Considerations When Purchasing Feed Outside Your Region

NDSU Extension experts advise ranchers to ask for important information when purchasing hay and other feeds.

Limited forage quality and quantity due to drought has resulted in many North Dakota livestock producers purchasing hay and other feeds from outside their region that would normally be harvested from their own farms/ranches or purchased locally. Although many ranchers purchased hay early, challenging weather has forced some to look for additional supplies to get them through the remainder of the winter feeding period.

"When purchasing feedstuffs, it is important to ask a lot of questions to avoid issues related to poor forage quality, contamination with weeds and the presence of toxins such as nitrate," says Janna Block, NDSU Extension livestock systems specialist based at the Hettinger Research Extension Center. "Clear and honest communication from both parties can help ensure a successful business transaction."

Important information buyers should request from the seller includes:

• Month and year of harvest

• Packaging and type of wrap (net wrap, twine, etc.)

• Average bale weight

• Species composition

• Potential for presence of noxious weeds, mold, etc.

• Length and method of storage

"Producers should also ask sellers for nutrient analysis on any purchased feedstuffs," says Block. "If sellers have not submitted samples for analysis, purchasers should request them to do so. Dry matter content, crude protein and an estimate of energy are necessary for making an informed decision about purchasing a particular type of forage."

Block adds that in order to use limited feed supplies effectively, it is important to important to understand how forage can be best used to meet nutrient requirements for various classes and production stages of livestock.

While it is sometimes necessary to look for feed from distant locations, this increases challenges for buyers.

"Even if results of laboratory analysis are available, producers are often purchasing hay 'sight-unseen,' which makes it difficult to evaluate physical factors such as leafiness, maturity, color, smell and condition of the bales," says Block. "If possible, request pictures of the bales in storage or take the time to inspect them in person prior to purchase."

Certain types of forages may contain high levels of nitrate. These include species such as sorghum and sudangrass, drought-stressed corn and annual cereals such as oats, barley and wheat. If purchasing forage that may contain nitrates, a representative sample should be submitted for laboratory analysis.

In addition to nitrates, there may be other anti-quality factors present in forages that can be difficult to quantify or evaluate. These include structural components of the plant or secondary metabolites that can cause toxicities and nutrient imbalances in livestock.

"For example, grasses such as tall fescue, perennial ryegrass and reed canary grass can produce alkaloids (plant compounds) that associate with a fungus and cause heat intolerance, lameness, decreased feed intake (or increased feed refusal) and other animal performance issues," says Karl Hoppe, NDSU Extension livestock systems specialist based out of the Carrington Research Extension Center. "This is one example of why it is important to research various species before buying and feeding harvested forage from other areas."

Limited hay supplies across the Great Plains region have increased competition for resources, and prices have responded accordingly. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provides hay auction reports (available at: that ranchers can use to evaluate pricing in a variety of locations based on forage quality guidelines.

Transportation costs can add significant amounts to the total purchase price. It is important to talk through all the details associated with trucking when purchasing feeds, such as whether the cost is based on loaded miles or roundtrip miles and whether or not trucking is included in the price of the hay. Ranchers are encouraged to check with at their local USDA Service Center to inquire about hay transportation assistance programs that will help reduce freight costs.

Zac Carlson, NDSU Extension beef specialist, also encourages farmers and ranchers to check out the NDSU FeedList website, which is designed to connect feed sellers and buyers (available at:

"Each listing includes information about what each seller has for sale, how the feed is stored (large round bales, small bales, etc.) and the seller's contact information. Prospective buyers can select what they want to buy and contact the sellers," says Carlson. "Using the FeedList is free of charge."

 "Prices and nutrient content should always be compared on a dry matter basis when making decisions about feed options," says Hoppe. "Feed that is 80% moisture may seem competitive at $50 per ton delivered, but when priced on a dry matter basis is $250 per ton."

Hoppe adds that a step-by-step guide to comparing feeds is available at:

Tim Petry, NDSU Extension livestock economist, suggests livestock feed buyers, sellers and haulers have written contracts. Contracts should include details such as the names of the parties, the price of the commodity, the terms of the agreement, transportation details and signatures.

He also urges ranchers to beware of payment scams in which buyers are being asked to pay by direct deposit only and sellers are not available to answer questions about the feed.

"Be cautious of anything in your communication with potential sellers that seems out of the ordinary," says Petry.

Purchasing forages and other feeds from out of state is just one of many management and financial challenges due to drought. Careful evaluation and planning prior to purchase can help ensure that feeds will meet livestock needs in a cost-effective manner. Contact your local NDSU Extension office for additional information.


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