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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 689

June 2, 2010

Forage Focus: Round Bales for Sale - David Dugan, OSU Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources

As we get a good start on rolling up some hay after a little delay due to the wetter than normal May in the Ohio Valley, the questions have already started coming in about how much are "large round bales" worth? How can I answer that? What is a "large round bale" by definition?

Regardless if it is the local classifieds, agricultural publications or local radio call-in buy and sell, you often see or hear the advertisement as just that, large round bales for sale, so let's see what we know about large round bales. First of all a large round bale could be defined, as far as dimensions are concerned, as any of the following sizes, if you check with farm machinery dealerships literature on balers. These of course are expressed in approximate feet: 4 x 4, 4 x 5, 4 x 6, 5 x 4, 5 x 5, and 5 x 6. Six different sizes of bales that all would be classified as a large round bale. If you look further into the literature you will find that the approximate weight for bales in each of the mentioned dimensions are also listed, or at least a range. If you compare the weights you will find that there are some big differences in what a large round bale is. You can argue the weights, but they are all estimated by the same people, so for comparison, they should be good.

The 4 x 4 bale will average maybe in the neighborhood of 700 pounds, but this depends on the type of hay put in the bale, too. Finer hay like second cutting orchardgrass or alfalfa will have more hay that long stem first cutting grass hay. This will be the same for all sizes of large round bales.

So, a 4 x 4 bale is approximately 700 pounds, and 4 x 5 or 5 x 4 will weigh on average around 1000 pounds and a 4 x 6 or 5 x 5 may get up to around 1400 pounds on average. That would mean a 4x6 bale will have twice as much hay in it as a 4 x 4 bale if these weight averages are accurate. Then you look at a 5 x 6 that will average in the neighborhood of 1800 pounds. That means a 5 x 6 bale is more than 2.5 times as much hay as a 4 x 4 bale. But it is worth considering if you are buying or selling hay. Compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges.

Ok, we have now established that we have some big differences in the amount of hay large round bales depending on the size. What other differences should be factors in establishing the price or value of a large round bale (or any hay)? Here are some more things to think about as we decide what hay might be worth.

What is it? Just because it has been put into a baler, it is round and either is bound by twine or net wrap, does not necessarily make it hay or even feed. If it is going to be used as feed it needs to have nutritional value. Back in 2007, when hay was short, producers were rolling up corn stalks, soybean stubble, and anything they could to try to make it through the winter. We use several things that have various qualities when it comes to forages for hay. Some of the more common forages include orchardgrass, fescue, timothy, clover and alfalfa. The feed value of these is not the same in fact they can vary greatly for different things that animals may require like protein, energy, fiber and more. Corn stalks and soybean stubble have plenty of fiber, but not much more.

The quality is something else to consider when looking at the forages that make up the round bale. All alfalfa or all orchardgrass is not the same. Depending on how mature it was when it was cut will greatly affect the quality of the hay in the bale, plus other issues like if the hay was cured and dry when it was baled, or if it was rained on after it was cut. The problem most producers are facing now is the fact that we have had too much rain for hay to be harvested without these issues. The quality continues to diminish on much of the crop and the weather is not being cooperative. When it comes to quality there are several things that you can do when inspecting hay in addition to pulling a sample and sending it to a lab to have it tested. Here are some things that you can do while looking at the hay to get an idea about quality. Try to establish the Stage of Maturity, the Leafiness, the Color, the Odor and Condition, and look for Foreign Material. A good fact sheet from the University of Maryland discusses these in detail and even gives you a chart to rank and score hay based on what you see. The fact sheet can be found at http://extension.umd.edu/publications/PDFs/FS644.pdf or contact your local Extension office for information.

The last thing that should be checked out and considered when estimating the value of a large round bale is the storage. Round bales were designed to be stored outside and shed water. However, this is not without the loss of hay, so there are several things that can be factors in the amount of hay loss you may be looking at. Round bales stored inside will have the least decay. Bales stored outside on a raised area with gravel under them will reduce the amount of decay on the bottom of bales versus bales stored on the ground. Even hay on the ground will have less decay if it is elevated so water can get away from the hay that is actually touching the ground. Stacking hay outside that is not covered will have losses where the hay touches because the water is trapped there. Keep in mind that if you have a few inches of decay on the top of the bale, or maybe even more on the bottom of the bale, the amount of hay, or the percentage of hay lost is in relation to the size of the bale.

There is no exact science to putting a value on a round bale, but these things should help establish a fair price for both the buyer and the seller. Hopefully these points will also help make fair comparisons when it comes to the size of the bales, the quality of the hay and the amount of dry matter that can be consumed by the livestock that will be eating the hay.

The one factor that I did not mention above that always comes into play is basic economics. Supply and demand will always have an influence on the value of anything, and large round bales are not exempt from that. When hay is in short supply the price will be higher than when everyone has plenty of hay to feed and there are very few looking to buy. Even when we have extremes of these situations, it is a good idea to compare what you are getting for your money.

Baleage as a Hay Making Option - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County, Buckeye Hills EERA

I have had some questions recently about putting hay bales in bags at higher moisture content as a way to get hay harvested in a timely manner when drying days are limited. The product that results from putting a higher moisture bale into a plastic bag or wrapping with plastic is termed baleage. There are a couple of key factors to practice to provide the best chance of success with this process.

One important factor is moisture level. Essentially this process is similar to making silage. A publication from North Dakota State University Extension entitled "Haylage and Other Fermented Forages" says this in regard to baleage and moisture level:

"The forage is cut as if for making hay, but is baled at 50 to 60 percent moisture rather than at 18 to 20 percent moisture. Baling at the proper moisture content is the single most important variable. Baling haylage with too much moisture reduces the feed quality of the forage and reduces the amount of dry matter stored per bag, greatly increasing storage cost. Baling haylage with inadequate moisture reduces fermentation and increases mold production, greatly increasing storage losses."

Another factor is the density of the bale. The goal is to exclude air and help the fermentation process. Tight, dense bales will produce a better end product with less mold and spoilage.

The time lag between baling and wrapping can also influence the quality of the baleage. This time lag should be as short as possible. High moisture forage continues to respire at high rates after it is made into a bale. This respiration reduces forage quality because digestible carbohydrates are consumed. In addition, high moisture forage is subject to colonization by undesirable microorganisms. Wrapping a bale or placing it in a plastic bag, when done correctly, will exclude oxygen and lead to an anaerobic environment. Respiration losses are reduced and anaerobic microorganisms ferment carbohydrates into lactic acid that inhibits the growth of detrimental microorganisms. According to a University of Kentucky Extension publication entitled "Baling Forage Crops for Silage", the amount of time between baling and wrapping/bagging should be less than 8 hours.

Finally, consider plastic thickness. A publication out of the University of Wisconsin entitled "Successful Wrapping and Storage of Square Bales" includes a section where the authors looked at the thickness of plastic necessary to preserve either wet hay or to make haylage. They used both 1 ml and 1.5 ml thick plastic and then wrapped different bales with either 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 wrappings. Their conclusion was that "in all cases 6 to 8 mls of plastic were needed to produce good quality haylage in the bales."

Disadvantages of baleage includes some additional costs associated with wrapping or bagging high moisture bales as well as some storage, and handling logistics that are different from dry hay. On the other hand, advantages include timelier harvesting of forage, less harvest and storage losses, and the production of a potentially higher quality forage feedstuff.

House Passes Revisions to Ohio's Animal Cruelty Laws - Peggy Kirk Hall, Director, Agricultural & Resource Law Program, OSU Extension

Months before the current controversy of alleged animal cruelty by employees of Conklin Dairy Farms, Rep. Williams and Combs introduced H.B. 55 to revise portions of Ohio's animal cruelty law. Yesterday, the Ohio House passed the animal cruelty bill, which had been introduced last March.

H.B. 55 focuses largely on cruelty to "companion animals," which includes dogs, cats, and any animal kept inside a residential dwelling. Changes to the companion animals provisions include authority to order child offenders to undergo counseling and psychological treatment, inclusion of companion animals in court protection orders, and requirements for the State to approve continuing education courses on animal abuse counseling for medical and social work professions.

In regards to cruelty to animals other than companion animals, H.B. 55 adds a new penalty provision. The penalty remains a second degree misdemeanor for first offenses, but increases to a first degree misdemeanor for subsequent violations of the law. Current law addresses each offense as a second degree misdemeanor. Under Ohio law, a first degree misdemeanor can result in a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, while a second degree misdemeanor violation carries a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

What is cruelty to animals? Ohio's animal cruelty law is Ohio Revised Code section 951.13, which states that "no person shall:

(1) Torture an animal, deprive one of necessary sustenance, unnecessarily or cruelly beat, needlessly mutilate or kill, or impound or confine an animal without supplying it during such confinement with a sufficient quantity of good wholesome food and water;

(2) Impound or confine an animal without affording it, during such confinement, access to shelter from wind, rain, snow, or excessive direct sunlight if it can reasonably be expected that the animals would otherwise become sick or in some other way suffer. Division (A)(2) of this section does not apply to animals impounded or confined prior to slaughter. For the purpose of this section, shelter means a man-made enclosure, windbreak, sunshade, or natural windbreak or sunshade that is developed from the earth's contour, tree development, or vegetation;

(3) Carry or convey an animal in a cruel or inhumane manner;

(4) Keep animals other than cattle, poultry or fowl, swine, sheep, or goats in an enclosure without wholesome exercise and change of air, nor or feed cows on food that produces impure or unwholesome milk;

(5) Detain livestock in railroad cars or compartments longer than twenty-eight hours after they are so placed without supplying them with necessary food, water, and attention, nor permit such stock to be so crowded as to overlie, crush, wound, or kill each other."

Before passing H.B. 55 yesterday, the House included floor amendments that make minor revisions to the dangerous and vicious dog provisions in Ohio Revised Code 955.11.

The Ohio Senate has not introduced a similar animal cruelty bill, and has only a few more sessions until its summer recess begins in early June. If the Senate doesn't pass the animal cruelty legislation before the end of the year, the bill will expire and must be reintroduced after January, in the next session of the Ohio General Assembly.

Animal rights groups have advocated around the country for stiffer penalties on animal cruelty offenses. Most state animal cruelty laws contain both misdemeanor and felony penalties, with the more severe felony charges typically applying to acts that are intentional, heinous or involve mutilation. Under Ohio law, felony charges apply to certain offenses against companion animals and some dog-fighting offenses. For an overview of state animal cruelty laws, visit this publication by the Michigan Animal Legal and Historical Center. View the entire chapter of Ohio law on offenses to domestic animals, which includes the animal cruelty law and various penalty provisions, here.

See Ohio H.B. 55 here. The floor amendments to H.B. 55 are in the House Journal for May 27, 2010.

Ohio Farm Custom Rates are Updated

This time of year, County OSU Extension offices frequently receive calls regarding the common and customary rates which are being charged by farmers for custom work such as hay making, tillage, planting, etc. Barry Ward, OSU Extension Leader for Production Business Management, has recently completed part 1 of an updated Ohio Custom Rate publication which is based on a statewide survey of 242 farmers, custom operators, farm managers and landowners conducted earlier this year. These rates, except where noted, include the implement and tractor if required, all variable machinery costs such as fuel, oil, lube, twine etc., and the labor for the operation. Find Ward's updated Ohio Farm Custom Rate publication linked here in PDF format.

Strong Fed Cattle Basis Helps Keep Marketings Current - Darrell R. Mark, Ph.D., Assoc. Professor,

Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Since the highs in the fed cattle market in April and May at just over $100/cwt (live weight basis for Nebraska), cash fed cattle prices have lost almost $7/cwt. Nearby futures prices (June CME futures contract) have declined more $8/cwt from their highs last month. Thus, the basis, or difference between cash and futures prices, has widened. Actually, during the last several weeks, the futures market had been declining more rapidly than the cash market, leading to fed cattle basis being much stronger than is typical for this time of the year.

The Nebraska slaughter steer basis has averaged $1.66/cwt during May for the previous three years (typically it is above $2/cwt at the beginning of May and less than $1 by the end of May). During May this year, the basis averaged $3.98/cwt, more than twice the previous 3-year average. Nebraska fed steer basis reach a high of $4.72/cwt in the second week of May. Basis last week, at $3.02/cwt, is still more than $2/cwt higher than the 3-year average observed for the last week of May.

The particularly strong basis this past month has had a positive impact on the fed cattle market. The strong basis has encouraged aggressive marketings, particularly for cattle feeders that hedged cattle. For May marketings that were hedged earlier in the year, cattle feeders had an opportunity to sell those May cattle at cash prices that were higher than expected relative to the futures market, thus resulting in a higher than expected net sales price. Thus, marketings as a percentage of the cattle on feed inventory have been over 17% this spring, and the number of cattle on feed for more than 120 days dropped 8.8% on May 1 relative to a year ago. Because cattle were marketed so timely, the lower carcass weights observed since winter have generally remained. Currently, steer weights are thirteen pounds lighter than last year, and have been as much as 25 pounds lighter than 2009. While dressed weights reached their seasonal low a couple weeks ago and have begun to increase modestly, lighter weights continue to be supportive to fed cattle prices.

Two factors support fed cattle basis remaining stronger than average through the summer and fall months. First, while the gap between carcass weights this year versus last year is declining, they are likely to remain below 2009 levels for at least the next couple of months. Second, the rally in the fed cattle futures market during March, April, and May offered feeders the opportunity to hedge summer and fall marketings at a profit. To the extent that feeders hedged the sales price for the cattle they were placing earlier this spring and more hedging took place than normal for this time period, they will likely keep marketings current, incentivized by futures market gains to be made when cash cattle are marketed.

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BEEF Cattle is a weekly publication of Ohio State University Extension in Fairfield County and the OSU Beef Team. Contributors include members of the Beef Team and other beef cattle specialists and economists from across the U.S.

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Fairfield County Agriculture and Natural Resources