on roughly 20# per day, even tho I find I’m not using quite that much (because I have grass). I only have one horse, but I have cultivated a relationship with a local grower over the last several years. He knows who I am and what I will want. I check in with him about this time of year to get an idea of the ‘hay forecast’ and that gives him a heads up in regards to me. I have him bring my hay in around early October, a years worth. I’d I wasn’t able to bring in a years worth I would have a relationship with another local hay broker. More expensive but at least I’d know my supply. Nobody I know will hold hay for you - paid for or not - just because you don’t have storage.
If you live in an area where good hay is grown locally to you, you can buy direct from the farmer. If you live in an area that does not grow good hay, or has hay farms locally, you are probably going to be buying from a dealer, who imports hay into your area from far away with large trucks, and sells it either by the truckload, or by the ton or by the bale from a store. There are advantages and disadvantages of both situations.
Buying from a dealer means that there is another person involved in the transaction, adding value (and price) to the hay you buy. BUT, they also should supply a guarantee that you will be satisfied with the hay, and SHOULD replace any hay that is not of the quality promised. You may or may not get that guarantee buying direct from the farmer… it depends. Buying direct from the farmer often means that you will pay less than from a dealer, but there is often more work involved from you in transport and stacking. How much you can buy at a time depends a lot on how much storage space you have. If you can, it is best to buy a year’s supply right at the time of year it is made, when it is cheapest. The longer the hay is stored, and the less hay around that is available (late spring) sometimes raises the price of the hay. On the other hand, if the hay has been stored for a while, it has had time to rot if it was not baled correctly (baled too wet), and you DON’T want it doing THAT while IN your barn… your barn will burn down with the hay should it ignite. And it can ignite.
Buying from a dealer means that you must trust the dealer, to deal with good farmers, who make predictably good hay, and have farming practices that you are looking for. Some farmers use pesticides, herbicides and plant a homogenous crop, which may or may not be what you want. Other farmers use more “natural” methods. Some farmers will use chicken manure as fertilizer, which horses do not appreciate (but it’s cheaper to buy for the farmer). This sort of hay “looks” great to humans, but horses feel differently.
I’ve bought truckloads of hay annually from dealers for decades, got in enough for the year, and stored it for use until the next growing season. It was expensive, but it was our only option, and THEY did all the work. Expensive, but still cheaper than buying it by the bale throughout the year. Then we sold, and moved to “horse country” and “hay country”, and now make our own hay, and sell our excess locally. I’m way happier about it these days. We know exactly what does and does not go into each bale. We do NOT sell to hay dealers, because they pay so little for the hay they buy from the farmers, so that they can make a profit when they resell to the horse owner. There’s a reason why those farmers sell that hay so cheap… it’s not like the hay we make ourselves on our farm.
Our hay growing weather in our area has been dicely the last few years - either we get too much rain without five dry days in a row to mow and bale - or it’s too dry and we get fewer cuttings.
This seems to be a drier season - though we’ve gotten a few good rains over the past few weeks, we’re still about 6-8" short of normal subsoil moisture levels. I worry about hay every season.
I buy both grass hay and alfalfa; it’s hard to find someone around here who grows a nice mix. I have long established relationships with my suppliers- but last year the guy I’ve been getting my alfalfa from for 20 years didn’t have much of a crop due to dry conditions so I was forced to find an alternative source. Establishing a relationship with a grower makes things a lot easier.
I buy about 400 bales every summer and store them in my two hay sheds which have plastic on the floor with pallets on top of that and another layer of plastic on top of the pallets. Buying a month’s supply of hay here is not practical as once planting/cultivating season is here, (corn and beans) farmers don’t have time to deliver.
I think to be really helpful to you, you have to give people an idea where you are in the country. Different areas have very different ways of dealing with their hay needs.
Yes, your area matters a lot. My approach is to buy as much as I can store, and make sure it’s stored well. We are in a self board barn where everyone has a an individual loft the same footprint as the stall below. I can keep well cured hay 12 months up there as long as it is stacked up tight and carefully tarped. I can get 2 tons in there, typically I stuff the loft in the fall and then top up a couple of times then try to run out for August/September for the next round.
If I had ground level storage I would be more interested in buying local grass hay in the 50 lb bales. I did that once, got a ton in my pickup truck, but tossing it into the loft and dragging it down to my loft was too much work for us older folk. Local grass hay here is very variable. I’ve had some lovely hay and some lower nutrition hay.
I switched over to a hay dealer that brings in Timothy from out of province and has a hay ladder, and stacks the 125 lb three string bales that I can barely shift. It’s a little more expensive, but for one or two easy keepers that’s not a big deal. Indeed, if you get a local farmer to deliver for a fee, and if you get the inevitable light bales, you really come out about the same.
But don’t buy more than you can safely store.
Use your calculator to figure cost per pound whether you are buying by the bake or the pound. I weigh and record my daily feed with a fish scale which lets me verify the weight of the bales. I dont let horses waste hay, and I know how much I am going through at any time.
As far as surface mold. Some people want to order “fresh hay” every month. But actually all hay is baled in the same season. By January all hay has been stored somewhere for 6 months: in the farmers barn, the dealers shed, or at the feed store. My friend who worked a hay truck as a teen says it can get surface spores in all these places, it’s just that when it’s delivered the spores get knocked off and the buyer thinks its fresh.
I’d just as soon store it well in my own loft.
I third we need to know where you live. I’m in north/western Michigan. Our growing season starts in earnest in May and runs until October - or early September since it’s difficult to get hay cut in September dry enough to bale for horses. Farmers can do a third cutting for cows because bovines can eat anything.
I prefer second cutting grass hay to almost anything else, but the older I get the more risk-adverse I am, so I get first cutting hay from some farmer friends delivered usually in late July or early August. I buy an average of a half a 50# bale per horse, per day, figuring on a 200 day feeding season. I have pasture for the rest of the year. There was a time I bought first cutting alfalfa for an different crew, and then didn’t feed grain for the winter, but I have an “air fern” easy keeper and a couple ponies now, so no alfalfa for them.
My advice is find ALL of the half way decent hay suppliers in your area and be friendly with all of them. You never know when your regular folks will have a supply issue.
YMMV if you live in an area with an abundance of hay suppliers.
Thank you, everyone! Your feedback helped me a ton!
I’m in Northern Illinois and my vet recommended first cutting for my IR horse and pony. I think I lucked out - I asked some friends with good hay where they got it from and the first two people I asked (and also meticulous) recommended the same person.
A farmer friend and I met him this afternoon and looked at his different hay and were both really happy with it. He had some stored from last year that will get me through until this year’s first cutting. He also can safely and properly store it for me and then deliver as needed so that was another plus.
I have a running list of hay suppliers. Some I have personally bought from, some I have heard about so I add their name to the list. ( I do the same for fencing contractors.)
The guy I have been buying from for the last 3 years is 2 hours from me. I travel to go pick up my years worth of hay. It takes two trips. He grows: Timothy, Orchard, Teff, BlueStem, Brome, Alfalfa, mixed grass, and some alfalfa mix hays. The fields that produce enough hay, each cutting of hay gets tested.
- My new hay guy grows more than one type of hay and has the storage space to keep it safely year round.
- I buy 16 850 square bales a year. We are experiencing a bit of a drought here, so I let him know yesterday that I would most likely be buying 20-24 bales this year just to be safe. I have bought from him often enough now that he will hold a specific type of hay for me until I can get up there to pick it up. I ALWAYS pay in cash the day I pick up.
- I store my 850lb square bales on pallets covered by tarps. It isn’t ideal, but it is what it is until I can get a carolina carport installed.
- I aim to get a year’s supply of hay sometime between July and August. If I can manage to wait longer, I’ll get it in October. This allows me to choose between 1st, 2nd and hopefully 3rd cuttings.
I read this as 16,850 bales of hay at first! I almost fell out of my chair.
Then I read more and realized 16 of the big 850 lbs bales. Still a lot of hay, but not knock me down a lot of hay!
16,850 bales is ALOT of hay. $$$$
I have 2 horses and minimal grazing. This is the most cost efficient way for me to feed high quality hay. With absolutely no waste, that’s 340 days of hay for 2 horses. We all know there is rarely “no waste”. With the weather being quirky, I’ll up my # of bales.