The true cost of hay and silage

Ross Kuchel, Ag Advisor, South East Local Land Services

Storing excess fodder in the forms of hay and silage is often touted as a cheap way to mitigate against feed shortages during dry times. How simple is it – the grass is free and all you have to do is bale it up and put it into a shed (or a pit in the case of silage)!

However, have you considered the full cost including the cost of the nutrients that you are removing from the paddock?

Work done by Agriculture Victoria has shown that for every tonne of pasture hay cut from a paddock, there is up to 3.5 kg of Phosphorous (P), 25 kg Potassium (K), and 2 kg Sulphur (S) removed with it. For silage, these numbers increase to 4.3 kg P, 27 kg K and 2 kg S. For lucerne hay, the amount of nutrient removed per tonne of dry matter is 4.3 kg P, 27 kg K, 2 kg S.

As an example, if we are cutting a pasture paddock for hay and averaging five tonnes (dry matter) per hectare, or approximately 14 x 350 kg round bales per ha (51/2 bales per acre), you are removing 16.5 kg P, 125 kg K and 10 kg S.

Based on using common grades of fertiliser (superphosphate and potash), the cost of replacing these nutrients equates to around $6.25/kg P, $1.80/kg K, and $5.00/kg S (Current pricing - Superphosphate @$550/t, Potash @ $900/t). If using other forms of fertiliser like manures or composts, ensure you source a nutrient analysis of the product and calculate the cost accordingly.

Therefore, for every tonne of hay removed the cost of nutrient replacement alone equates to $77/t, or around $26/bale. In the example above where you are harvesting 5 tonne dry matter per hectare, the cost of nutrient replacement totals approximately $385/ha.

With contractors charging around $30-40/bale ($100-130/t) to cut/rake/bale, you’re looking at a total cost of around $200/t or $60/bale (even if you make your own you need to factor in repairs and maintenance, fuel, labour, interest and depreciation).

Current hay prices are sitting around $150-200/t for pasture and $200-300 for lucerne. Given the current seasonal conditions it is unlikely that prices will rise anytime soon. You may be better off leaving your grass in your paddocks and buying in ‘feed tested’ hay or silage that comes with a guarantee for quality in terms of energy and protein.

Production costs are a constant no matter the quality of the product. These costs are magnified if the hay/silage cannot meet the nutritional needs of the livestock to which it is fed. The very wet climatic conditions that our region is experiencing this season increases the risks in achieving the making of a quality hay and silage product. This factor only supports the economic assessment discussed earlier. It is important to remember regardless of whether you make the hay or silage yourself, always get a feed test done before utilising for livestock feeding!

When it comes to soil nutrition, there is no magic pudding. If you are removing nutrients via product removal from paddocks, then they need to be replaced from an external source. If not replaced, you are effectively mining the soil, lowering its capacity to grow pasture, store carbon and remain sustainable in the long term.

For more information please contact:

  • Ross Kuchel – Ag Advisor, Local Land Services, 0428 314 588
  • Local Land Services Braidwood Office – 0248 423 800.

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