Comparing the Cost of Amending Soil With Fed Hay to Buying and Spreading Compost

I wrote this piece three years ago and never published it because...oh my gosh the math is daunting! And what if I got it wrong? I'm finally going to share it with you all because I think it's a good thing for us all to think about, and in the spirit of the On Pasture community that we are, I'm sure you can share important thoughts and ideas on this topic, and if you're a math whiz you can help us all out. I thank you in advance! One way that farmers and ranchers improve their soil is by feeding out on the pasture. The feed imports nutrients to the pasture, and the waste feed adds organic matter. There are a lot of ways to put the feed out there. Popular ways are rolling out round hay bales to cover a lot of ground, or arranging hay bales in the pasture in a checkerboard or strips. Whichever one you choose allows livestock to eat some and trample a considerable amount into the soil.  Adding this organic matter is very beneficial to the soil and can boost fertility with Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K). But how much does it cost, and is it worth it? We are going to walk you through  some simple arithmetic to calculate the cost of waste hay as a soil amendment and compare that to buying other soil amendments (compost, manure, paper fiber). Consider the equations below and use your own numbers to fit your situation. Your Situation: What Does Your Soil Need? Soil tests give us a good measure of what our soil is lacking. You probably have some ideas,

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4 thoughts on “Comparing the Cost of Amending Soil With Fed Hay to Buying and Spreading Compost

  1. You seem to be assuming that ALL the nutrients in hay bales are applied to the ground (directly to the ground at 40% and indirectly via manure and urine). Is this actually true? How much is removed via the grazing animal?

    1. I think you’re right. I think I screwed up the math! See I told you it was hard. Thank you for pointing this out. I will go back and make it right and show the corrected math in a different color so you’ll know when I’ve figured it out.

      Thanks so much for pointing this out!

      1. Based on my experience, if the cows stay out on the field where they are fed, then a good proportion of the manure and urine generated from the 60% portion of the bale that they ate also stays on the pasture. So the 40% waste plus a good portion of the 60% also stays on the pasture. My goal is to have the cows bed down for the night on the hay that I unroll so that a high percentage of the nutrients from the whole bale get deposited on the pasture. Therefore, it seems to me that if the cows deposit the manure and urine on the pasture, then you get a lot more than the 40% that is wasted.

  2. In Wisconsin I pick 2 paddocks of my 60 to feed the cows on during the winter. I pull them in to the corral when the ground thaws in the spring. Sometimes that is at the end of February, other times early April. I do feed in bale feeders and make the girls clean up. Hay here is to expensive to waste the last couple of years. These paddocks are not grazed until a mid June rotation and I do drag them in April. It is shocking at how good they become. I have only done this for 5 years, but these paddocks are unbelievable in the quality and quantity of grass! Plus I have very little manure to spread.

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