relative feed value

How Relative Feed Value (RFV) Impacts Your Profits

May 12, 2022

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When most people drive down the road and look out into an alfalfa field, they might only think they are looking at a monoculture of plants used for animal feed. Farmers harvest the hay, animals eat the hay, and people work with or eat the animals. Farmers and those working in animal production see a hayfield entirely differently. 

For those producing alfalfa for the purpose of selling hay and those looking to buy hay for meat production or general feeding of livestock, there are so many other details that go into knowing what to look for in the quality of hay, which means a world of difference when selecting or pricing hay. 

One of the terms regarding hay quality you will hear most frequently is Relative Feed Value. Find out more about RFV in the following paragraphs, and then contact B&D Rollers to find out how the right rollers can increase the nutritional value and profits of your hay.

What Is Relative Feed Value?

Many different factors go into determining Relative Feed Value or RFV. It is essentially a number determined by a formula, which takes the percentage of digestible dry matter (DDM) in the hay, multiplied by the percentage of dry matter intake (DMI), and divides the result by 1.29. 

The DDM and DDI are also calculated by formulas that consider other factors, such as fiber content, voluntary intake, forage quality, total digestible nutrients, hay quality, acid detergent fiber (ADF), and neutral detergent fiber (NDF). Basically, DDM * DMI/1.29 = RFV.

When you analyze your hay in a laboratory, you receive a detailed report for you and your prospective customers, providing all of these numbers. The RFV score you are generally looking for is 120 or higher. 150-175 is exceptional. 176-200 is the top-rated RFV score.

aerial view of hay field being harvested with tractor and hay bale mover

Why is RFV Important?

Hay can be made from either a single source, such as timothy grass, legume hay, or even a blend of different grasses. For the purposes of RFV, we will be discussing only the RFV of alfalfa hay. 

RFV is calculated as a standard to figure out the hay quality based on how these numbers come together and are equally effective for gauging the quality of hay with a blend or with a single source. 

You can use that value, along with crude protein counts and total digestible nutrients, to determine the price of your hay. Ideally, the higher these numbers, the better your RFV and the higher price you can set. Here are some factors that go into determining the RFV of hay.

Forage quality: Like RFV, many different factors go into determining forage quality. This is where TDN or Total Digestive Nutrients and Crude Protein come into play. You can technically have high RFV with low TDN and crude protein numbers. Ideally, you want higher numbers for all to affect animal response. 

Hay quality: This factor is based less on mathematics and more on qualitative characteristics, such as will the animals eat it? If they eat more of it, they get more nutrients. What about weeds or toxins? Are those in a high enough concentration to hurt livestock? Does the hay smell good, or is it musty? Poor hay quality could put animals off their feed, and you don’t want that.

Digestible Dry Matter: DDM is a percentage of the fiber in the forage that is digestible. The stems, cellulose, and other materials that have to be broken down by bacteria in the animal’s gut and rumen are acid detergent fibers. DDM comes from subtracting ADF from the total digestible fiber.

Lower ADF numbers are generally more desired since the longer it takes for digestion to occur, the fewer nutrients are being taken in, and the fewer nutrients go into growing the animal.

Dry Matter Intake: The other part of digestible dry matter is neutral detergent fiber (NDF), which doesn’t require all that bacteria to break down, and is more easily digestible. DMI estimates how much forage the animal will consume based on body weight. DMI=Body weight/NDF. 

cows eating hay indicating impact of relative feed value on other agricultural revenue streams

Why is Higher RFV important?

A lot of science and mathematics have gone into determining RFV. It’s a good way to fine-tune the quality of hay into a number based on chemical analysis and other factors measured in a laboratory. Higher RFV generally means that animals will eat more forage, get better sugars, proteins, and nutrients from that feed, and put on weight and grow better in the process. 

The better quality the hay, the more the animals will consume, whether sheep, cattle, or other ruminants. In the past, hay quality might be misleading, based on eyeballing the hay, since hay that looked or smelled good might lack nutrients or simply have a higher moisture content. The hay is broken down through scientific analysis into key elements that you can use in modern animal husbandry to determine optimal feed and nutrient quality for better production.

coins on hay bale concepting impact of relative feed value

Improve Your Profits

You can improve profits through hay and animal production with better quality hay. Farmers harvesting an alfalfa crop, for instance, can improve the quality of their hay based on just a few different factors. 

Weather conditions, for example, play a big part in retaining nutrients since harvesting in wet conditions can lead to the moisture leaching out of the hay after a heavy rain. Wet weather can also increase the chance of mycotoxins, and dry weather can lead to leaf shatter. Both of these conditions decrease the nutrients in hay due to a loss of leaves, resulting in an increased percentage of stems and other ADFs making up a majority of the hay composition. 

Cooler weather, using conditioning rollers, and haying in the late afternoon on cool days can go a long way to maintaining nutritional value, increasing the quality of the hay, and even preventing the leaching of proteins and sugars in the hay. 

When using high contact rolls like B&D’s Crusher rolls, the stems are crushed and cracked from top to bottom, enabling the hay to aspirate and release moisture in the stem. This process makes the forage softer and more palatable. Because it dries faster, it can also be baled sooner, increasing the RFV due to leaf retention.

All of these factors go into your RFV, and the higher your RFV, the higher price you can set for your hay. 

When using all these factors to determine RFV, you can adjust your harvesting methods, timing, and other resources to improve the quality of your hay and improve your profits. If you would like to learn more about how to increase your RFV and hay quality, contact B&D Rollers. With the help of technology, you can fine-tune your hay production and increase profits to get an edge on the competition. 

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