Is Making Your Own Hay Worth It?

hay on our truck

Is making your own hay is something you should be doing? If you made the hay, you would have exactly what you wanted for your stock and of course, it would be cheaper if you made it, right? Maybe, maybe not!

If you have the extra time, plentiful forage growth that is overly mature before your livestock will eat it and access to inexpensive equipment, making your own hay can be a good financial decision. If you have to buy expensive equipment, do not have the extra time or do not have an abundance of unused forage that is outgrowing your herd or flock’s ability to eat it, making your own hay is a poor decision.

Should you or shouldn’t you make your own hay? This is another one of those times when you need to think about your situation and your resources and do the math for yourself.

Let’s look at the areas you should be considering before you decide to get into the hay making business for yourself.

How Many Bales Of Hay Do You Need For Your Sheep? will help you figure up the total hay you’ll need to make or buy for your flock.

7 Tips To Help You Choose High Quality Hay will go over general tips that cover choosing hay to meet your needs for all hay types.

Here’s one of the few times we use the small square baler, since it’s 3rd cutting there won’t be lots of bales so we did them as small squares rather than round bales. First cutting in this field was done as round bales.

What price can you buy high quality hay for?

First off, you need to evaluate your area’s hay supply:

  • What is the cost to buy the quality of hay you need in your area?
  • Can you find the type of hay from other growers or farmers that will suit you and your livestock?
  • If you can find it, how is the price and reliability of it being for sale when you need it?
  • Will the hay you need be delivered?
  • Is the type of hay you need available in a form you can use it? (for example small squares vs round bales)

To be perfectly upfront with you, it’s easier for you to buy hay from someone who is set up to make hay and has the experience and equipment. Really take some time to think this one over.

It is much easier to find hay online or by calling around than it is to make high quality hay yourself.

Plus, you can buy all of the hay equipment you need and still not have the weather to make good hay, especially if you are a beginner and doing the hay around other obligations, like a job.

Or, you can have all of the right equipment and still make junky hay because of your own errors, simply because you are a beginner.

In case you are not familiar with hay, it’s tough to get hay made at the appropriate time, especially for a first cutting. The weather rarely cooperates in the window when the hay is at it’s peak nutrition.

Know your cost per bale of hay

If you have thought it over and are still considering making your own hay, now we move to costs to make the hay per bale. Whether you pay for the hay to be done for you or you do it all yourself, you’ll still have a cost per bale.

Things to figure into your cost per bale:

  • fuel
  • rent
  • soil or plant amendments, like fertilizer
  • seed, if you needed to reseed an area for your hay crop
  • twine or net wrap
  • your time
  • payments on equipment
  • custom costs
  • opportunity costs, what else you could do with this time, area and money

If you need to buy new equipment or even newer equipment, that is a whole new area of cost. Now you need to figure in your payments and don’t forget depreciation!

Making new hay equipment purchases as a sensible business expense is going to be near impossible, unless you are doing scads of custom work to pay for it!

A side note on custom work: everyone who wants to hire you will need their hay done, which will also be at the same time you want to do yours. You can only do so much in a day.

Think carefully before you saddle yourself with debt on hay equipment just so you can drive something shiny.

Do you have the hay equipment or need to buy it?

Have you thought about the line of equipment you will need to make your own hay? Some of these things you may already have, but some, like the rake and baler, are specific to hay only.

Just a basic line up of hay equipment would be:

  • tractor, to run baler and move bales (if you are doing round bales), horsepower depends upon other equipment
  • mower, all sizes and prices
  • rake, various types including bar, wheel or rotary
  • baler, small square, various sizes of round and large square
  • wagons, for small square
  • loader or bale spear, for round or large square bales
  • place to store dry hay, covered and off of the dirt

Depending upon what you are trying to do with your hay and how you are making it, you will need a different equipment, for example: small square bales vs round bales.

Only the small square bales can be handled without a tractor. You can roll the round bales of dry hay (we used to), but that gets to be a chore and is definitely a two person job!

There are small bale unrollers, I know Greg Judy of Green Pastures Farm has a model for sale, it attaches to a 4 wheeler and is hand crank. This would be an option if you wanted to stay low cost and portable with minimal equipment.

This is how we feed round bales to sheep in the winter, with a round bale unroller on a tractor. The Greg Judy Bale Unroller would not need a tractor or hydraulics.

Heavier hay and haylage bales require more modern equipment

We make haylage, which is not something that all round balers can handle, since it’s so heavy. The newer models can, for the older ones (like you’d see at farm auctions) it depends upon the model.

Another haylage adaptation, we use two older bar type rakes, they work well. If you are making all dry hay, you may prefer one of the wheel or rotary rakes, since the material you are raking is lighter weight.

Look up the prices for hay equipment, if you feel you need to buy new. It’s a bit scary.

I’m sure you can guess, I’m very leery of debt on equipment, especially for something that you’ll only use for 3 or 4 days per year! Yikes, you pay year round!

For us, if we can buy the upgrade hay equipment with cash, okay. If it goes out of our price range, we go with what we have now.

Custom hay work, cost per trip over field

Chances are you can hire someone in your area who already is set up for hay to do some or all of your hay work for you. We hire part of ours done, it’s one of the best decisions we have ever made!

We have a local custom hay guy who comes and does round bale work for $10 per bale per trip across the field. So it’s $10 for each thing he does to the bales, if he cuts, rakes and bales, that would be $30 per bale.

We have him bale and sometimes wrap, since we are usually making haylage (fermented bales, the ones that are wrapped in white plastic). If he just bales, it’s $10 per bale, to bale and wrap is $20 per bale.

For anyone who knows hay, if our custom guy is just baling that means we are doing the cutting and raking. You’re right. Splitting the work up this way works great for us.

We also rent an individual wrapper from another farmer. We go get the wrapper, buy our own plastic (currently $80 per roll which wraps 15 bales or so) and run the wrapper ourselves and pay $5 per bale for the use of the wrapper.

We have an older line of used hay equipment that we have picked up over the years at auctions, all of which has been paid for ages ago, but no wet hay round baler. None of it looks good, but it does the job.

hay under power lines
This is hay we make under a powerline right of way. A neighbor owns it and just likes the grass to be kept under control, so we make hay on it rather than having the power line crew come in and spray.

Do you have plenty of grazing for your livestock?

This may sound too obvious to be written, but please do not overlook the part about any land that is being used for your hay is also not being grazed by your animals.

Do you have plenty of grazing for the animals you have now? Nothing is cheaper than letting the livestock get their own food for the day!

Making hay allows you to make use of land your animals are not grazing

I will have to grant that if you have access to acreage that is not grazeable, maybe too far away or no fencing allowed, then making hay off of that land might just be your best shot to get some use out of it.

We were renting a farm when we first got married with the barn and the a few acres in one spot then a larger field available across a big highway. We used it for green chop and hay, since we couldn’t get heifers or cows there.

If there is land available in your area that you can not get your animals to, the same budgeting and cost calculations still apply! Are you better off to hire the work done or to spend the time and money to do it yourself?

Why do we make our own hay?

I would love to not make hay, but….we currently need it for our stock. We have mostly sheep, and have a hard time sourcing high quality hay around here.

Plenty of really great hay is made, but those folks prefer to sell it about an hour away at an auction that is known for super high prices. The sellers like to have sell hay every week though out the winter for a nice weekly income.

That leaves us with the hay that has been showing up at the local auction, which is generally more brood cow type hay. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what we need for our stock.

We had trouble figuring all of this out until Jason, my husband, thought to try haylage for the sheep.

Now we have a great source of winter feed that is easier to get made correctly than dry hay. We also have very limited dry hay storage, haylage stores outside, since it’s wrapped.

We have also been able to find a few other hay growers that make haylage and sell it yearly.

This is great for us, we have some wonderful hay guys to buy from, and them, since they don’t have to wonder what price they’ll get at the sale each week or take time off of work to make it to the hay sale.

Here’s another take on making your own hay or not, Hay You! Should I Make My Hay Or Buy It? by Rich Taber on Cornell’s Small Farms site. This article gets more into equipment costs.

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