Ask the Vet

Hold Down Hay Costs

Feeding hay is one of the biggest expenses most cattle producers have, so it pays to take steps to avoid waste. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Becky Mills)


My father grew up feeding square hay bales, and he has never believed in using hay rings. We lose a lot of hay just putting out round bales. Do you have any information I could use to convince him we need to be using hay rings?


I am of that generation that transitioned from square bales to round bales. Over the years, I've become a huge advocate of feeding round bales in some structure. At one time or the other, I have probably owned most of the different types of hay feeders around, including the round metal and plastic rings, various cradle types and a hay wagon.

At Michigan State University, Dr. Danial Buskirk and associates measured round bale waste using the four most common feeder types. They found the following: Waste with a cone feeder was the least, at 3.5%. This was followed by the ring feeders at 6.1% waste, trailer feeder at 11.4% waste and cradle feeders at 14.6% waste.

They translated the savings that could be gained by reducing this waste. Based on hay valued at $100 per ton, they concluded that reducing waste from 30% to 10% would save $1,942 per ring feeder per year.

The researchers noted losses in their test were relatively low due to several factors and that real-world wastage would almost certainly be much higher. In their case, the waste was lower because the hay was very high quality and stored in a barn, meaning cows didn't try to sort through it as they ate. In addition, slant bars encouraged cows to keep their heads in the feeders while eating, so they were less likely to pull hay from the feeders. In addition, a top rail forced cows to eat with their heads down in a natural grazing position, so they didn't throw their heads and toss hay out of the ring. The ring feeder used had metal skirting on the bottom 2 feet, without which, the researchers noted, hay loss would have been much greater.

I found this study interesting because I am a huge fan of my cone feeders. Yes, they were more expensive than the ring types, but they are constructed from heavier-gauge metal. They should last longer, and the annual hay savings should more than pay for the additional cost in the first year or two.

Given that winter feeding is the biggest expense for a cow-calf producer, this study gives us something to think about. It clearly shows one area where we can all help reduce this cost.


Editor's Note:

Please contact your veterinarian with questions pertaining to the health of your herd or other animals. Every operation is unique, and the information in this column does not pertain to all situations. This is not intended as medical advice but is purely for informational purposes.

Write Dr. Ken McMillan at Ask the Vet, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email