Prairie Hay in High Demand

Prairie hay is a unique type of hay with special qualities which have put it in high demand. The best quality prairie hay has a distinctive green color and an unmistakable smell.

A majority of prairie hay comes from Kansas where the virgin tallgrass prairie that at one time covered most of the Midwest still remains. Native prairie is land that has never been plowed or altered. In eastern Kansas, there are remnant prairies. They are called remnant prairies because they are small segments of the approximately 140 million acres of tallgrass that covered the Midwest before European countries settled in the area.

Maintaining a hay meadow where prairie grass grows is a low-cost diversification strategy for hay producers. Prairie, or native, hay can be used as one’s own livestock feed or can be sold to other farmers for the same purpose.

The largest customer for prairie hay is feedlots. Feedlot operators use prairie hay as feed for calves that arrive at the feedlot stressed from travel. Prairie hay is something even calves which have gone off other livestock feed will eat because it doesn’t make them sick. Prairie hay is fed to these calves for about 14 days or until they are adjusted to their new surroundings.

Dairy farmers prefer prairie hay to other types of hay because of its low levels of potassium which allow it to be used as feed for pregnant cows late into their pregnancy. Further, it is known to reduce the occurrence of milk fever after calving.

Many thoroughbred horse breeders will pay top dollar for native hay because the mixed grasses and forbs are believed to provide health benefits for these animals. Prairie hay can be sold in small square bales or round hay bales.

Prairie feed is relatively inexpensive for hay producers since fertilizer is unnecessary and, in fact, is discouraged since it encourages weeds more than grass. It still is important to manage prairie hay fields carefully, however. Dead grass or overgrown biomass can decrease both quality and quantity of prairie hay.

It is important to cut prairie hay at just the right time so there is a good balance of protein to biomass. While brome of fescue grasses may offer better yields, those types of grasses require fertilizers which decrease profits.

The market for prairie hay is strong and is expected to stay that way. This is especially true if, as some experts predict, land planted in alfalfa, clover and lespedeza hay is converted more and more to corn production.