Assessing the Value of Hay Litter During Winter Bale Grazing

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2016: $12,139.00
Projected End Date: 01/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Lighthouse Farm
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
John Mesko
Lighthouse Farm

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: potatoes, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, manure management, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational, winter forage
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life


    Recent emphasis at SARE, NRCS and other sustainable agriculture outlets regarding soil health has raised interest in pasture management and grazing.  Frequently, at grazing conferences and workshops, winter bale grazing is touted as a great way to add nutrients to the soil through spent hay litter left behind after the cattle are done grazing.  I’ve heard many farmer-presenters make comments to the effect, “With what bale grazing can do for your soils, you can afford hay at almost any price.”  In the north country, making hay is an essential component of producing cattle on grass, often limiting the amount of grazing land available on a particular operation in a particular year, as some land needs to be reserved for hay production.

    At the aforementioned events, I often ask if anyone has any data which can reinforce the claims of the value of spent hay litter after bale grazing.  None has been produced.  

    The cost of winter feed is generally considered the largest expense for most grazers, and the need to make that feed on the farm often limits the size of the grazing herd.  If hay could be affordably outsourced, grass fed herds could grow larger if most or all of a farm’s land could be grazed.  In an attempt to know the true cost and benefit of purchased hay in a bale grazing scenario, we must somehow measure the benefit of that hay litter on the pasture in subsequent years.

    The problem this proposal addresses is this:  After taking all costs and benefits into consideration, what is the value of spent hay litter from purchased hay? How much can a farmer afford to pay for hay to be brought on to their farm to be used in winter bale grazing?




    Project objectives:

    1. Measure the impact of spent hay litter on the productivity of pasture.
    2. Based on the impact of the spent hay litter, determine a value for said litter, and subsequently the value of purchased hay used in winter bale grazing systems


    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.