Reduce Losses When Feeding Hay

With Hay More Expensive Due to Drought, It Pays to Be More Efficient Feeding Forages

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Severe drought has limited forage production, thus hiking hay prices. Producers are advised to be as efficient as possible in feeding hay to livestock. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Feeding cattle hay is an expensive proposition. This is especially true with a severe drought in parts of the Midwest limiting forage production and causing hay prices to rise the last couple of seasons.

A recent press release from the University of Missouri Extension titled "Don't Waste Precious Hay During Drought" looks at some of the methods livestock producers can ensure they are feeding hay more efficiently (…).


Proper feeding reduces waste and lowers costs with a bonus of improving animal behavior and performance, according to University of Missouri Extension Specialist Charlie Ellis.

"If you are lucky enough to have hay, take special care to reduce waste this year," Ellis said. "This a good year to pinch pennies and plan on doing some extra labor."

Several factors figure into how farmers can reduce waste based on preferences, labor, availability, and climate, he said.

Ellis gives these top four tips:

- No hogs at the cattle trough. Cull aggressively animals that push others out of the way to prevent them from getting their fair share.

- Clean your plate. Make animals clean up hay before giving them seconds. Target feeding daily only what they can consume.

- Save the best for last. This reduces spoilage and improves palatability. Feed outside-stored hay first and then feed hay stored inside.

- Right size, right place. Choose the right size and type of feeder. Match feeder size to herd size. Place feed on a pad or elevated surface in a well-drained area.


Another publication from University of Missouri Extension titled "Reducing Losses When Feeding Hay to Beef Cattle," looks at the issue as well (…). Robert Kallenbach, from the University of Missouri Extension Department of Agronomy and author, echoes some of practices Ellis stated. This release, however, goes into greater detail about the different feeding methods for large round bales, large square bales, and small square bales.

The simplest way to feed round bales is to set the bale in a feeding area where livestock have free access to hay.

This system does not require much but it is prone to high feeding losses, he said. Feeding a one-day supply of hay each day minimizes waste but increases labor costs.

"A better system for feeding large round bales is set the bale in the feeder area but limit access to the hay with a rack or hay ring," Kallenbach said. "This system requires an initial investment in hay racks or rings, but feeding losses are low, even if a seven-day supply of hay is left at one time."

Large bales can also be unrolled and fed on the ground as loose hay. The downside to this is losses can be as high as 40%, he wrote.

Most Missouri producers feed large square bales in racks or bunks, or they grind the bales for inclusion in a total mixed ration (TMR). As with round bales, allowing cattle free access to these bales will increase waste.

A good way to feed this hay is to place it in specially designed racks with solid bottom guards or to use collapsible racks or fencing that will limit access to the hay, Kallenbach wrote.

Small square bales are fairly inexpensive to feed. Utilizing small squares of hay will usually result in low feeding losses if fed properly.

Small squares should be fed in bunks or racks whenever possible to minimize trampling and soiling losses, he said. However, it is possible to distribute small squares in daily amounts throughout a pasture without too much hay being trampled or wasted.

Kallenbach wrote the downside to small squares would be the high labor requirement. Handling and feeding costs are two to four times more expensive than for large round bales.

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Russ Quinn