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How to Produce and Sell More Nutritional Hay

September 13, 2022


Relative Feed Value (RFV) measures how well your livestock consumes and digests hay. It measures hay quality based on the amount of digestible dry matter content. The higher the RFV, the greater the feed value. Calculating an RFV involves:

  • Taking random samples from hay bales.
  • Drying and weighing them.
  • Putting the sample through a digestion simulator.

The machine measures the amount of digestible dry matter—the part that your livestock can eat and digest.

Dry the Hay, and Then Calculate RFV

RFV is calculated after testing dry baled hay. Knowing the relative feed value from a specific hay cut helps you make decisions based on livestock needs. For example, it’s a hot, humid day with afternoon thunderstorms in the forecast. While the grass in the field looks mature, it has a 30% moisture content while baling. 

You have a buyer interested in purchasing some extra bales this year.

Do you wait out for the rain or harvest early? The RFV of that hay cut will help you make an informed decision.

The Higher the RFV, The Higher the Feed Value

Close up of hay bale on golden farm field with blurred foggy horizon and bright sunrise glare.

Have you ever wondered why one bale of hay costs more than another? While the type and quality of hay affect the price, RFV also plays a key role.

The higher the RFV, the better the hay’s quality, digestibility, and nutritional content. The lower plant leaves and stems are rich in fiber, making them hard to digest. The more a plant matures, the more starch it can contain. Starch is easy for animals to digest—it’s candy for livestock!

Hay is tested for three components: Fiber Digestibility (FD), Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF), and Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF). High FD and low NDF and ADF indicate a higher feed value—and are typically more expensive per ton because they contain more nutrients. If you have access to an RFV report with all three values listed out, you can use this calculation to determine the cost of your hay.

National Test Guidelines

An analysis conducted on various categories of alfalfa and grass yielded the following national test results:

Alfalfa Analysis
Quality Category RFV ADF
Supreme Above 185 Below 27
Premium 170 – 185 27 – 29
Good 150 – 170 29 – 32
Fair 130 – 150 32 – 35
Utility Below 130 Above 35


Grass Analysis
Quality Category Crude Protein (CP)
Premium Above 13%
Good 9 – 13%
Fair 5 – 9%
Low Below 5%

Higher RFV Justifies Higher Hay Prices

Hay with higher RFV is more costly. However, the high RFV is worth the extra cost if you can harvest at a high moisture level. For instance, a 1% increase in RFV may be worth $1/ton more. If you are harvesting at 20% moisture with conventional equipment, you will likely increase your yields by 6-8%.

The increased yield alone could justify paying extra per ton for the higher quality hay, depending on the current hay prices. Therefore, comparing RFV and yields is vital to justify harvesting and to bail the hay at a lower moisture content.

Harvesting and baling alfalfa at the ideal moisture, say 14%, will increase your yields exponentially. 

The Animals’ Nutritional Needs

The alfalfa hay you are selling depends on the nutritional needs of animals and how much dry matter intake (DMI) the owner wants to achieve. Animals with high nutritional needs, such as those that are lactating, gestating, growing, or engaged in high-performance activities, require more dry matter intake than idle animals with lower nutrient requirements. Therefore, trading in higher relative feed value hay is preferred for the nutritional needs of these animals.

Additionally, you must know forage quality to correctly gauge and satisfy animal nutrition. Forage quality determines the nutrient content in the hay, which then informs you of how many pounds of that hay is ideal for each animal. The amount of dry matter intake (DMI) is vital as it determines how much food the animal will eat. If they don’t eat enough, they won’t be productive or weigh well.

Many farmers and animal handlers consider RFV a key determinant when purchasing hay. As a dealer in the hay, you should also find out your hay’s RFV to determine a reasonable price tag.

Boost the RFV of Your Alfalfa Crop

The field is blooming alfalfa

There are a few avenues to follow to optimize harvest timing and ensure your alfalfa hay retains as much relative feed value as possible: 

  • Harvest in the morning, as soon as the dew has dried
  • Use the right hay conditioners and rollers
  • Deal in new and improved alfalfa varieties that are flexible and reduce risk if harvesting is delayed
  • Ensure your hay is weed-free during and after harvest
  • Harvest at higher moisture levels
  • Bail quickly after cutting
  • Monitor storage conditions

Importance of Investigating RFV

Whether a hay dealer or farmer, you must know your hay’s RFV for several reasons.

Finding out the relative feed value of hay is vital to determine:

  • The cost of the hay
  • The hay’s nutritional value
  • How much you’ll have to spend on supplemental animal feed, especially during the dry or cold periods
  • The hay is ready for sale

Do You Have the Right Hay Equipment?

Data from the USDA and other collaborators show an acre of alfalfa can fetch $100 in profits, more than corn or soybeans. Hay makes up a considerable volume of animal feed during the winter months. When done right, you can make superb profits.

Part of doing it right means having the right equipment. At B&D Rollers, we have the ultimate hay conditioning rollers. These universal crusher rollers optimize hay baling and boost relative feed value for added nutrition and profits. Contact us today to learn more about this equipment and how it can change your hay business. 

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