Hay Making Tips 2019/20

2019-2020 EDITION

Wow! What a year. We have seen hay prices reach record levels and supply is critically short. Does that mean that making hay in 2020 will be a gold mine? Absolutely not – there are risks.

Overall good management and good hay making practices will be crucial this year, just like every year!


Many areas are in drought and need hay

Wool and beef prices are also driving demand

No frost risk with making hay

Record prices for hay

8/10 years Feed Central runs short of hay in winter


Spring rain can slow demand

Lackluster dairy sector

Rain on windrow can downgrade hay

Payment risk

Self-combustion or bush fire plus unreliable operators

Paying contractors per bale

Low bale weights

Your per tonne handling plus freight costs

In summary, here’s what Feed Central hay buyers want:

  • Oats, barley, wheat, vetch and lucerne that is green in colour with no (or minimal weather damage)
  • Heavy, large, square bales that maximise freight and handling efficiencies for all. High density (HD) balers are now highly preferred due to this.
  • Feed with high energy, so baling while the crop is immature is vital. The higher the energy (M.E) the better. The best way to increase energy is to cut early.
  • Access to fodder 365 days of the year.
  • Shedded product, with all-weather access.


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Before you dive into this booklet, a big Thank You goes to the many people who have been involved in pulling together all the information. The team at Feed Central hope that this booklet will answer the common questions that you may have about hay and hay vs grain.

Happy reading and learning!


  • Q1. Will there be a market for my hay?

    The short answer is ABSOLUTELY – YES. Every year, around 10 million tonnes of fodder (hay, straw and silage) is made. Total value is around $2 billion. Approximately half is traded and half retained for on-farm use.

    This being said, buyers are increasingly interested in quality hay. Growers with quality hay have been, and continue to be, rewarded.

    Quality hay will often out-perform most crops on a gross margin per Ha basis. Fodder crops provide an important weed and disease management strategy and these ‘hidden’ rotational benefits need to be considered.

    Additionally, fodder crops allow grazing to occur earlier than with a grain crop and, in some regions, facilitate double cropping. Drought, frost, etc can result in non-traditional hay crops being a very viable income opportunity.

  • Q2. What about supply, will there be an oversupply?

    The short answer is – NO, we do not believe so. Historically, Feed Central always seems to run out of good quality hay to sell.

    The reality is that animals eat 365 days per year.

    Large volumes of hay are made nationally in Spring during a 90 day window.

    Hence there can be an oversupply in spring/summer. This leaves a commercial opportunity for shedded product and selling in autumn/winter.

    The shortage most often eventuates during autumn and winter months. There is a long-term market opportunity for good quality hay. This market is growing and has historically been under-supplied.

  • Q3. Why make hay?

    Quality hay will often out-perform most crops on a gross margin per Ha basis. Fodder crops provide an important weed and disease management strategy and these hidden rotational benefits need to be considered.

    Additionally, fodder crops allow grazing to occur earlier than with a grain crop and in some regions facilitate double cropping. Drought, frost etc. can result in non-traditional hay crops being a very viable income opportunity.

  • Q4. What type of hay should I make?

    Any grass, pasture, cereal, legume or oilseed that will have a good feed analysis can be cut for hay. Examples of these are below:

    Lucerne Hay: Lucerne makes very nice hay and can be expected to feed test very well. Irrigation water for lucerne production is short, therefore expect low supply. Good lucerne hay will be in strong demand. Dryland lucerne is also popular.

    Cereal Crops: Wheaten hay provides exceptional feed analysis in drought years especially when frosted. Consequently, it has created a very strong position in dairy and feed rations. Expect demand for frosted wheaten hay to be strong.

    Barley Hay has also proven to feed test very well.

    Oaten Hay has been available for many years and while it has not been producing feed test results comparable to wheat or barley, it is an exceptional product and can be expected to be in strong demand.

    Canola Hay: Canola does feed test very well, but it has a different taste and smell. Buyers either love it or hate it. It is not the purchase of first choice for most hay buyers. There is a slightly higher chance of high nitrates in canola than in another other hay. Canola Hay sells well in drought years. Canola hay must be cut with as much flower as possible.

    Pasture Hay: Any pasture with strong lucerne, rye or clover content will feed test well and should be in good demand, with pricing subject to the feed analysis.

    Peas, Vetch, Beans etc: Expect very strong demand for these lines, especially where the feed analysis is good.

  • Q5. How much do you think hay will be worth on-farm?

    During 2018 and 2019 we have seen some extremely high/record prices for product selling through Feed Central. Cereal hay was trading between $350-$500 per tonne ex-farm, with Lucerne prices also being inflated at $550-$700 per tonne ex-farm.

    Based on historical experience and depending on quality, storage and location, cereal hay will generally market from $130-$300 per tonne ex-farm and Lucerne around $200-400, and this is what we expect to see in this coming new season.

    Mixed low legume content pasture hay, summer forages and canola earns approximately $30 less (per tonne) than cereals. Vetch and peas with a good feed test will sell for $30-50 (per tonne) less than Lucerne hay. Forage sorghum hay can trade between $30-50 (per tonne) below cereal hay.

    Feed Central has been in the process of inspecting new season crops that are still standing in paddocks across Eastern Australia.

    At the time of this booklet being released (Sept 2019), extremely high ‘drought driven’ prices had been seen in previous months. We expect these to be ‘reset’ come new season.

  • Q6. I'd like to sell my hay straight off the paddock, can Feed Central do that?

    It’s important to remember that livestock feed 365 days of the year, not just when you are making hay.

    Unlike the grain industry, the fodder industry has no big accumulators, storage/warehousing systems, futures markets, very few speculators and generally only operates in the physical market. This is probably a good thing; however, it does mean that at times the fodder industry works slower than the grain industry, but it still works.

    For this reason, having hay sheds on your property provides multiple benefits. A shed gives you the ability to wait for ideal market conditions in which to sell your product. It also allows you to engage in forward contracting as buyers always request for their product to have weather protection. Sheds can also significantly boost the market value of your property, and do not lose value over the years, despite being on your depreciation schedule.

    Even if you do not have a shed, be prepared to get bales stacked ASAP after baling to avoid weather damage on paddock-stacked bales. You are better offwith stacks 6 high if a rain event comes along rather than risking every bale being affected.

    Considering the points above, a marketing period of 1-6 months after baling is realistic, but depending on seasonal conditions, possibly even 6-12 months, which is similar to many grains. Remember, buyers need hay all year round, not just when you are producing it, so storing and selling later can be an exceptional option. The most efficient place to store hay is on your farm.

    Feed Central’s Marketing Services program connects buyers and sellers 365 days of the year.

    This being said, Feed Central undertakes an extensive Forward Order program. This program puts contracts in place between suppliers and buyers. The contracts are tested, binding and enforceable.

    Remember, buyers want hay 12 months of the year, not just when you are producing it.

  • Q7. What bale size does a buyer prefer?

    With rising fuel prices, achieving legal pay loads on trucks is one of the most important things to consider when making hay. Legal pay loads are determined by bale dimensions and bale weight.

    In the Feed Central system, buyers are quoted delivered prices. Obviously the heavier the bales are, the lower freight cost per tonne will be. Growers with heavy bale weights will often get a higher ex-farm price as the freight component is cheaper, so even though the supplier’s ex-farm price is higher, the buyer’s price is lower, so EVERYONE’S A WINNER.

    High density large square bales, such as those made by the Krone 8 String Balers and especially the 8x4x3, are very popular because you achieve an excellent load on a Drop-Deck or B-Double trailer and most front end loaders can handle the weight. Heavy bales will achieve pay weights in general, so focusing on achieving heavy weights regardless of the bale configuration will always be of benefit to your operation.

    If you must make round bales, consider 4×4 bales which have freight advantages over 5×4 rounds. Small square bales are a viable alternative for niche markets.

    High density large square bales are normally cheaper to make when calculated on a per tonne basis. It is also quicker and easier to move a large volume of large squares both on farm and on trucks.

    Do not underestimate the importance of this. Bale weights and sizes are the area where smart growers maximise their returns and create huge efficiencies in their operation. In very simple terms imagine all the extra work and man hours required to 500kg bales off your paddock verse 750kg bales. Think of the cost. Now multiply this tenfold as you think about loading, transport, unloading etc.

    Maximum efficiencies are gained in HD 8x4x3 bales.

    • Q8. How do I pick and pay a contractor?

      Machinery manufacturers have put a lot of effort into the production of solid and heavy bales over recent years. So, as a generalisation, contractors with newer gear should be able to make heavier and better shaped bales than a contractor with older gear.

      We strongly encourage engaging a contractor with a high density baler. High density balers not only make heavier bales, they are also much faster. High density balers have been on the market for a few years now.

      A contractor who has a moisture monitoring system on their baler such as a Gazeeka should be sought. This enables the constant monitoring of moisture levels and can help you avoid stacking high moisture. potentially dangerous bales into the shed therefore mitigating the risk of hay fires.

      Most contractors charge per bale. Be very careful here. Lighter bales make more money for a contractor, while heavier bales mean less work stacking, loading and more profit for the grower. Lighter bales mean higher freight costs and a lower selling price for your hay. Talk to your contractor about this – put parameters into your baling contract.

      These days it is not uncommon for growers to have a written contract with the contractor. This is something to consider. When making a verbal or written contract we strongly suggest you cover bale weights and timing. Contractors can pick up other jobs and some contractors (not all) will give preference to larger jobs. We suggest you talk about this in your discussions and agreement with your chosen contractor.

    • Q9. What do you think, should I make hay or silage?

      Hay is Feed Central’s preference. The majority of our buyers are geared to feed hay. From our experience the key strengths and weaknesses of hay and silage production are summarised below:


      • Hay is efficient to transport with lower costs on a dry matter basis compared to silage and straw
      • Hay nearly always has lower delivery costs when taking into consideration protein, metabolisable energy, neutral detergent fibre etc
      • More contractors are equipped to make hay
      • Baling costs per tonne are lower
      • Hay has more market outlets



      • Hay is more exposed to weather damage whilst curing
      • Hay feed analysis is generally lower compared to silage
      • Hay degrades faster if stored outside unprotected




      • Silage generally has a greater quality feed analysis compared to hay
      • Silage is less exposed to weather damage whilst curing
      • Silage is unaffected by the type of storage and storage surface in the first 8-12 months of storage


      • Good silage is free of weed seeds
      • Silage is a good fodder conservation option when consumed on the same farm it is produced.



      • Silage transport costs are higher on a dry matter basis compared to hay, i.e. with silage you are carting a lot of unnecessary water
      • Silage nearly always has higher delivery cost based on protein, metabolisable energy, neutral detergent fibre etc on a dry matter basis.
      • Baling cost per tonne is higher
      • Silage has fewer uses
      • Silage has fewer market outlets
      • The plastic wrap of silage tends to get damaged during handling


      As a general rule, when pricing silage against hay, simply divide the price of hay by 2.5 because a ‘normal’ bale of silage is approximately between 50-75% percent water. That is, if hay costs $225 per tonne then silage price would need to be $90 per tonne to be roughly equivalent. Regardless of the key points above, many people, including dairy farmers and extension officers, strongly advocate silage production and consumption.

      From a marketing perspective Feed Central says make silage with EXTREME care. If you are going to use the product (and not sell it) silage is an exceptional option.

    • Q 10. How do I estimate my gross margin?

      Almost every year hay out-performs grain in gross value per ha. Yes, the work is there but so are the rewards. The rule of thumb is that hay yields approximately twice that of grain. This rule is very relevant when crops have bulk but lack soil moisture to make grain, especially after a frost.

      To highlight hay’s potential using the rule, Feed Central has inserted a simple gross margin budget below which provides space for growers to do their own figures. The calculation compares gross margin per hectare from harvesting grain to making hay. Please go to the Table on the next page to see your budget chart, which may be helpful to you.

      Some experienced farmers and contractors simply multiply the grain yield by 2 (ie. hay yield can be expected to be double that of grain).

      However we advocate using one the following methods:


      1. Cut 1m2 of crop at the height you will cut at (NOT ground level)
      2. Get kg/m2 fresh weight using an airseeder or similar scales
      3. Multiply by 10 to calculate t/Ha fresh weight
      4. Assume 20% – 30% * of fresh weight makes it into a dry bale – multiply by 0.2 or 0.3 to calculate hay yield t/Ha
      5. Repeat at 4 or 5 paddock locations



        1. Cut 1m2 of crop at the height you will cut at (NOT ground level)
        2. Dry in 50°C oven and weigh after a minimum of 24 hours to calculate kg/m2 dry weight at approx. 12% moisture
        3. Multiply by 10 to calculate t/Ha dry matter
        4. Assume 80% – 90% # of the dry weight makes it into a bale – multiply by 0.8 or 0.9 to calculate hay yield t/Ha
        5. Repeat at 4 or 5 paddock locations


      * The % conversion increases with crop maturity. For crops that have flowered and are into grain fill, assume closer to 30% as the final hay yield estimate. Less mature/fresher crops use 20-25% as final yield estimate.

      Final hay yield will depend on losses after cutting due to weather, raking or baler set-up.


    Five 1 m2 cuts on a barley paddock, average weight 1.09 kg/m2 fresh weight
    1.09 x 10 = 10.9 t/Ha of fresh material
    10.9 x 25% = 2.7 t/Ha estimated hay yield

    * The % conversion increases with crop maturity. For crops that have flowered and are into grain fill, assume closer to 30% as the final hay yield estimate. Less mature/fresher crops use 20-25% as final yield estimate.

    Final hay yield will depend on losses after cutting due to weather, raking or baler set-up.

    Feed Central contracts have a delivery spread in place, which states the period of time for which the product needs to be held on-farm.

    *Disclaimer: The information on this fact sheet is targeted at a national audience. It is for general information and promotional purposes only

    In many years, hay can out-perform grain in gross value per hectare. This is particularly relevant in dry years with frost.

    Calculate what is best for you.*

    Complete the tables below for producing hay and then repeat for producing grain and compare your margins.

    Please note though, we strongly recommend working with a local agronomist for best results.

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    • Q11. When is the best time to cut hay?

      • Ideally 5-10% of the plants should be flowering. Pre-Flowering has better Feed Tests and higher yields over the season.
      • Ideally 80-100% of the plants should be flowering.


      • Full flower with little to no pods.

      As a general rule, the younger a crop is cut, the higher the ME and CP values on the feed analysis test will be; however, bulk yields peak around full flower / early milky dough seed, so a balance needs to be found. Crops cut pre-head emergence are generally very hard to dry down/cure.

      It is important to take care when the crop contains plants at different stages of maturity. This is likely to be the case for drought-stressed crops. Heads that are still in the boot can cause issues for curing time.

    • Q12. Can you recommend cutting/raking methods?

      As a general rule, the crop should be cut at stubby can height. This allows for breeze to pass through and under the windrow, assisting in curing. Most importantly, this assures that the windrow is up off the ground following rain, preventing significant damage and downgrading.

      Cutting on a slight angle across the airseeder rows is another method to keep windrows off the ground.

      For Canola in particular, rake as early as possible and only once to retain as much leaf as possible in the bale.

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    • Q13. How long do I cure for and when do I start cutting?

      Bale when the hay is dry NO MATTER WHAT, NEVER BEFORE. Regardless of the product you are baling, the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT procedure is baling the product at the correct moisture level. Feed Central’s Delmhorst moisture meter has a windrow attachment for hay sitting in the windrow. There are also other proven techniques in determining when the hay is ready for baling.

      Generally hay must pass all of the following tests prior to baling:

      TEST 1

      • Simply peel back the skin at the nodes with your finger nail. If there is any moisture there at all, it is not dry. If there are no nodes (eg. lucerne) peel the skin back at several points.

      TEST 2

      • In cereal hay, the nodes will be darker in colour and shrunken when dry. If they are bigger than the stem, it is not dry.

      TEST 3

      • Grab a handful of hay from the windrow with two hands. Twist your hands in opposite directions whilst holding the hay. If the hay is dry it will break/snap in 1-2 turns. If it doesn’t – it is not dry.

      TEST 4

      • Take a hammer, and some hay stems. Crush some nodes between the hammer and a hard steel surface. If any moisture smear is detected, it is not dry.

      An expert contractor can assist here more than Feed Central. When baling large areas, you cannot always bale at the ideal moisture, therefore compromises need to be made. But it’s better to make hay too dry than too wet. Sometimes hay becomes too dry to bale; so wait for dew before baling or consider using a steamer.

      Do not rush hay making. Baling hay with high moisture will:

      • Cause hay spoilage by damaging the fresh green hay colour in the bale. In Feed Central’s system anything baled above 18% moisture will have a maximum visual grade of FC B.
      • Dramatically increases the potential of fire caused by self-combustion, a serious and real risk.

      To speed up the process of baling, consider the use of a super conditioner to quicken curing time. Also consider the use of inoculants for safe-guarding against moisture spikes.

    • Q14. Other considerations?

      If deciding to graze the crop or cut for hay, chemical withholding periods need to be considered. This proves the benefit of keeping accurate records of chemical application rates and dates. A Commodity Vendor Declaration (CVD) of these details will need to be completed if the crop is cut and sold as hay.

    • Q15. If I bale straw, can Feed Central sell it?

      Yes, Feed Central can advertise your straw for sale and we often have contracts open.

      Feed Central sells more fodder types across more areas than any other company in Australia. Straw has many uses, including roughage in feedlot diets, maintenance of dry cows or as a drought supplement, garden mulch, mushroom production or animal bedding. It has limited nutritional value; on a dry matter basis straw is expensive to transport because legal pay loads of straw on a truck of any size are rare. High density bales & heavy bale weights are highly desired advantages with straw.

      As a general rule, straw prices may be half the price of green hay. This being said, growers must consider the costs of baling straw and expected ‘straw’ yield. A general rule is: if a grain crop yields a tonne of grain, it will yield a tonne of straw.

    • Q 17. Where should I store my hay on my farm?

      Remember, the hay stored on your farm is a valuable asset so you must protect it. Listed below are some valuable tips on where to store your hay and protecting your asset correctly.

      Obviously, the best place to store your hay is in a hay or machinery shed. Move machinery out of the shed (even the one with the green paint) and put the hay in there.


      If stacking outside, do not stack round bales on top of each other, the water just runs down one onto the other. Simply stack them sausage style, with a ute distance between rows, that way you can get between rows to slash or spray etc.

      Hay naturally sheds water, but when hay sits in water it absorbs it; therefore damage is more likely on bottom bales than top bales. Always ensure hay stacks are not located in old floodways or low-lying areas. Also keep in mind that moisture will rise from soil inside a shed.

      Fence lines can divert local water during a heavy downpour. Consider carefully where you position stacks along fence lines and contours.

      Create good drainage between stacks so water does not flow off one stack and then underneath another. Grade a small diversion bank if this could be a problem.

      Store your hay in an area that is well drained and dry, with good all-weather access. Fodder sales often come during wet / cold periods, so good truck access can make or break a sale.

      Stack large square bales high, and if no shed is available, cover the top bales. Tarps are low cost and effective.

    • Q 18. How do I tarp large square bales?

      At Feed Central we have seen both excellent and terrible hay tarping techniques. We have compiled the following to help you protect your hay investment.

      Cotton module type tarps are best. These tarps have fitted curtain edges and eyelets every 1 -2 m. Make your hay stack resemble a cotton module as follows:

      Make stack sizes of approximately one semi load – big tarps are too hard to keep on, and blow in the wind causing tarp damage and leakage.

      ONE BALE WIDE – do not go any wider; it is too hard to keep the tarp down and creates shallow points for water to lay and soak through the tarp.

      HIGH STACKS – 8x4x3 bales should be stacked a minimum of four high or five high if made well. The higher the stacks the less exposure, especially to bottom bales.

      TARPS ARE NOT WATERPROOF – only water-resistant. Therefore, the idea is to shed water quickly. Do not allow dips or hollows in the top where water can lay.

      PROTECT THE TOP – Cap tarp only. When you tarp the sides, it doesn’t allow hay to breathe, so if water does get in, it can’t get out. Leaving the sides open allows moisture to get out.

      PROTECT THE SIDES – Hay stack bales will naturally shed any water that runs down the sides so long as you create hay stacks with straight edges – no bale should be sticking out wider than the bale above as water can run off the tarp, down the sides and then back up through the stack via a ledge created by a bale sticking out (capillary action).

      PROTECT THE BOTTOM – Locate stacks on gentle slopes, irrigation channel banks, or gravelly/sandy ridges where water drains away quickly and does not pond around the stacks. Make sure there is good drainage on both sides.


    • Tie down as much as possible to prevent tarp flapping and rubbing.
    • Use the bale strings as anchor points for the tie down ropes.
    • Baling twine is satisfactory as tie down ropes.
    • Use a claw hammer to help get the anchor rope under the bale string or make a ‘needle’ from fencing wire and thread the anchor rope under the bale string.
    • Use every available tie down point – the more tie down ropes the better.
    • Simply half hitch the tie down rope around the anchor string to tighten.
    • Re-tighten regularly (minimum monthly) – this prevents the tarp from flapping and wearing.
    • If you have old plastic, lay this down on the top or edges of your canola stack before you tarp it. Canola is abrasive (you can even whipper snip the edge).


    • Always use safe work practices. It is possible to roll the tarp up so that it will unroll on-top of the stack, with little effort and without the need to get on-top of the stack. If you are getting on top of a stack always use a safety cage, approved harness and safety equipment.



    • Neville Janke

      Neville Janke is a qualified agronomist and Horticulturist with over 20 years of experience guiding farmers in the Agricultural and Horticultural industries. With this experience, Neville has been helping long-term users of Hay and grain to experience the Feed Central way of sourcing quality Feed for hungry cattle.

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