Manage Hay Feeding to Reduce Waste

By James B. Neel, Extension Beef Specialist, Animal Science and published by University of Tennessee in Beef Cattle Time, Volume 24, Number 4, Fall 2006 - Winter feeding of the beef cow herd is likely to be more expensive this year because drought has limited hay supplies across the state.
calendar icon 1 November 2006
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About 30 percent of the hay fed cows during the winter is wasted due to poor management, but the type of feeder used can reduce losses and lower the winter feed bill as well as improve cow performance.

Michigan State University animal scientists studied four types of hay feeders: cone, ring, trailer and cradle. All types allowed approximately 14.5 inches for each animal. Dry matter hay waste was 3.5 percent, 6.1 percent, 11.4 percent and 14.6 percent for the cone, ring, trailer and cradle feeders, respectively. Differences in the behavior of cows at the feeders may explain the differences in wastage. Cows eating from the cradle feeder had about three times as much butting and displacement and four times as many entrances compared to cows feeding at the other types of feeders. The researchers determined that slanted bar designs encourage animals to keep their heads in the feeder for longer periods.

Normally, when cattle are allowed unlimited access to large round bales (LRB), a large percentage of the hay will be wasted. Texas A & M trials showed that feeding LRB free choice resulted in 24 percent hay loss. Purdue reported up to 30 percent.

Larry Moorehead, Extension agent in Moore County, has been measuring hay loss when it is fed in a cone feeder. He reported feeding losses of less than 1.0 percent.

Current price per ton of good quality grass hay in LRB ranges from $50.00 to $60.00 per ton. A late- winter– early-spring-calving cow needs approximately 1.5 tons of hay over the winter, which would cost from $75 to $90. A 25 to 30 percent loss during feeding would add an extra $18.75 to $27.00 to the winter feed bill for a total of $93.75 to $117.00 per cow. By reducing the loss to 5.0 percent, the feed bill would be increased only $3.75 to $4.50 for a savings of $15.00 to $22.50 per cow.

The Dickinson North Dakota Research Extension Center evaluated the effect of feeding method on the performance of mature beef cows. Methods evaluated included: 1) rolling round bales out on the ground, 2) a PTO driven round bale processor that shredded round bales into windrows, and 3) a tapered-cone round bale feeder engineered with a center tapered cone creating a manger around the inner circumference of the feeder. Pregnant cows were fed for 58 days to document feed waste and cow performance (weight gain, change in body condition score and hay intake). Labor inputs and feeding time were also considered in the economic analysis.

Cows eating at the tapered cone feeder had increased ending weight as well as improved body condition score, and they used less hay. In the economic analysis model, feeding with a tapered-cone round bale feeder offered substantial cost savings per cow arising from a combination of lower hay usage and reduced equipment operating time. Feeding costs per cow for rolling out bales, shredding bales with a processor and feeding bales in a tapered-cone feeder were $97.99,

$107.44, and $85.36, respectively. Using a PTO driven bale processor to shred bales into windrows before feeding was the most expensive due to the higher equipment ownership cost and higher hay loss per cow compared to the tapered-cone bale feeder. Rolling bales out on the ground or shredding into windrows with a bale processor both resulted in increased hay usage and winter feeding costs without enhancing cow performance.

In addition to the economic benefits to producers from reducing hay waste, cows in better body condition will show improved reproductive performance, will have calves stronger at birth and will increase milk production.

Although some hay will always be wasted during feeding, these losses can be minimized through good feeding practices. This winter would be a good time to observe your hay management practices. How much hay is wasted? Remember, hay wasted is profit lost.

October 2006

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