Trailin': Hay, Hay, Hay!

By Tina Turney
Posted 3/25/99

At the bi-monthly hay sales in Kalona the loads run from stacks of twenty small square bales of good dairy-quality or horse hay up to twenty-five tons of big square bales brought in on flatbed semis …

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Trailin': Hay, Hay, Hay!


At the bi-monthly hay sales in Kalona the loads run from stacks of twenty small square bales of good dairy-quality or horse hay up to twenty-five tons of big square bales brought in on flatbed semis from Nebraska, Illinois and Ohio.

“We have something here for everyone,” says auctioneer Stan Yoder. “We work for the seller, no matter how large or small the lot. We want to get the most money possible for his hay.”

The Hay and Straw Consignment Auctions have been a regular event at the Kalona Sales Barn for several years. After attending the March 18 auction I had the opportunity to visit with Stan Yoder about these sales that are becoming bigger all the time.

Yoder got involved with the hay and straw auctions in 1995, joining up with long-time area auctioneer, Wilbur Swartzendruber. The auctions are held on the first and third Thursdays from the months of October through April, and in the summer on the first Thursday only of each month.

The sale begins promptly at 11:30 a.m. following the weekly fat cattle auction at the sale barn. Transportation of the hay is arranged between seller and buyer, delivery up to five miles of Kalona is free, beyond that it is one dollar per mile.

According to Yoder, February is traditionally the best month for selling hay. At the February 1997 sale over 280 tons of hay changed hands. There were over fifty consignors present representing eighteen towns.

In the winter of 96-97 a lot of Iowa grown hay went north to Minnesota and Wisconsin due to the drought. It was sold to diary farmers who paid as much as $190-$200 per ton for good alfalfa dairy hay. Small square bales sold for up to $4.80 per bale at that time.

This winter and spring hay prices are down like everything else on the farm. Similar quality good hay is bringing $80-$100 per ton. Some of this hay is tested. The good 24% protein dairy hay with 160 RFV (relative feed value) is selling for $100-$110 per ton. Many dairy farmers today are opting to buy their hay rather than growing it themselves.

It used to be that the best quality alfalfa hay was baled in Nebraska. This was due to weather conditions which in eastern Iowa don’t always cooperate with hay-making efforts. With the new innovations in balers, which bale only when the hay moisture tests right, and the use of preservatives, our area is becoming a top quality hay producer.

Also becoming more popular is the practice of baling high moisture hay called silage hay (haylage). It is baled before drying and is stored in air tight plastic bags. It is a good way of getting the hay off the field in a hurry. It is also highly palatable for cattle. Yoder thinks this method will continue to become more widely used. The downside is that it requires new balers and special equipment to handle the bales.

Big square bales of conventionally dried hay are in demand due to savings and ease of storage and transporting. These bales are 31” x 33” x 6’ to 8’ long. They generally weigh 500 lb. up to 750 lb. There have been bigger square bales made before but they are not as common nowadays.

The big round bales seen lined up along fence rows are popular for many feeders due to labor savings. They are easy to feed to cattle and horses, however there is quite a lot of waste. They also do not stack as well inside as the square bales. It is difficult to transport large numbers of these round bales long distances. They weight from about 1,000 to 2,000 lbs. When plastic wrapped, they store well outdoors and retain their feed value.

The small square bales of hay are still the most popular and bring the most money for the grower. At the March 18 auction small squares were bringing from $1.00 - $3.30. There is a strong market for good alfalfa in small squares as well as timothy or mixed hay for horses which is bringing up to $2.90 per bale.

The advantage of the small square bales is the efficiency of storage and they are handy to limit feed to livestock, especially horses and various exotics such as llamas and alpacas. The disadvantage of making small bales, or course, is the labor of baling, transporting and stacking.

Today a farmer can make more money per acre with good hay than with corn or soybeans. If the hay ground is fertilized and the weather cooperates, good hay makes an excellent cash crop and is always in demand. Besides, haying is always good summer work for kids.

Living up to its motto: “Washington County’s largest hay and straw auction,” the Kalona event provides hay sellers and buyers a reliable place to trade.

“The buyers and sellers make the auction and we thank each one of them,” Yoder emphasized.


On Monday and Tuesday, March 29 and 30, the Kalona Sales Barn will once again hold its Horse-Drawn Equipment and Spring Draft Horse Sale.

The sales begin at 9 a.m. each day. The items for the Monday sale are already appearing in the field north of the sale barn. If you’ve never been to these sales I encourage you to go. On Tuesday the horse sale starts out with Percherons, Spotted Drafts, Belgians, both registered and grade, and finishes up with crossbreds and mules. There will be sellers and buyers from our area as well as all over the midwest and beyond.