Alfalfa hay is used primarily by the dairy and horse industry, he said. However, a lot of the lower quality alfalfa hay, the early cuts, does not go to either of those markets.

“This could be a good buy for the beef market, using it instead of the 20 percent crude protein cubes,” Redmon said. “It is much less costly than buying the cubes. These square bales will come from Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico, primarily.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum is straw or stalk hays from wheat, rice, sorghum or corn. This hay is lower in cost, but also lower in nutritive value, he said.

“This can be bought and used, but you need to know what you have so you can make up for the missing nutrients with the appropriate supplement,” Redmon said. “This is sort of the hay of the last resort.”

In the middle are the typical grass hays: prairie hay from South Dakota or Nebraska or the Bermuda or Bahia hays. The quality will depend on the stage of maturity when it was cut, and it can be just as low in value as the wheat straw or as good as alfalfa, he said.

“Forage testing is absolutely necessary,” Redmon said. “If you don’t test, you may think it is better than it is, and that can cause your cattle to crash in the middle of the winter. Or, you may think it is a lower value than it really is and cause you to buy extra supplement when you don’t need to be spending that money.”