Buying hay vs. Growing your own hay

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Hay is the traditional feedstuff of choice for wintering beef cows in the Midwest. This leads many cattlemen into the question "Should I buy my hay or raise it myself?"

The correct answer depends on numerous factors. The list below helps illustrate these factors.

Buy Hay

  • Limited land resources to use for hay production
  • Busy, limited time to devote to hay production
  • Short on labor
  • Must purchase hay equipment, update old equipment
  • Set-up to handle by-product/alternative feeds
  • Have access to reliable hay source
  • Limited market for excess hay
  • Unable to store and carryover hay with little waste
  • Low acreage in hay that cannot self-support investment in equipment

Grow Hay

  • Land available for hay production
  • Adequate time and flexible schedule to accommodate hay production
  • Labor needs are adequate or labor can be sourced economically
  • Some equipment costs can be shared with other enterprises
  • Need to control harvest time and hay quality
  • Lack of flexibility in feeding set-up, infrastructure is geared towards feeding hay
  • Good demand for hay, potential diversification of farming business
  • Can store excess hay, carryover hay with little waste
  • Acreage supports equipment payment and regular update of equipment

Even in cases where some aspects of the farm may support growing your own hay, the opportunity cost is too high and buying hay can allow better use of time and equipment to focus on more profitable portions of the farming operation.

Diverting hay ground to managed pastures can be beneficial to a farm. Managed pastures allow longer grazing seasons, can allow increased herd size or stocking rates, and can result in lower fertilizer and fuel needs to support the cattle operation. Nutrient removal costs of hay can be quite large.

Evaluate your own situation, each farm is different. Taking a step back and looking at what your farm does best will give you the answer to the question "Should I buy my hay or raise it myself?"