by Katie Hazlewood, Wyoming FFA media intern
One of the lesser known shows at the Wyoming State Fair is the Hay Show. Here producers can enter their cuttings of hay to be inspected and analyzed against one another.
So how is hay judged?
One never thinks about that aspect when we see bales laying out in the fields during the summer. Whole bales are submitted into the contests. Categories include alfalfa hay, grass hay, and alfalfa-grass mixed hay. There is also a special section just for young producers. Judges first look at the overall visual appearance of the bale (shape, size, tightness, etc.), all things that tell how well the producer’s baler was set to work. Then the strings are cut and the bales are broken open to inspect the inner contents. This is the important part. Here various characteristics are taken into consideration, color and smell are some of the key ones. Stem to leaf ratios are taken. Leaves are where most of the nutrients are, so if there are more leaves then that flake (a section of a bale) should be a better forage to feed. Maturity is also taken into consideration. Plants that are harvested at just the right time, not too young and not too old, will have the best nutrient composition. Softness, how well the hay feels when handled, is another aspect looked at when hay is judged. These are just a few characteristics judges will look at to critique the hay. At this point, the officials will have their preliminary placings.
A lab analysis from a core sample is referenced to determine final winnings. This analysis allows them to see the nutrient content of the forage sample such as crude protein, total digestible nutrients (TDN), and relative feed value (RFV), just to name a few. By adding in the lab findings, judges can make minor adjustments to a few close calls. Sometimes the lab work comes back quite different than what the judges placed on a visual standard. This is why they try to go with what you would see as a buyer.
Superintendents try to keep the show based on a market approach. This means that the winning bales would be ones an everyday consumer would purchase. Looking at hay this way is a basic standard to start at, however, everyone can have their own perspective and preference when it comes to a winning bale. Depending on the operation buying hay, various factors can change. Dairy farmers, for example, would want a very high crude protein and energy content in a bale of alfalfa. On the other hand, horse owners who have low performing animals wouldn’t want to feed a high protein, high energy hay due to the possibility of colic, so they prefer lighter grass hay. To contend for these differences, the hay show holds a People’s Choice contest. The public can vote on which bales they would want to buy and feed their own animals. After the show is over, the hay is raffled off and one lucky person gets all the hay entered into the contest to do with as they please. This rounds out the hay show at the Wyoming State Fair!
In the photo: UW Ag Educator Caleb Carter, Goshen County, shows off the hay entered in the 2018 Wyoming State Fair Hay Show.