Such a small word but such a HUGE, all-consuming and encompassing part of our lives here on the cattle farm. It seems we are always talking about hay. In real simple terms, for us, no hay for the winter = no cattle for the winter = no baby calves for the spring/summer = no paycheck. Hay consumes our thoughts and dictates our herd management plans, year-round. If not in feeding-out hay in the winter, then in finding and procuring hay during the summer. It doesn’t stop there, though. Late-summer and fall find us prepping and setting-up winter hay bale sites.
Hay is such a precious commodity where we live and the weather largely dictates the kind of hay crop we will have every year. We had a dry summer last year and it showed in the hay crop. Everyone was scrambling for hay.
This leads me into today’s topic of the importance of planning out your winter hay needs well ahead of the haying season (to avoid that last minute scramble, where you may be paying through the roof for hay).
First of all, as I mentioned in a previous post, the importance of studying your herd and understanding what you want in a beef cattle herd, can’t be understated. When I say study, I mean just that. Walk out to your cows and spend some time watching them. How is their body condition looking? Have any of them developed bad habits? (jumping fences, aggression, etc.). You can learn so much just by spending 30 minutes – here and there -observing the herd.
Make sure you also walk around, let the animals see you. Talk to them. Walk between two cows. See how they react.
For us, any heifer calves that show too much skittishness, just from us walking by them, head down the road as yearlings come spring/summer. We had a heifer calf last year that never did calm down. The rest of her companions developed into some really nice replacement heifers, with mild, pleasurable dispositions. She never did. She would see us in the distance and before we knew what was happening, she was running in the opposite direction as if her tail was on fire.
Once you have determined which cattle you anticipate overwintering, you need to calculate your winter hay needs. These calculations should happen well before the haying season starts. Not only do you need to determine how much hay you will need, but you need to figure out how you will get that hay. If you doing your own haying, it certainly makes things a bit easier. For us, we do not do our own haying, and therefore, we depend upon others for our winter hay needs. Over the last six years, we have fostered some really good relationships with other farmers and hay producers in our area. We reach out to these producers months ahead of time and hammer out a tentative plan for the # of bales they can provide for us (these producers often need to fulfill their own hay needs) and if that price is for bales in the field or delivered.
For us, we usually end up piecemealing together our hay needs from multiple producers. 100 bales from here, 200 bales from there, and so on until we reach a number we are comfortable with.
In the spring of 2018, Jer sat down at the computer and started calculating our projected winter 2018/2019 hay needs. We estimated how many cows, bulls, and calves we would be overwintering and for approximately how many days. We hoped that we would not have to start feeding-out hay until late-November/early-December. (As mentioned in previous posts, winter came very early and we started feeding hay about 4 weeks earlier than anticipated.) After calculating our needs, Jer got on the phone and started chatting with our hay producers. We came up with tentative plan and agreement with a couple of producers. Most importantly, we negotiated $/bale and delivery. Would we pick-up or would they deliver? Jer hammers out all those details well ahead of time, so come July and August when people may be scrambling to find hay and the prices are creeping up, we already have our $/bale and # of bales locked in.
- Calculate your hay needs well head of the start of the hay season.
- Make and foster good relationships with hay producers and communicate clearly your hay needs.
- Secure finances ahead of time to pay for that hay.
- and remember, you would rather have some extra bales leftover then run short of hay weeks or months early!
Check out my post on calculating winter hay bale needs for your beef cattle.
Leave a Reply