In Alabama, it’s not a question of how much hay – there’s plenty of it. Instead, it’s a question of how to use it. Some cattlemen grow hay to use internally to offset feed costs, others purchase hay from commercial growers. Still others, in the way of a southern handshake, share with one another in times of need.
“Hay is really a secondary crop, not a primary business for cattlemen,” says Nate Jaeger, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation Hay and Forage Committee. “If you look at the statistics for hay, you see it’s a very small part of the total dollars per farm gate. But, we have a lot of it. There are farmers in Alabama who raise hay for a living. Most of them are high-value, low-margin operators that supply hay for livestock and also for reclamation, which is used for conservation purposes for construction projects.”
It’s good business for some cattlemen to grow some hay to offset feed costs, but for those with a high demand for high quality hay, purchasing is a viable option. That may be especially true when the cost and maintenance of hay-baling equipment is factored into the equation.
“The message here is really how farmers are smart to diversify their operations by doing several different things, including raising some of their own hay, purchasing some hay, and building relationships with their neighbors and peers to obtain and supply hay when shortages occur.”
Fourth-generation cattleman Bill Lipscomb is an example of a farmer who has adapted to the changes in the hay market.
“The biggest reason we grow hay is to feed our cattle,” Lipscomb says. “If we have excess, then we market that, but our main goal has been to carry our cattle through the winter.”
Lipscomb says watching costs closely is as important with hay as a crop as with any other agricultural business. “In some aspects it may be cheaper to buy hay than to produce your own once you consider the cost of the machine, fuel, fertilizer and storage space. For the past couple of years on my own farm we have been buying hay, and that also allows us room to run a few more cattle on the available acres we have. I don’t have to dedicate those acres to hay.”
“When cattle prices are good, that’s a good strategy,” Jaeger says. “Those dollars saved on equipment and other costs can be used to add more cattle and more profit.”