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Pavillion – Wyoming’s hay is some of the highest quality forage in the world, says Pavilion hay producer and Ky Enterprises, LLC owner Kyle Thoman. At the same time, Thoman noticed that transportation costs for hay were decreasing the profitability in raising hay.

“We’re so far away from our markets that the cost of transportation is eating up our profits,” Thoman comments. “Hay in Texas and California travels, on average, 50 to 100 miles to the nearest dairies.”

Because of the transportation costs to get Wyoming hay to the same locations, producers may only receive half the compensation, even though the quality is higher.

“I was originally looking for a way to increase the profitability of raising hay by finding some better markets,” he says.

Hay quality

Thoman explains that because Wyoming hay is high quality, it brings benefits to producers.

“The higher quality the hay, the less you have to feed to meet an animal’s requirements,” he says. “We can add more filler, like straw or lower quality hay, and still meet feed requirements.”

Thoman notes that he also explored the logistics of hay transportation in his college thesis.

“Part of my thesis work was trying to reduce logistics costs for Wyoming hay producers to increase the value that they were receiving,” Thoman says.

Transporting hay

“When I kicked off, I was looking at trying to utilize railroad transportation to ship hay out of Wyoming, which was a big deal in the eighties and early nineties,” Thoman explains. “They were shipping hay cubes and hay down to Texas.”

However, the problem comes in volume and payment for hay. Thoman continues that producers weren’t paid until the hay arrived at its destination, which meant that farmers may not be paid for weeks.

“I spent a lot of times at dairy shows and went to the World Dairy Expo. I also spend some time talking to dairymen, ranging from Amish folks to Chinese, Vietnamese, Saudi Arabians and other ambassadors from countries interested in importing hay for dairies,” he says.

China’s native hay has a relative feed value (RFV) of 100 on average. Western states average 110 to 150 RFV, but Wyoming is known to produce hay with RFV of 200 to 300, Thoman says. Dairy cows need hay with an RFV of at least 170 to sustain high-quality milk production.

“The idea was to send our hay over to China where they can mix it with their native hay. They’d handle less hay, and it would be a more economically viable feed for them,” he says.

Eventually, Thoman explains that the Wyoming Business Council (WBC) received a call from a Chinese hay company interested in Wyoming hay.

“The WBC called me and asked if I would be willing to work with them on creating a market for our hay,” he says. “I agreed, of course, and spent quite a bit of time working on it.”

Thoman spent time at the Port of Long Beach, Calif. to learn about how hay is shipped out of, and he also visited operations in New Mexico and Arizona that were currently exporting hay.

“Seven states west of Wyoming export hay, but we produce superior quality hay,” Thoman says. “The problem is, our transportation costs are two or three times more than other states. Even with the increase in quality, we have a hard time justifying the increase in logistics costs.”

Working together

Thoman explains that the idea was to band together as a group of producers and export larger volumes of hay, to make it more effective.

“In our contract, we agreed that I would source all the hay. We sent out 1,500 to 2,000 tons in 2015,” he says. “The challenge is, it has to be extensively tested, and testing takes so long.”

There are five requirements that must be met before hay can be exported. First, it must meet dimensional requirements. Chinese importers prefer three-foot by four-foot by eight-foot bales. Other sizes are discounted.

“The hay must also pass a color test, and they don’t want it to be over 10 percent moisture,” Thoman says. “The hay also has to free of genetic modification. The Chinese government doesn’t accept any genetically modified products.”

Finally, the hay has to be free of a fungus called fusarium.

“About one in 10 samples clears all five tests,” Thoman says. “It’s a really tough benchmark.”


Thoman notes that with all the challenges present, coupled with falling hay prices, the idea to export hay quickly became a task.

He was sourcing hay from several different producers across the state, and all the hay had to be quality controlled and sorted, even after testing.

“The last thing we had a problem with is clearing hay,” he says. “Every bale had to be hand-picked from a stack, and seven out of 10 bales were kicked out when we loaded the trucks. They were sorted again at the ports, and sometimes more were kicked out.”

With so many troubling aspects behind the venture, Thoman says, “We’re in a stalemate right now.”

However, he notes that they are working on other countries to partner with, as well.

“We’re looking at partners in Vietnam, Cambodia, Saudi Arabia and others,” he says.

Despite the trouble with exports, Thoman says he’s learned a lot and is ready for the next place where opportunity might present itself.

Thoman adds, “We’re producing really high quality hay here in Wyoming, and we’re trying to get through all the regulations.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sheridan – “We want to increase that digestibility, rate of passage and how much the animal can eat, and it’s all going to eventually end up, if we’re feeding it to dairy cows, in milk production, steers or something, their gains and those types of things,” said Colorado State University Forage Specialist Joe Brummer.

The annual Wyoming Forage Field Day, hosted by the Sheridan Research and Extension Center, explored several significant and up-and-coming topics in Wyoming forage production on June 14.

Brummer and Alforex Seeds Director of Product Development Don Miller led presentations on the development and performance of low lignin alfalfa varieties.

Lignin characteristics

Lignin is a complex organic compound that is indigestible for ruminants. The amount of lignin increases as a plant matures. Brummer noted that lignin interfaces with cellulose and hemicellulose to create rigidity and allow the vascular system to move water through out the plant.

However, its interaction with cellulose and hemicellulose decreases total digestibility.

“At the end of the day, what happens is the lignin in the mature plant tissue interferes with animal digestion and negatively affects forage quality,” said Miller.

Alfalfa digestibility

When compared to grasses, alfalfa has a higher amount of lignin, accounting for approximately seven percent of its dry matter components. Alternatively, lignin amount is approximately four percent of dry matter in grasses. As such, the lignin amount in alfalfa makes it less digestible.

“But it’s also an opportunity, right? If that grass plant can stand up there with only four percent lignin, can’t that alfalfa plant stand up there with four percent lignin? So it gives us an opportunity to look at reducing the amount of lignin in those alfalfa plants,” remarked Brummer.

Increasing digestibility

According to Brummer, there are two basic approaches to producing alfalfa varieties that are lower in lignin.

Alforex has utilized conventional breeding and natural selection to produce a crop that is reduced in lignin by seven to 10 percent. It began releasing low lignin varieties in 2015 that can be used in organic operations.

Forage Genetics International has used HarvXtra technology, which is a form of genetic modification, to silence key lignin enzymes. The technology results in a 10 to 15 percent decrease in lignin. There will be limited seed available in 2016, and it will be stacked with the Roundup Ready trait.

“Now when we started talking about low lignin in the industry, this was about 10 to 12 years ago. It seemed to be a very difficult project to do that. From our breeding program, the question was, could we do it with conventional plant breeding?” asked Miller.

He stressed that it was important for Alforex to not simply focus on low lignin in their breeding operation but other essential qualities so there was not a yield lag compared to conventional alfalfa.

Many benefits

“Now we’re actually at the same level of lignin that we used to be at 28 days, even though we’ve delayed our harvest seven days. Also, we have seven more days of growth, so we have more tonnage out there,” claimed Miller.

Low lignin varieties boast greater quality with a higher rate and extent of digestion in livestock. In the case of Alforex’s seed, it has moved the plant maturity curve back seven days. This increased quality enables producers to have greater harvest window flexibility.

“We might want to cut at 28 days, but we get that rainstorm, and we’re delayed a week. We can still maintain pretty high quality,” noted Brummer.

Brummer reasoned that being able to cut later could potentially reduce the number of cuttings per year, therefore reducing wheel traffic and lowering harvest costs. Cutting later also gives the plants the potential to reach a greater percentage bloom that would be beneficial for local pollinators.

He cautioned, however, “That’s kind of a catch 22, especially with the Forage Genetics International’s transfer of genes and bees. So we have to look at that a little bit to see how far those genes are going to travel in the environment by letting these go to a later bloom.”

Miller also noted that being able to harvest last could potentially improve stand longevity by increasing plant health and reducing stress.

Low lignin varieties also boast a leafier canopy and leaves lower down on the plant.

Marketing strategy

“We’re going to have to market this and get that relative forage quality (RFQ) test, so we can market it at a premium to get that higher price per ton,” said Brummer.

Miller cautioned producers that relative feed value (RFV), neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and total digestible nutrients (TDN) testing will not show the advantage of low lignin over conventional alfalfa. RFQ, acid detergent lignin and a newly developed test called total tract neutral detergent fiber digestibility (TTNDFD) will show the advantage.

Looking ahead

Some data has been collected comparing milk yields between cattle fed the low lignin and conventional varieties using the TTNDFD testing technology from the University of Wisconsin with significant improvements. Miller stated that Alforex is currently performing feeding trials to determine growth differences in feeder cattle.

“We’re actually participating in a feeding trial in Wisconsin right now where they use 500-pound Holstein steers. We provided the university with enough seed to put out 20 acres of our variety, and then they’ve got check varieties, too. We’ll see the weight gain on these new low lignin varieties on animals, too, so we’ll have that next year.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“The hay market has been pretty soft,” comments Barry McRea of Valley Video Hay Markets in Torrington. “It doesn’t look like there will be much change in the near future.”

Unless Mother Nature intervenes, he predicts that prices will remain steady.

“The only thing that would change the prices would be a drought, but at this point, we can’t tell,” he says.

Some areas of Oklahoma and Kansas are starting to look dry, according to the U.S. drought monitor, but it is still too early in the season to know how the weather will affect the market.

“The balance of inventory is mostly feeder hay but there isn’t much demand for it,” he adds.

Any producers who still have extra hay may have to wait until next season for it to sell.

“There is always good demand for premium hay, but there isn’t much of that left,” McRea continues.

Open market and new crop hay will likely be sent toward Texas or the Midwest, to states such as Iowa, Indiana and Illinois.

“This year, the bulk of our premium hay went to Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin,” notes McRea.

Hay is often shipped to Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, and there is also usually a strong demand in New Mexico, although there wasn’t as much demand in that part of the country this past year.

“We always send some to Colorado,” he adds.

Some areas of the United States are more deficient than others from year to year, depending on conditions.

“Generally, people looking for feeder or ranch hay purchase from local markets,” explains McRea, although his business caters to buyers across the country. “If there is a drought area, for example in Texas or Kansas, we can serve those areas with our internet auction.”

Valley Video Hay Auctions holds a sale once every two weeks throughout the summer and fall.

“People can use the internet to see our hay bi-weekly all year, without having to come through town,” he adds.

For McRea, this is an advantage over representatives or brokers who can only visit specific parts of the country once or twice a year.

“We offer hay backed by the reputation of our growers,” he comments.

As spring approaches, McRea talks to his customers across the country to find out about conditions throughout the U.S.

“This time of year, we are touching base with our previous customers to see where demand is,” he explains.

McRea’s inventory comes mainly from western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming. He also sells hay in the Riverton area.

“Our hay is premium hay because of our drier climate with less humidity,” he explains.

Many areas in the eastern U.S. have trouble putting up high-quality hay because of the challenges associated with high moisture content in the air.

“With the news we have today, prices don’t look like they will vary much from last year,” says McRea.

However, he warns that conditions can transition quickly. Humidity and rainfall can affect the conditions of the market in a short period of time.

“Rain or no rain in different parts of the country can change conditions fast,” McRea states. “Within a matter of weeks, things can change drastically.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Hay is an expensive crop to harvest and storage losses can be significant,” states Ohio State University Extension Beef Coordinator John Grimes.

By following key management principles for hay storage, losses can be minimized.


“Once a field is baled, bales are generally moved from the field to a storage area. This should be done relatively quickly to avoid stand loss from bales smothering the existing forage,” explains Grimes.

Using proper equipment to move the bales safely and efficiently is also recommended.

“Hay to soil contact is typically the primary source of loss associate with storing hay outdoors,” Grimes warns.

Hay that is stored on the ground should be in a well-drained and open area that receives maximum sunlight.

“Storing bales under a tree canopy is not a good management decision,” he comments.

Minimal protection is provided in rainy conditions, and those areas are slow to dry out when the sunshine returns.

“Outdoor storage locations on a slope can help drain excess water away from the bales,” he notes.


Losses are also minimized when adequate space is left between bales.

“When aligning bales for storage, they should be placed so the sides do not touch,” Grimes continues. “An exception to this would be if the bales are stacked in a pyramid fashion, for covering under a roof, tarp or other material.”

Pyramid stacks are one effective way to store hay, under a tarp or other type of protection.

“Do not stack bales in this formation unless the bales can be covered,” Grimes says.

Keeping hay covered minimizes losses. A study done by the University of Kentucky indicated that hay stacked outside on the ground has 25 to 35 percent loss, while hay stored in a conventional shed only had four to seven percent loss.

“Using a typical hay storage method with bales placed directly on the sod and rows closely aligned together, losses can approach 35 percent with twine-wrapped hay. But, net-wrap in the same situation can reduce losses up to 10 percent,” Grimes explains.

Left directly on the ground, moisture from the soil can be drawn up into the bales. Using tarps or plastic wrap can help to reduce this kind of damage.


“If producers do not have some kind of protected storage facility available, at a minimum they should place bales on a layer of rock to eliminate soil contact,” he suggests.

Using a layer of geotextile cloth covered with rock is one example of an effective pad design.

“Bales butted together can help protect the ends of the bales,” he adds. “The flat ends of the bales should be firmly butted against one another, as if they were one, continuous bale,” he comments.

Plastic wrap can also be used to protect baled hay and an inline wrapper can be used to create one continuous, long tube.

“The advantage of this process over individually-wrapped bales is the reduction in total use of plastic,” states Grimes.

Keeping hay wrapped, covered or inside will help minimize loss during storage.

“Generally, the more protection we can provide, the fewer losses we will experience,” he states.

Hay production is important for ruminant ranchers such as beef, dairy, goat, horse and lamb producers.

Grimes states, “Much like corn or soybeans, hay is very valuable and should be treated as such.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

During the last several years, scientists have studied ways for producers to feed their cattle while resting their pastures. Because of that research, plant breeders have developed more annual varieties of forages that are taller and can produce more tonnage than traditional varieties.

Many annuals are now available for grazing. 

Some of the most common cool season annuals are oats, spring triticale, spring barley, field peas, Italian or annual ryegrass, turnips, radishes and winter wheat or rye. 

Warm-season annuals like millet, S-S hybrids, sorghum, sudangrass, crabgrass, teff and corn are also popular choices. 

Moving beyond tradition

Where ranchers were once limited to traditional annuals like winter wheat, rye or triticale, they can now plant other annuals like field peas, turnips and radishes, according to University of Nebraska Range and Forage Specialist Jerry Volesky. 

“Annuals can be a good fit with a grazing program,” Volesky says, “but planning ahead of time is crucial.”

Some of the traditional annuals like winter wheat, rye and triticale are planted in September and grazed the following spring. 

“Triticale is the most productive of the winter annuals,” Volesky says. “It will average four to five tons per acre. Common winter rye averages 3.5 tons to the acre. If they are harvested at the soft dough stage, both can be high quality forages with good protein and total digestible nutrients (TDN).”

 Spring-seeded small grains, like field peas and oats, can be planted and grazed in the spring. Turnips and radishes can be planted and grazed in the fall or spring, Volesky adds. 

“Spring-seeded oats can produce three tons of dry matter yield,” Volesky says. “Other spring forages, with a late March or early April seeding date, shouldn’t be grazed until they are six to eight inches in height, which is generally around the third week of May.”


Volesky shares the different ways for animals to utilize the forage. 

“Grazing is not as efficient as haying these annuals,” he says. 

Grazing interrupts plant growth more than haying because haying takes place toward the end of the plant’s growing cycle. If a cow grazes off the growth point of an oat plant, any future growth of the tiller of that plant will be lost. 

Losses can also occur from trampling. 

One method becoming more popular is haying annuals, like millet, in the fall and leaving the hay in windrows for cattle to mob graze in late-winter or early spring. This requires a little more planning because producers will need to place electric fence around the perimeter of the field, unless the field has permanent fence. 

The producer will also have to build electric fence within the field that can be easily moved every day or two as the cattle graze out the windrows. 

Cool-season annuals, like oats and turnips, can be grazed after freeze-down or also by windrow grazing. 

Volesky researched utilizing windrow grazing during the summer with winter rye and showed the importance of harvesting the crop at the optimum maturity so the animals will utilize it efficiently in the windrows.

Producers who wish to use this method of grazing will need to determine the correct stocking rate, so they know how many windrows to give the cattle access to at one time.

“This can be a very efficient form of grazing if it is done properly,” Volesky said.


Producers are always concerned about stocking density, especially when grazing annuals. Volesky said he likes to use an animal unit (AU) concept, based on one animal unit is equivalent to a 1,000 pound animal, and one AU month (AUM) as equivalent to 780 pounds of forage. This is based on 30 days in a month where 26 pounds of forage is consumed per day. A cow/calf pair is considered 1.5 AU, and a weaned calf weighing 500 pounds is considered 0.5 AU. 

When working with annuals, it is important to consider grazing efficiency. 

“A rule of thumb is 1.3 AUMs are available per ton of potential forage,” he says, assuming 50 percent grazing efficiency


The most important factor Volesky has garnered from his research is that producers need to plan ahead if additional grazing will be needed. The plants will need adequate time to grow to the appropriate stage or height before they are grazed, he says. 

Producers should also consider planting different types of annuals that can be rotationally grazed and to stagger the planting dates of warm season annuals to prevent them from growing too rapidly before they can be grazed. 

“Producers will want to start grazing these annuals at a younger stage of growth or at a shorter height,” he explains. “Animals can be added as needed depending upon the growth of the forage.” 

Producers should have a backup pasture in case plants are consumed quicker than expected or the stocking rate doesn’t work out as planned, he says. 

Volesky adds, “It is important to have something to fall back on.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..