How to handle donated hay

Written by Tim Fine, Extension Agent

Growing up, I heard the expression “you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” on more than one occasion and I try to abide by those words of wisdom. 

For those of you not familiar with the term, in a round-about way, it means that if someone is willing to give you something, be gracious and accept it. I usually try to abide by this principle and it is generally a good principle to adopt, but there are those times that, even though the giver may have the best of intentions, the gift may be more than you bargained for.

Case in point is all of the hay that is being shipped into our state from more-than-generous people from all over the country. We all know that this is much needed and greatly appreciated but what is potentially coming with the hay we may be dealing with for some time. I am specifically referring to weeds and knowing that this could cause future weed problems, the Montana Department of Ag, USDA NRCS, and Montana DNRC put together a fact sheet. The entire fact sheet can be found online but I thought I would give the highlights.  The factsheet gives these suggestions for handling donated hay:

• Use donated hay in an area that can be easily monitored for new weed species. 

• Document where new weed species are located, then follow-up with weed control and monitoring; monitor for several years. 

• Treat weeds before they produce seed. 

• Remove and dispose of weed seed that becomes established. 

• Defer moving livestock through an area with a new weed species until it is removed or contained. 

• Ask where the hay was grown/donated from, if possible. View distribution maps of weeds in Montana and the West to get an idea of potential weed threats from donated hay.

• Use certified weed-free forage, if available. 

• Collect unknown plants for identification (collect the entire plant and roots). For help with identification, take the plant to your county weed district, Natural Resources Conservation Service office, Extension agent, Montana Range Partnership, or submit a sample to Montana State University Schutter Diagnostic Lab for identification. This is a free service for Montana residents. Find contact information, submission instructions, fee information, and forms online at Insect pests and plant diseases can also be sent to the Schutter Diagnostic Lab for identification. 

• Identify Montana Noxious Weeds. See this guide to Montana Noxious Weeds as a reference.

As I said above, in a year like we have had it is hard to turn down a donation of hay and hopefully, with the above tips, should you find yourself in this predicament you can at least have a game plan for dealing with the potential for weeds to come. So maybe you do look that gift horse in the mouth but decide before looking that, regardless of what it looks like in there, you have a plan to deal with it.

As always, should you have questions, you are welcome to give me a call at 433-1026 or send an email to

Source: Sidney Herald

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Montana Stockgrowers Association

The Montana Stockgrowers Association, a non-profit membership organization, has worked on behalf of Montana’s cattle ranching families since 1884. Our mission is to protect and enhance Montana ranch families’ ability to grow and deliver safe, healthy, environmentally wholesome beef to the world.

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