Winter's early start may increase hay demand

Jan 31, 2014
by WLJ

—Cold, snowy month means livestock farms must reevaluate winter forage supplies

An early start to winter has caused many farms in the upper Midwest to reconsider whether they will have enough hay and other feeds to get their animals to spring. The summer of 2013 allowed many farms to replenish exhausted forage supplies that were caused by the drought the previous year. Still, last summer’s growing season was not perfect and many farmers felt they had just enough feed to get through this winter as their harvest season ended.

Many farms after 2012’s drought had made plans to harvest more annual forage crops and/or to graze longer in the fall in an attempt to save hay. The dry late summer and early fall across much of the country decreased the yield of these crops but many farms still were cautiously optimistic about their winter feed supply.

But one last hurrah of 2013—the colder than normal, snowy December—led to early and substantial hay feeding on many livestock farms, according to Michigan State University (MSU) Extension beef educators.

Farms that were hoping to graze stockpiled pasture forages and corn stubble fields into the New Year had to bring the cows home early. Some farms that were hoping to harvest corn stalk bales for feed were not able to because of the late maturing corn crop and the early December snows.

The colder than normal temperatures in December also lead to increased hay consumption. Studies show that ruminate animals will increase forage consumption from 5-15 percent when air temps drop below 20 degrees F. The lower the air temperature drops, the more cattle will consume, up to a maximum point of around 15 percent above normal. These farms now will be monitoring feed inventories closely as they progress through the winter and will be hoping for an early spring thaw. If winter lingers, it could lead to a late round of hay buying as livestock owners stretch feed supplies to get to green grass.

In spite of the tough December weather, hay markets have held steady to the beginning of the New Year. The high quality dairy-type alfalfa hays remain in short supply and continue in the price range of $180-290 per ton in Michigan markets. The lower quality alfalfa/grass mixed and grass hays that are well suited for livestock animals have tightened up their lower price end slightly and now are ranging from $115-210 per ton depending upon quality, bale type and storage.

Normally new hay comes on the market in the new calendar year. This is done to delay the seller’s income into the next tax season and with the hopes that hay prices may improve as the winter goes on. It often has the opposite effect on the market as the extra supply many times softens the price. However this year it is not anticipated that this New Year supply will be large as hay prices and demand were strong enough during the harvest season that much of the hay was sold as it was harvested.

Livestock farm managers in the state who believe their winter feed supplies may be tight are encouraged to contact a MSU Extension Beef Team member early in the winter season to strategize feeding options while they still have choices. For those wanting to locate hay for sale or to determine asking prices of hay, go to the Michigan Hay Sellers List. For more information, contact Jerry Lindquist at or 231/832-6139.

For those outside of Michigan, contact your local extension service for local hay and winter forage options in your area. — Jerry Lindquist, Michigan State University Extension